Manager-Coach Al Davis is of the opinion that the day of the one-quarterback pro football team is over. Davis is a man who is always looking for an angle, and the angle here may simply be that he does not have one good all-round quarterback. Instead he has three specialists of sorts. Cotton Davidson is the best of the three and is particularly useful against a hard rush because of his scrambling ability. But Davidson does have off days and early in the exhibition season also had a sore arm. Tom Flores is good when the Raiders are facing a zone and need accuracy in throwing. But Flores is not agile and is often trapped by a blitz. The other quarterback is 6-foot-5 Dick Wood, who came to Oakland from the Jets. Wood's specialty is throwing the deep pass—a favorite weapon of Davis'—and he has the advantage of being tall enough to see over a charging line of unusual size, such as that of San Diego. But Wood lacks agility, too.
With each man's qualifications in mind, Davis intends to use them as a baseball manager uses his pitchers. For different situations, different quarterbacks will come in. Davis may start Flores, then switch to Davidson after a sequence or two. Davis believes offense is a matter of execution and that execution can be achieved as well by two or three quarterbacks as by one. "With injuries and changing defenses, you can't settle any longer on one quarterback to meet all possibilities," says Davis. "Besides, how many Johnny Unitases are there?"
The staple of the Oakland offense is the passing game. Davis believes in throwing the ball 60 to 65% of the time. "Some people talk about the bad things that can happen when you put the ball in the air, but I know one good thing that can happen," he says. "You can get six points in a matter of seconds from anywhere on the field." To support that idea Davis has accumulated a fine group of receivers. Art Powell has caused a few coaches to want to get out of the game prematurely because of his temperamental antics, but he is one of the top split ends in the league. Davis has moved Billy Cannon to split end, also, although he may arrange to have Powell in the slot and Cannon split on the same side to give the defenses a double problem. Cannon, despite his Heisman Trophy credentials, did not make it as a running back with Houston or Oakland. He could not cut quickly enough. This year Cannon reported at 207, the lightest he has been since his junior season at LSU, and claims to have regained some of his nimbleness. A good blocker, Cannon may even move to tight end, a position where the Raiders could use aid. "My idea about getting football players is you should look for a guy who on his good days will help you but on his bad days won't hurt you," says Davis. He thinks Cannon is one of those. Prize rookie Bob Biletnikoff will probably be the starting flanker ahead of veterans Bo Roberson and Bill Miller, who supply depth.
After a couple of years of being disorganized, the Raiders have begun to sign talent. They have the league's finest collection of rookies this season. Two of them—Harry Schuh and Bob Svihus—may be the starting offensive tackles. Jim Otto will be the center for the sixth consecutive year. The Raiders are counting heavily on the return of Guard Ken Rice, who announced his retirement and missed training camp but indicated he might change his mind. Veteran Tackle Frank Youso has had a foot operation and Guard Bob Mischak has had a knee operation, which puts more pressure on the rookies and on Davis to get Rice back.
At running back Davis has Clem Daniels, a tough runner and a good receiver. Daniels catches passes 15 to 20 yards down-field with frequency, which is unusual for a halfback. There is a weakness at fullback. Alan Miller, back after taking a year's leave to get a law degree, is a top pass blocker but he is ineffective as a runner. Bob Jackson is an average journeyman player.
The linebacking will be much better than last year. Middle Linebacker Arch Matsos had a severe case of flu before the 1964 season and played at least part of the year weighing less than 200 pounds. Matsos is healthy again now and is up to 220. Bill Budness, a second-year man, has improved from necessity; he was shoved into action last season and told to produce. Left Linebacker John Williamson was a rookie last year. Clancy Osborne, on the right, is a veteran and a rattling tackier. The sleeper is Dick Hermann, a rookie from Florida State. Davis saw him while scouting Biletnikoff at the Gator Bowl.
Davis traded away one of his problems in the secondary when he sent Fred Williamson to Kansas City. Williamson is a good defender, but he did not like Davis' style of coaching and said so in public. In return, Oakland got All-AFL Dave Grayson. Grayson is short on size but has extreme quickness and is a fine kick returner, and should beat out Howie Williams at right corner. A rookie, Kent McCloughan, will start at left corner unless he loses out to another rookie, Larry Todd. The safeties will be veterans Joe Krakoski and Claude Gibson.
The Raiders won eight of their last 10 games in 1964, and one reason was the return to duty of Matsos and Defensive Right Tackle Dave Costa. After starting as a linebacker, Costa moved to tackle in 1963 and was an immediate hit. A 250-pounder, he teams with Right End Ben Davidson, 6 feet 7 and 275, to give Oakland a powerful rush from that side. Rookie Carlton Oats, 235, from Florida State, could break in as a starter at left end. But Oakland's defense has gaps, and when the Raiders win it is likely to be in games with basketball scores.
The impression in Oakland is that Davis thinks he may have a good team but is trying to hide it. The Raiders have been a cliquish club and have picked up a few players that other teams considered uncontrollable. Davis, though, has usually managed to control them. There is considerable individual brilliance on the Oakland roster, and if Davis can get the individuals to play together rather than each man for himself the Raiders could be surprisingly good. Not good enough for a championship, though. It is likely that Davis is building toward a run at the title in 1966.