Art Shell, who played 15 seasons with the Raiders and coached them from 1989through '94, returns to the helm to yank this once proud club out of thedoldrums brought on by three straight losing seasons. He can handle the demandsof overbearing owner Al Davis and lay down the law for underachievingplayers.
Shell's most valuable commodity is his credibility. His players talk about hisno-nonsense approach and the respect he still commands following a Hall of Famecareer at tackle. He's also more hands-on than predecessor Norv Turner. "Ifwe're doing a drill incorrectly, Art will stop the drill and point out exactlywhat everybody should be doing," says Pro Bowl defensive end DerrickBurgess. "That never happened last season. The coaches would see a problemand say they'd deal with it later, but it would never get fixed. Art handlesthings immediately."
It may seem oddto hear a player laud Shell for such a simple thing, but that's how bad it hadgotten in Oakland. The team needs to be whipped into shape. Turner may havebeen too soft, but Shell doesn't hesitate to get in a player's face.
When widereceiver Jerry Porter clashed with the coach last February over Porter's desireto do his off-season conditioning in Florida, the incident ended with Shellbooting Porter out of his office. Porter demanded a trade, leaving his statuswith the Raiders uncertain. The 59-year-old Shell has been just as assertive inhis dealings with the rest of team. "When I got here, I saw that all theseguys needed was some direction," he says. "They were looking forsomebody to tell them what they needed to do to win again. I basically toldthem that I had high expectations for them and that they needed to have highexpectations for themselves."
Of all theshortcomings Oakland has on both sides of the ball-last year the club led theNFL with 147 penalties and ranked 27th in defense-reviving the offense will beShell's biggest challenge. The Raiders are counting on free-agent quarterbackAaron Brooks to avoid the mistake-prone play that cost him his job in NewOrleans. A less complicated game plan, built around a power running game, willease the pressure on Brooks.
Another key tothe offensive transformation will be the play of a revamped line. RobertGallery moves from right to left tackle. Barry Sims slides from left tackle toguard. Langston Walker moves from left guard to right tackle. Rookie PaulMcQuistan, a left tackle at Weber State, is slated to start at right guard.Center Jake Grove, the one player in the same position as last year, injuredhis shoulder in camp and may miss the opener. In addition to the hard workneeded to quickly become a cohesive unit, the linemen will be charged withmaking most of the protection calls, instead of the quarterback. Walker saysthe assignment adds pressure, but Shell likes the idea of Brooks having moretime to focus on the play that's been sent in. "We want [Brooks] to know hedoesn't have to do it all by himself," Shell says. "When I watched filmof him in New Orleans, that's what usually got him in trouble."
Shell, afterall, knows a thing or two about line play, and the players believe in him."There used to be a time when teams were afraid to play us," saysfullback Zack Crockett. "With Art here, I think we can get back to thatplace."
11 SAN DIEGO(M)
8 at SanFrancisco
15 at Denver
6 at Seattle(M)
19 at KansasCity
26 at SanDiego
17 ST. LOUIS
23 KANSAS CITY(S)
31 at New YorkJets
(M) Monday (S)Saturday
NFL rank T11
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .516
Games against playoff teams 5
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE RAIDERS
> Randy Mossis no longer a player to fear. He's still tough in the red zone, but he doesn'tcontribute if he's not in the flow of the game. He doesn't block, and theydon't make a great effort to get him the ball.
> TheRaiders should be able to run the ball, but they can't afford an injury toLaMont Jordan.
> Peoplethink Derrick Burgess is a one-dimensional pass rusher, but he plays with greatleverage. You have to account for him, or he'll get two or three sacks agame.
>First-round pick Michael Huff from Texas is a fast, physical player who canplay safety or cornerback. He'll be a star.
> CornerbackFabian Washington has a lot of upside. But safety Stuart Schweigert isinconsistent and too stiff in his tackling.
When AaronBrooks is good, he's very good, and when he's bad, he's awful. He's anup-and-down player.
Of the fivefirst-round picks the Raiders have spent on DBs since 2001, Washington hasshown the most promise. Blessed with 4.3 speed and sharp instincts, the formerNebraska standout turned heads in '05 as a rookie by holding his own againsttop receivers in 11 starts. This summer the 5'11", 185-pound Washington hasbeen more consistent in his reads and coverage, and he opened the preseasonwith a pick against the Eagles in the Hall of Fame game. He looks like thelong-term answer to the departure of Charles Woodson.
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COACH ART SHELL(54-38 in NFL), first season with Oakland
AARON BROOKS(New Acquisition)
PAUL MCQUISTAN(R) (New Acquisition)
THOMAS HOWARD(R) (New Acquisition)
SACKS 4 1/2
MICHAEL HUFF (R)(New Acquisition)
(R) Rookie(college statistics) *2004 statistics
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 29/10/21 DEFENSE 25/18/27
THE HOLE THING The revamped offense will spring LaMont Jordan, who had only three 100-yard games in '05.
HELMET PHOTO BY DAVID N. BIRKWITZ