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Smooth Moves

For once, Al Davis and the Raiders look to have made all the right decisions during the off-season

These days Raiders patriarch Al Davis seems to speak for attribution only when he's giving a PowerPoint presentation, so figuring out how he transformed the Silver and Black from irrelevant to intriguing in just 60 days is a guessing game at best. But the answer might be found in a conversation Davis had two months ago with his All-Pro cornerback, Nnamdi Asomugha.

"I could tell there was a sense of urgency about him," Asomugha recalls. "He was talking about how he wants to win now, how it wasn't about building or rebuilding. Don't get me wrong, he's always wanted to win, but this was different."

Davis turns 81 in July, and his health is a topic of conversation each time he's spotted taking small steps behind his walker. But after nearly a decade of being mocked for his head-scratching personnel decisions, Davis has been logical in his analysis and sound in his approach this off-season, starting with his decision to retain coach Tom Cable despite a 9--19 record over the last two seasons.

In free agency Davis appears to have learned his lessons from 2007 and '08, when he handed out blank checks to players only to have the moves blow up in his face: Cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who was acquired in a trade with Atlanta, was cut after eight games; strong safety Gibril Wilson was released after one season; and wide receiver Javon Walker was let go after two years and one touchdown. This year Davis traded mid-round draft picks for linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (Browns) and quarterback Jason Campbell (Redskins), both of whom are expected to start.

Still, the biggest change in Davis was evident during the draft. Rather than indulge their past infatuation with speed, the Raiders selected the consensus top inside linebacker, Alabama's Rolando McClain, with the eighth pick, then took Maryland tackle Bruce Campbell (who wowed scouts at the combine with a 4.85-second 40) in the fourth round.

"This is what you would call a very businesslike off-season," Cable says. "There was a plan at the beginning of January, and it [has been] executed."

The biggest remaining question is what to do with quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the No. 1 pick of the '07 draft, who has been a bust. Teammates have complained privately about Russell's poor work ethic, and many members of the organization are prepared to move on. Russell did not impress during last weekend's minicamp, and his $9.45 million salary will be steep for a backup if Campbell, as expected, starts in his place.

Davis has always had a hard time admitting publicly that he was wrong about a player. But if he's really serious about winning now, then Russell, who threw 11 picks and three touchdowns last season, is not the answer.

Now on

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A Good Catch

When the Cowboys traded up three spots to select wide receiver Dez Bryant 24th overall, they believed they got the steal of the draft. The former Oklahoma State star (below) did nothing to change that impression at the team's rookie minicamp. He might even have raised expectations with a performance that labeled "breathtaking." Receivers coach Ray Sherman, who has worked with Jerry Rice, Cris Carter and Randy Moss, among others, used the word phenomenal five times in one sound bite to describe Bryant. And coach Wade Phillips said, "In 33 years [of coaching] there's not many [players who] look that talented for a three-day period." Get your popcorn ready, because it appears Dallas has another receiver who's ready to put on a show.


Photograph by BEN MARGOT/AP

NOW OR NEVER Taking McClain with the eighth pick was a reflection of Davis's commitment to winning this year.