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Day 5: The kinder, gentler Raiders

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by Jerry McDonald, NFL editor and writer for ANG Newspapers
Something’s missing in the early stages of training camp, and it’s not the sight of Rich Gannon, Tim Brown or Jerry Rice.

The 2005 Raiders look downright dignified, keeping their skirmishes within the confines of the rulebook. A crew of officials was on hand to watch the Raiders Tuesday, and they must have been stunned to see football’s supposed bad boys lending each other a helping hand.

There have been no training camp fights, hardly even a push, a shove or even a discouraging word. The four-letter words are flying, but not the fists.

Gone are the days when the old-style football coach would look the other way or even encourage little fisticuffs to get the guys going. Former Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski said once and Greg Biekert weren’t above staging a physical disagreement to light a fire under a slow practice.

Unless Bill Romanowski is involved, tearing off a helmet to get in a good haymaker, football fights are usually harmless and even a little silly, given all the protection a uniform provides.

Coach Norv Turner, a superstitious sort, winced when he was asked about the lack of fights.

“You mention that and the next three days I’ll be diving in the middle (of a fight),” Turner said. “It’s a little early in camp. I’m sure we’ll be talking differently in a couple of weeks.”

Turner believes fighting in practice would lead to the wrong instinct in a game.

“We are all creatures of habit,” Turner said. “If you get in the habit of hauling off and swinging at some guy, and all of a sudden in the middle of a game a guy hits you under the face mask and you hit him, it’s not only a penalty, but it’s a fine and an ejection.

Tackle Barry Sims extolled his teammates for their professionalism and unity in avoiding fights, but said the worst thing about fighting in a game is the potential for an injured wallet.

“It’s stupid to do it in a game because it’s a $20,000 fine,” Sims said. “You play how your practice. Things don’t always go your way and you’ve got to be a pro about it. You move on to the next play and see if you can do something about it.”

Porter bears watching
Jerry Porter’s pulled right hamstring is too early for serious concern. If it recurs, or he injures something else, the Raiders will be watching closely.

In Porter’s two productive years – 2002 and 2004 – he stacked good practices together through training camp and had strong seasons. In the others, he either suffered a series of minor injuries or a serious one, like the hernia which ruined his 2003 campaign.

A healthy Porter, provided Ronald Curry recovers from an Achilles injury, gives the Raiders what could be the NFL’s most explosive trio.

If Porter is hurt, Doug Gabriel moves into the mix. Gabriel, who caught 33 passes for 551 yards and a 16.7 average, is capable of big plays, but likely wouldn’t see as many passes as the fourth wideout if running back LaMont Jordan plays as well as expected.

If Porter comes back strong, the Raiders may look to move Gabriel for a decent draft choice before the regular season.

Gabriel insists he is fine with playing fourth receiver and contending for a role as the kick return specialist, but understands he is being constantly evaluated.

“I don’t feel I need to prove anything, but I also know every day I have to come out and showcase my talent because there’s always someone that’s going to be right behind you,” Gabriel said.

An offense, or Chicken McNuggets?
“I don’t know that we worry about how it’s meshing. We’re putting pieces together, parts together,” Turner said when asked how his offense is coming together.

The Ryan watch
Still no word from defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, son of the brash and bombastic Buddy Ryan. His vow of silence with the local media concerning the play of his defense is in its 11th month.

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Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer