By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, January 24th, 2007 at 11:40 am in Oakland Raiders.
Many of you have apparently noticed I’m not a big fan of Raiders press conferences, being that I’ve been at six of them which were virtually identical and had no bearing on what actually transpired later.
Which doesn’t mean I’m not looking forward to what happens after the company line goes away and we get an idea what kind of product may hit the field.
As stated several times since the search began, this is not an impossible situation, and hiring Lane Kiffin, inexperience and all, is far more appealing than going the Jim Fassel route.
Some of the things I’ll look forward to seeing between now and the start of training camp:
– Kiffin sold Al Davis on his coaching ability at the greaseboard in all phases, not just offense. That is no small feat. He obviously knows his stuff.
Now comes the more difficult task of filling out his coaching staff with people who will carry out his vision of offense. There was reference to putting the ball into the hands of the highest-paid guys and expecting big things.
Can Kiffin reinvigorate Randy Moss? It’s pretty clear Kiffin and Davis think Jerry Porter is back on board now that Shell is out of the way.
– Kiffin promised the Raiders would practice hard. One of the biggest complaints about Shell among the players _ Moss among them _ was that they worked too hard. If he can bring enough energy to the table to make the practices more fun _ Kiffin said he wanted them to play “happy” _ maybe it won’t seem so dreary.
– Besides being a little stiff, no doubt due to nervousness, Kiffin came off as cocky and arrogant. He also dropped the formalities regarding Davis and called him “Al” instead of the more popular “Mr. Davis.”
This is not necessarily a bad thing. If it means he is willing to make his case for what he wants, clearly and with confidence, he’ll get Davis’ support.
This is a huge factor. Once the players know the coach doesn’t have the confidence of Davis, they act accordingly. He has to be a forceful, coach-like figure without being intractable or weak.
Shell’s mini-war with Mike Lombardi, as well as his dealings with Porter helped undermine his position with the boss, and therefore the team.
– Kiffin has leaped into this job head first, not worrying about all the supposed drawbacks. That alone makes him a better choice over Steve Sarkisian, who worried too much about what could go wrong rather than how he could be successful.
Sarkisian didn’t think he could win. Kiffin feels differently.
– My guess is the Raiders will keep things pretty closed up on the field through the initital minicamps and the like, but I’ll be interested to see the crispness and level of intensity on the field among the players.
It was a problem with Shell right off the bat. They’d fumble through formations, break a huddle, then go back and try again.
It is crucial for Kiffin’s credibility that he set a fast pace, and also sell them on the idea of how it can work.
– What are they going to do about a quarterback? There were no answers at the press conference, of course, but the belief here is a new head coach/offensive quarterback needs someone who was not associated with last season behind center this season.
The tone needs to be entirely different. If the Raiders draft a quarterback No. 1, such as JaMarcus Russell, that means finding a free agent, but it’s doubtful Russell would be ready to play that quickly.
– How well will the Raiders run, and will Kiffin commit to it? It’s been a huge problem the past few years. Davis loves Kiffin’s play-calling, but it’s important to remember he drew big-time criticism at USC following a loss to UCLA.
When the Trojans smoked Michigan in the Rose Bowl, it happened when Kiffin, at the behest of Pete Carroll, abandoned the run entirely in the second half.
– How well will Kiffin do when talent is spread out more evenly?
Let’s face it, USC Had a huge talent advantage over everyone it played. There were no salary caps and no drafts. The Trojans had reserve players who would have been Pac-10 stars elsewhere.
Kiffin may have information about players he recruited while at USC, but it goes beyond that. He’s got to first get them to the Raiders, then make sure they’re coached to realize their potential to compete on a relatively even playing field.
USC won many of its games on sheer ability before it stepped on the field. It worked for the 1970s Raiders but it won’t work now.