By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Monday, May 19th, 2008 at 11:55 am in Oakland Raiders.
Lane Kiffin talked earnestly last year of having no free rides, a new Raiders order in which reputations meant nothing and performance was everything. He even said players “aren’t on scholarship,” a reference which had been used for years regarding certain players who were deemed Al Davis favorites (Dan Land, James Jett and Alvis Whitted come to mind).
Kiffin found his poster boy in Justin Fargas, who ascended past LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes to gain 1,009 yards, an unremarkable total until you consider he wasn’t a starter until Week 7 and missed the last two games due to injury.
When street free agent Chris Clemons and fifth-round draft pick Jay Richardson fared well in training camp, better than third-round pick Quentin Moses, the Raiders did the unthinkable. They made Moses the highest drafted player not to make the roster of the team that drafted him.
When Darren McFadden became available in the draft, the Raiders unflinchingly threw him into the mix at running back along with Fargas and Michael Bush. Why? Competition. Compete every day, every play.
“It’s a pretty good stable, I mean if you want to talk to one to eight, one to nine, it’s open competition, so our philosophy is, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past. I don’t care if you were the fourth-round pick, one of the top guys of the SEC that have ever come out as a runner, I don’t care if you’re Justin Fargas and ran for 1,009 yards, I mean, we have a standard here of the play that we want to present as a group of running backs, and we’re going to hold everybody that suits up and steps out on that field to those standards,” running backs coach Tom Rathman said. “When you’re not able to get it done to those standards, we’re going to go to the next guy. Somebody’s going to perform for us, and it’s going to be at a high level, and that’s our expectations.”
Funny how you never notice special teams coach Brian Schneider saying the same thing about his place kicker.
Sebastian Janikowski has been handled with kid gloves since the day he was drafted in 2000, the same as punter Shane Lechler, who arrived in the same year.
They remain the pride and joy of Al Davis, the one man who would pull the trigger on Ray Guy, Janikowski and Lechler, all unique and gifted talents coming out of college.
The problem is Janikowski, the controversial first-round pick in 2000, has never measured up the way Guy did and Lechler has. Yet each year he is treated as an untouchable.
Before they get to training camp, and perhaps the mandatory minicamp on June 3, the Raiders should bring in a place kicker who does more than caddy for Jano. Someone who can compete with him in practice and preseason games and be given a legitimate opportunity to do as Clemons, Richardson and Fargas did _ win a job.
Granted, there isn’t a lot out there. Morten Andersen is too old, and most kickers have found spots. The Rams will be parting with former UCLA and Mission San Jose kicker Justin Medlock at some point, having drafted correction, signed Josh Brown.
Medlock would be an interesting call because he idolized Janikowski as a high school kicker. He washed out with the Chiefs, but that’s not unusual in the kicking business.
It doesn’t have to be Medlock, anyway. Just somebody who comes in and is told he has a chance to win the job based on performance. Janikowski may very well win the job anyway, but at least he would be pushed.
Last season, the Raiders didn’t even bring in a place kicker until Aug. 6, when Tyler Fredrickson arrived to allow some more down time for both Janikowski and Lechler.
If you’ve watched much football practice, you realize kickers don’t really work all that hard anyway. If they stood around much longer, they’d be as inactive as the reporters.
Yet Jano kicked sparingly in the preseason. Fredrickson, who openly acknowledged he had no shot, was doing all the kicking by the preseason finale to keep Seabass from spoiling in the sun.
In a Week 1 loss to Detroit, Janikowski lined up for three field goal attempts and made none of them. A 50-yarder was blocked and 46- and 57-yarders were wide left. It’s probably unfair to criticize any kicker for missing from 57 yards, but attempts like that are precisely why he was drafted in the first round. To be a game changer, you’ve got to change the game.
He is a 62.2 percent kicker from 40 yards and beyond (71-for-114) and is less than 50 percent from 50 and beyond (16-for-34). Again, a 50-plus kick is no gimme, but we’re not talking about “normal” kickers here.
Over the last three years, Janikowski has been at or near the bottom of the NFL in field goal percentage (71.9 percent in 2007, 72 percent in 2006, 66.7 percent in 2005). Those seasons followed his two best years (89.3 percent in 2004, 88 percent in 2003).
And while Janikowski had 22 touchbacks last year, tying a career high, his consistency in that area is maddening as well and the Raiders have not been a strong coverage team despite his powerful leg.
This isn’t to say Janikowski should be vilified or run out of town. He has stayed out of trouble and kept a low profile for a few years now after getting into trouble at Florida State and in his early years as a Raider, problems tied to drinking.
But it’s hypocritical for the Raiders to concede him the job and then carry on about open competition.
The Raiders begin another three-day organized team activity Tuesday, with media access scheduled for Thursday.