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Lal has a big job in front of him

By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, April 30th, 2009 at 9:13 am in Oakland Raiders.

UPDATE: Raiders confirm six undrafted free agent signings. See bottom of story.

On the bright side, at least the Raiders haven’t brought back Jerry Porter.

Nothing against Porter, who did some good things as a Raider. But he could be tempermental, and that’s the last thing wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal needs as he faces one of the most daunting challenges of any position coach on staff.

Quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett has a huge job, molding and shaping the future of the franchise in JaMarcus Russell. But he can concentrate virtually all of his efforts on Russell and he’s got Jeff Garcia to help him. Hackett also has years of experience at the position, where he has long been considered one of the best teachers of quarterback fundamentals.

Lal is in his first season as an NFL position coach, having served two years as a quality control coach, which includes a heavy dose of doing video cut-ups. He replaces James Lofton, who was re-assigned without explanation one year after being hired by Davis for Lane Kiffin’s staff.

(Best guess? Lofton was too resistant for Al Davis and Tom Cable when it came to fast-tracking younger receivers).

Lal has climbed the ladder locally, serving as the the passing game coordinator at Miramonte High in Orinda, as an assistant at Los Medanos Community College in Pittsburgh, working on the staff at St. Mary’s and as an administrative aide for Jeff Tedford at Cal.

Now it’s Lal’s job to make sure Darrius Heyward-Bey is better than Michael Crabtree.

Heyward-Bey is only the fastest quarter-horse in the stable. Davis made it clear he thinks the world of Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens. Louis Murphy had a 40-time Davis couldn’t refuse and arrived in the fourth round. Arman Shields was a fourth-round pick last year who spent the year on injured reserve.

As for Jonathan Holland, Todd Watkins and whoever else the Raiders bring in to camp, good luck.

That doesn’t even include Javon Walker, who will be paid $4.6 million over the next two seasons unless he manages to get himself fired for “cause.”

It’s already crowded enough that Cable is leaning toward not bring in a veteran who could serve the same purpose with the wide receivers that Garcia is with Russell.

“Had Murphy not been there, that was definitely an option,” Cable said.

Someone like Amani Toomer, who has track record as a productive receiver and a good teammate, might have served the unit well. But it’s also true veteran wideouts aren’t always good mentors. They want to play, they want the ball.

When Jerry Rice failed to catch a pass in a game under Norv Turner’s watch, he went to Davis and said he wanted out. When Turner determined Ronald Curry’s development would greatly reduce the role of Tim Brown, Brown opted for his release rather to stay on as a mentor who occasionally would be inactive on game days.

Walker’s status remains in doubt in that he was declared healthy by Cable at the owner’s meetings and now suddenly was referred to as “getting healthy.” He’s apparently doing it on his own, away from the facility.

Assuming he is still around at training camp, Walker, whose practice effort was called out by Kiffin last year, will be one of Lal’s biggest challenges. Walker will hopefully be trying to get his own career jump-started and isn’t likely to mentor anyone.

That leaves it up to Lal and the receivers, learning together on the field. Luckily, from all indications, Walker aside, there isn’t a head case in the bunch, and even Walker is more quirky than moody.

“Can we overcome some of the youthfulness and all that?,” Cable said. “Probably not, but I think that’s the least of our worries right now, just in terms of getting more production there and better players there.”

Another Chris Johnson

The Tennessean reports the Raiders signed wide receiver Chris Johnson of Tennessee State as an undrafted free agent.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the Raiders signed Oregon linebacker Jerome Boyd.

UPDATE: The Raiders announced the following signings of undrafted free agents on the transactions page of Raiders.com: TE Chris O’Neill (Boise State), DE Desmond Bryant (Harvard), LB Jerome Boyd (Oregon), WR Shawn Bayes (Kent State), WR Nick Miller (Southern Utah) and G Jonathan Compas (UC Davis).

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