Every time it seems Al Davis is about to relinquish some control in the Raiders personnel department, the evidence suggests his grip gets tighter.
When Jon Gruden took over in 1998, conventional wisdom was he had a lot to do with changing the makeup of the team. Which he did, but only to a point.
There was the time Gruden thought he had cut David Dunn, only to discover he hadn’t. When Dunn fumbled a punt which helped cost the Raiders a game against Arizona, he and Bruce Allen didn’t speak for a month.
Gruden was sent packing following the season, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers giving Davis an offer he couldn’t refuse.
When Norv Turner took over, he phased out both Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, only to end up being sent out of town following the 2005 season in favor of Art Shell.
Shell picked a fight with Jerry Porter, Davis never intervened, and the coach also implemented a three-coach disaster with the offensive line. Davis watched all the way up to the point until he dumped Shell.
As for draft picks, Davis blamed Shell for Michael Huff over Matt Leinart (at this point it looks like neither was worth the No. 7 pick).
It’s never been clear exactly who much power Lane Kiffin received, since his main agenda was building a resume and getting out of town.
That’s a long way of saying that at least things are clear in 2009. The Raiders are a height-weight-speed team that wants to look good getting off the bus. Tom Cable, in so many words, said so last weekend when discussing how the Raiders made their selections.
Cable has input. He wants some character to go along with the measurables. But Cable is operating like a Stanford recruiting coordinator, except that the players he crosses off the list are too slow in the 40-yard dash or have another perceived physical liability rather than poor grades.
Michael Crabtree? Rey Maualuga? Too slow.
Even the handful of undrafted free agents the Raiders have signed fit in to one of their cherished categories.
“The Raiders love speed, they don’t care about size as much as speed,” wide receiver/return specialist Nick Miller of Southern Utah told the Daily Spectrum. “They like to throw the ball and stretch the field, which is perfect for me since those are my biggest strengths: my speed and my ability to get down the field.”
It’s a cliche even in St. George, Utah.
When I covered Stanford football, there were stories about how Dennis Green would rail against the admissions department and even take his case to provost Condoleeza Rice _ unsuccessfully. Green bailed out when the Minnesota Vikings called.
Cable, on the other hand, appears to be pushing the players he likes, but doesn’t bother with anyone who doesn’t meet the minimum requirements speed-size requirements. It’s a realistic approach, rather than fighting for player Davis will never consider.
Rather than resist Davis, he has gotten on board. In some quarters, he’s immediately been labeled another puppet, a line coach thankful to have a head coaching job like Joe Bugel.
Only time will tell whether Cable has actually established a working relationship with Davis or if he’ll be the latest coach to be sent out of town because he couldn’t work within the framework of a system which many believe values workout warriors over football players.
Because that’s the trick with the Raiders _ finding the workout warriors who are also football players.
Snead on the way out
Speaking of the scouting operation, I’ve heard Rich Snead is on his way out of the organization.
Snead joined the Raiders after Mike Lombardi was fired, although it’s not clear how much influence he had.
Lombardi was initially trotted out to the media as a “voice” after Allen left, although he was never comfortable with the role and was banished when he recruited Bobby Petrino to be the head coach, only to have Petrino turn down the job.
Snead, a respected personnel man with Tennessee for nine years before joining the Raiders, has been essentially anonymous since he arrived.
If the as yet unsubstantiated stories regarding free agent fullback Lorenzo Neal and the Raiders are true, it means two things:
1) The Raiders aren’t expecting Oren O’Neal to be ready for the beginning of the 2009 season, because it isn’t their style to lead on a respected vet such as Neal and sign him to a deal, only to dump him if O’Neal is healthy.
2) It’s another example of what Davis meant when he said he wanted more power in the Raiders running game. Kiffin made it clear last year he didn’t believe Neal was a fit for the zone blocking system.
If Davis tells Cable to make it work, Cable will have to make it work.