Notes and quotes from Wednesday at the Napa Marriott, a day before the Raiders begin practices:
— JaMarcus Russell has not been made available to the media yet _ that would probably be Thursday _ but at least two players, Johnnie Lee Higgins and Zach Miller, did not attend his “passing camp” in Alabama. Higgins said he was spending time in his family and Miller was on vacation with his fiancee. Both are expressing their confidence in Russell’s maturity and leadership ability.
Cable dodged any questions of whether Jeff Garcia had any legitimate chance of unseating Russell as the starter.
“I think right now in moving forward our starting quarterback is JaMarcus Russell and Jeff is his backup,” Cable said. “How it all plays out and all that, we’re always evaluating this football team. We certainly want to put the best chance on the field to win.”
Cable’s rationale on ditching Lane Kiffin’s Morning-evening-afternoon practice schedule, a with double sessions separated by several hours and always followed by an mid-afternoon practice the next day:
“They need to be in the heat and the sun. It hardens you. They need to go through the struggles of camp and the hard work, kind of the ups and downs with it and learn to help each other through it,” Cable said. “That’s part of building leadership and building a closer camp. Perhaps you can make it through easier by having this and then at night, back in the morning the next day. It’s almost like it’s too soft, it’s too easy.”
OK, then, how come there will be eight “learning intensive” practices with no pads before getting down to the serious business of knocking some heads?
“We’ll do that plenty. One thing I do know about football players and humans in general, if you’re mind’s right, the rest of it kind of fits,” Cable said. “You can go beat the hell out of them all you want, but if they don’t know where to go or how to go there, in a hurry, you’ve got problems.”
— Hard to see the Derrick Burgess saga having a happy ending. Challenging Al Davis is never a good thing. If Burgess is seriously considering sitting out, Davis will have no problem letting him until he either comes back, tail between his legs, or if a legitimate trade offer comes forth. And what is a legitimate trade offer to Davis is often more than the other team is willing to give.
From Burgess’ perspective, it’s no way to begin a salary drive.
— It’s time to set Andrew Walter free. Trade options were explored in the offseason, but it’s tough to get a draft pick when everyone knows he’s going to be cut.
— If the draft picks are going for the likes of Arman Shields and Stryker Sulak, it hardly matters. Hindsight is 20-20, but those were undeniably wasted picks by any standard.
— I’m still of the opinion Darrius Heyward-Bey will be in Napa shortly. At most, he’ll be like Michael Huff, Darrell Russell and Miller _ players who missed maybe a practice or two while details of the contract were being ironed out. The Raiders track record in signing all their picks is beyond reproach other than the Russell disaster. The fact that Cable said Heyward-Bey is essentially on standby somewhere in the Bay Area is a good sign.
Cable also said there are no issues with Heyward-Bey’s hamstring, which slowed his progress during the mandatory minicamp and OTAs.
— The company line through camp last year was that no one was worried about Lane Kiffin’s relationship with Al Davis. It was a media creation, overblown, taken out of context, etc. Now the story, according to Kirk Morrison, is that it was tough to deal with.
“I think it’s a big weight lifted off our shoulders. Last year going into it, I just think every week there was a question. It wasn’t about who the opponent was, it was more about ‘Is your coach going to be here? What do you guys have to do to keep his job? If you guys don’t win do you think he’s going to be fired, ” Morrison said. “These are the questions that had to be answered on a continuous basis for the first couple of months and all of training camp. That’s just something as players you don’t want to here.
“You just want to keep going and practice, worry about the opponent, worry about stopping the run, worry about completing passes down the field, worry about winning. Now that’s what the basis of our camp is right now is figuring out ways how we are going to win football games. That’s why I’m excited. We haven’t heard any of that other talk. Our main focus is getting the guys together and getting out on the football field and producing as a 53-man roster that can get out on the football field and win games for us.
— Morrison promises the Raiders will do what they haven’t done consistently since he arrived _ stop the run. It will happen through discipline, repetition and gap control.
“We have a mission. Our mission is to stop the run this year.” Morrison said. “What we have to do about that is going from step one, the basics, learning, teaching. I think the guys understand that. Once we go from those basics to putting it out on the field, repping it as many times as possible, so when game time comes we’ll be ready to go.”
— Morrison on the value of continuity: “Same head coach, same year. I’ve been through four head coaches in four years so far. I just hope that this one stays. I think that what he laid out for us so far, it looks like he’s going to be here a long time.”
— Last year’s surprising finish, considering the mostly unwatchable team of the first 10-plus weeks, has Morrison hoping for some momentum.
“We’ve been through it, a lot of guys are still here from last year that were part of that team that went 3-3 over the last six games and saw the improvement that we made,” Morrison said. “We saw what winning felt like and what it tasted like and I think coming off what we did last year, guys are ready to let that thing roll over into this year. We see what we can be. Now it’s just up to us to go out and become everything that people think we aren’t.”
— Cable opened his press briefing by expressing condolences to the Philadelphia Eagles over the death of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson.
“First thing I want to say is this: I want to send out our thoughts and prayers to the Philadelphia Eagles and the family of Jim Johnson,” Cable said.“For all of us in this game, there’s a guy who epitomizes what coaching at this level is all about and has for a long, long time. So it’s important for me to say that.”’
Johnson never coached for the Raiders, but interviewed for the job of defensive coordinator on Jon Gruden’s staff in 1998. Gruden wanted to hire Johnson, but Davis opted for Willie Shaw. Shaw did a remarkable job in his first season, but was gone two years later in favor of Chuck Bresnahan.
On the Dan Patrick Show, ex-Raider Warren Sapp said of Johnson, “Al Davis may have said it, but Jim Johnson lived it _ the quarterback must go down, and he must go down hard.”
Johnson’s zone blitzing teams were almost always among the leaders in sacks.