Receivers still not catching on

Quick hits from Raiders practice Wednesday:

– After watching as footballs continue to litter the ground after glancing only temporarily off the hands of intended receivers, Lane Kiffin was asked whether the challenge he issued to his receivers to improve their play had been met.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it,” Kiffin said. “I don’t how many (drops) today, probably seven, and a number of them with our frontline guys. So we’ll see. We’ll come out here tomorrow and the plan is for these guys to play a lot in the game and get some shots to produce.”

Running back Justin Fargas dropped a pair of easy swing pass opportunities from Russell. Russell moved on a reverse roll to his left and found Drew Carter, only to have the pass dropped.

Todd Watkins, one of the most reliable receivers in camp, mishandled an easy opportunity on a medium depth pass over the middle.

During one goal line drill, Javon Walker tried to make a difficult catch near the goal line but was unable to come up with it, a play that happened right in front of Al Davis, who was seated in a golf cart watching practice.

Walker gave Davis a quick wave, but got nothing in return. (The two talked after practice).

Moments later, Walker lined up in the left slot, only to be repositioned by Ronald Curry, who sent him to the other side of the field. Walker was able redeem himself in some measure by catching a short pass in the end zone in front of Darrick Brown, in the same corner where Davis was still watching.

Kiffin was asked if the dropped passes can be contageous.

“Definitely I think it can. I think it’s like anything, it can affect people around you no matter what it is,” Kiffin said. “Then all of a sudden that confidence in your group, one of your guys starts to lose it and it can start affecting guys if you don’t have an extremely confident group that’s done it for a long time.”

– Tight ends Zach Miller and John Madsen continued to secure the ball consistently, and were joined in that regard Wednesday by Tony Stewart, who returned from a toe injury.

– When the Raiders finally struck with a deep pass, it came from the unlikely combination of Marques Tuiasosopo to Drisan James on a 30-plus yard corner route. James appeared to catch the ball on a dive despite tight coverage from Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff.


Senior executive John Herrera, standing at the goal line, said yes.

Mark Davis, son of the Raiders owner, said no.

– Russell had a good sequence during a third-down drill in a team format from varying distances. He opened with a short completion to Miller which was short ot the first down, but followed with a first down strike to the right sideline to Chaz Schilens, a successful conversion on a slant pass to Walker, a third-and-4 conversion to Madsen and a third-and-9 conversion to Ronald Curry before Carter’s drop of a deep pass.

– More good work from Russell in a red zone drill _ a 22-yard TD strike to Carter over Brown and consecutive touchdown passes to Madsen and Stewart.

– The Raiders are working with Russell to get rid of the ball when things don’t open up, a problem which dogged Walter in the Art Shell-Tom Walsh era where the coaching staff held to the archaic strategy of waiting until a receiver broke free _ regardless of the length of time.

Kiffin conceded the coaches can talk all the want, but the real learning would only come on game day.

“It’s one of the hardest things that you do because it only happens on game day,” Kiffin said. “He doesn’t get hit in practice. That’s why veteran guys are better than young guys. That’s why when you have a rookie you have to be careful with what you do, in my opinion.

“Those things come with experience from the game. That’s the only way you can get it. You can’t do it in practice. You can say as much as you want: ‘Ball gone, ball gone’ when it’s got to be gone but it’s not the same as getting hit in the back of the head when you hold onto it too long. ”

“That’s why we’re playing him a lot in the preseason. That’s why we’re also at times going to be conservative with him.”

– Russell made a nice read on a Stanford Routt blitz, hitting Carter for a gain in the area Routt vacated to rush the passer.

– Louis Rankin broke into the clear on one run, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan taking strong safety Gibril Wilson to task.

“That’s your fit, Gibril. Close that (bleeping) fit, Gibril,” Ryan said.

– Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was called for offsides and proceeded to take another of his “laps” around the field. It took Kelly 1:40 to take approximately three-quarters of a lap at a walk-jog pace.

“That was disappointing because it was third down and it wasn’t even a hard count,” Kiffin said.

Kalimba Edwards was also sent running, and by comparison looked like Usain Bolt.

– Players who Kiffin ruled out for the Arizona game Saturday night were cornerback John Bowie (knee), linebacker Grant Irons (back), wide receiver Arman Shelds (knee) and kickers Shane Lechler (quad) and Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring).

Safety Hiram Eugene (hip) did not practice but Kiffin was not ready to rule him out.

Kiffin said if Saturday were a regular-season game, Lechler probably would not be ready to kick but there was a possibility Janikowski would be ready. The Raiders have their first cutdown Tuesday and may have to keep both Aaron Elling and Glenn Pakulak if Lechler and Janikowski aren’t ready to resume practice or kick against Seattle in the preseason finale.

– With Davis in attendance for the first time at a practice session in Alameda, the session lasted more than two hours, although it was scheduled to be a more brief practice than Tuesday.

“Everything that didn’t go right we repeated, we didn’t let anything go by, (we) really kept ‘em out here for a long time and pushed ‘em through it,” Kiffin said. “It was good to see their reaction to it, and guys worked extremely hard.”

– Thanks to those who participated in the weekly on-line chat. We’ll probably have to adjust the time and later the day of the chat, as noon is running into practice and interview time and Wednesday during the regular season is the busiest day of the week with interview sessions and conference calls with opposing teams.

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A rooting interest

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
A cynic would suggest Marques Tuiasosopo doesn’t stand a chance of making the most of his chance as quarterback of the Oakland Raiders and making it his own. He’s just way too nice of a guy, and you remember what Leo Durocher used to say about where nice guys finish.

The Raiders, of course, are already in last. So what could it hurt?

No one who covers a college or professional sports team – at least no one I’ve ever met in 20-plus years – has a serious rooting interest in the teams they cover. Sure, you’d like your team to win if it gives you a chance to cover a Super Bowl in a pleasant locale. And more often than not it’s better if your team wins because it makes your job easier in terms of player and organizational access.

You get e-mails all the time from fans who insist you’re a “Raider Hater,’’ when in reality the coverage is a reflection of the record. Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of positive stories that go along with 13-31 since 2002. And writing stories about the players getting cut and coaches getting fired is no fun. Coaching searches, a way of life every few years under Al Davis, are miserable and stressful for everyone involved, including the media.

But while you don’t root for a team because it clouds the judgement, you’d be less than human if you didn’t occasionally pull for people. Tuiasosopo is one of those people.

He’s been nothing but a gracious, friendly, honest and classy guy from the moment he arrived. The same could be said for Kerry Collins, whose handling of his demotion was what we’ve come to expect from a recovering alcoholic who meets things head on and never loses his perspective or dignity.

But Collins simply wasn’t working out, and getting a look at Tuiasosopo is absolutely the right thing to do.

Frankly, though, I have my doubts, and it has nothing to do with Tuiasosopo’s poor play in the preseason. Preseason football means next to nothing. Never has, never will.

Can a guy who has sat for this long play with any sort of crispness and continuity? Can a player who did his best in college after making mistakes and falling behind suddenly become cool and efficient when he’s always excelled when he acts as if his hair is on fire? Does he pass the ball well enough to be a 60 percent passer and keep the chains moving?

If he can do all these things, he’s too good to be true.

While they’d never admit it, the Raiders braintrust would be surprised as well. Otherwise, Tuiasosopo never would have been temporarily demoted to No. 3 when Collins was signed to take over for Rich Gannon. So the odds are against Tuiasosopo developing into anything extraordinary.

They’ll tell you in the Great Northwest that Tuiasosopo used to beat the odds routinely at the University of Washington. For the sake of seeing something interesting over the last four weeks of the season, as well as a just reward for someone who appears to deserve it, here’s hoping it happens again.

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Something isn’t adding up

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
If Al Davis were given to moments of calm introspection rather than rapid-fire outbursts and scathing critiques, you could almost envision him sitting with the coaching staff as Vito Corleone did with the heads of the five families, wondering how things could go so terribly wrong.

It’s not often a team makes as many solid off-season moves as the Raiders did yet still fails to improve their won-loss record. Yet there they sit, at the bottom of the AFC West, with the same 3-6 record as last season.

After finishing 5-11 in 2004, the Raiders traded for Randy Moss, who has been hobbled by injury and still hasn’t fully been integrated into the offense. He has 32 receptions for 631 yards and five touchdowns. It hasn’t been perfect, but would you rather have Napoleon Harris and the No. 7 pick in the draft? Didn’t think so.

They signed LaMont Jordan, a running back who had never been a starter, to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. The bottom line is the Raiders aren’t running that much better than last year, averaging 85.3 yards to 80.9 in 2004.

But Jordan’s 640 yards is already considerably better than Amos Zereoue’s pathetic team-leading total of 425 last season, and his 47 receptions out of the backfield is second only to Brian Westbrook of Philadelphia, who has 48. Another good move…

They signed Derrick Burgess, a talented defensive end with a history of injury. Burgess already has a career-high seven sacks, has upgraded the Raiders pass rush, and delivered what might be the hit of the season on Tatum Bell to force a fumble against Denver. Burgess is the most explosive edge player the Raiders have had since they came back to Oakland.

That makes them 3-for-3 in big ticket acquisitions. On to the draft, seldom a Raiders strength.

They have two current defensive starters who look to be of real quality in linebacker Kirk Morrison and cornerback Fabian Washington. There were other positives. Defensive back Renaldo Hill has been a solid contributor, and undrafted rookie Chris Carr is an excellent return specialist.

Even with the absence of franchise free agent Charles Woodson with a broken leg, this is a defense far superior to last season. Moving Warren Sapp inside has made him a productive player again, even if he’s not what he was five or six years ago in Tampa.

Quarterback Kerry Collins had just three interceptions before his regrettable implosion against Denver, and the offensive line has protected him reasonably well in most games. You add all this together and it’s tough to come out with 3-6.

Blaming the officials is too easy, and only perpetuates the persecution complex which only hurts the Raiders when it comes to overcoming legitimate adversity.

This isn’t to say the Raiders are this loaded team which should be running roughshod over the NFL. They’re not. It’s just that they seem to be closer to the pack in terms of quality players than they have been the past two years, yet aren’t getting the payoff.

The easy answer is to hold coach Norv Turner and Collins responsible, and rest assured both are on what amounts to double secret probation for the rest of the season. For it’s hard to look at this group and not see something closer to .500 or even a little above.

And if that doesn’t happen, to modify a line from the Don, Davis is going to hold some people responsible in that room.

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Not so fast

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
It’s a good thing the Oakland Raiders locker room has a better sense of perspective than its fan base.

The injuries to Charles Woodson and Derrick Gibson were downers, but the mood following a 38-17 win over Buffalo was largely uplifting and refreshingly devoid of “everyone counted us out” and “no one respected us” nonsense.

It was enjoyed for what it was – one win. In the NFL, that’s a big deal.

It was a resounding, convicing win, with the kind of offensive performance so many expected but hadn’t received through the first five games.

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King of the Raiders

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
I never saw George Blanda kick a 53-yard field goal in 1970 to become “King of the World.” Nor did I see the ending of the “Heidi Game” two years earlier.

For that matter, I wasn’t watching in 1975 when George Johnson kept blocking shots down the stretch as the Golden State Warriors won the seventh game of the Western Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls.

Thanks to Bill King, I remember those events of 30-something years ago with more clarity than a lot of things I have covered for a living the past 20 years.

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All is quiet – and that’s a good thing

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
Hear that?

It’s the sound of silence. The Raiders spent their bye weekend resting and relaxing in various ways, and in the next few days we’ll discover whether they’re rejevenated enough to win a key AFC West game from the San Diego Chargers.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Ravens committed 21 penalties, had two ejections and disgraced themselves as well as their sport in a 35-17 loss to the Detroit Lions.

The Minnesota Vikings, or at least 17 of them, allegedly boarded two chartered boats on their bye week for a night of drinking and debauchery on Lake Minnetonka which could ruin a proposed stadium deal and prompt a major housecleaning by ownership.

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Bye week notes

NFL writer Jerry McDonald

Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
Random bye week notes at the quarter turn:

  • Having given up nine touchdowns and eight field goal attempts in 49 possessions, the Raiders are better defensively than most thought they’d be.

    The reason they’re 1-3 is the offense – with eight touchdowns and 11 field goal attempts in 48 possessions – has been the opposite. Oakland may look like a 30-point per game team on paper, but the fact is the Raiders have yet to score more than 20.

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    Cowboy Country meets Raider Nation

    NFL writer Jerry McDonald

    Posted by NFL Editor and ANG football writer Jerry McDonald
    The quick declaration of a sellout for Sunday’s Cowboys-Raiders game came as at least a mild surprise, but considering what went on in Week 1 and Week 3 at California venues, maybe it shouldn’t have been.

    Dallas had a vociferous presence in the stands at both Qualcomm Stadium and Monster Park, and their come-from-behind wins at both places were accompanied by the roar of the road crowd.

    That sets up an interesting scenario Sunday at McAfee Coliseum. In a game the Raiders desperately need to win, they may be faced with the largest presence of fans cheering for the visiting team since they returned to Oakland in 1995.

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