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2006 Season Preview

Art Shell returns after an 11-year hiatus to coach a Raiders team that he helped win two Super Bowls as a player. The Hall of Fame offensive tackle inherits a team with myriad problems.

During his first tour of duty as coach, Shell (right) had a 56-41 record (including 2-3 playoffs) in five-plus seasons. He led the Raiders to three playoff berths, including an appearance in the 1990 AFC title game. Since his dismissal after the 1994 season, the Raiders have had only three winning seasons.

Shell, 59, brings toughness and accountability to a team that is coming off a franchise-worst three straight losing seasons.

The Raiders have only 13 wins the past three seasons, tying the 49ers for the fewest victories in the NFL over that juncture.

The Raiders' best hope this season is to develop a consistent running attack, which would alleviate the burden on quarterback Aaron Brooks to make an abundance of plays in the passing game. Without a ball-control offense, the suspect Raiders defense has no chance to slow down the opposition. Oakland had one of the NFL's worst defenses the past two seasons.

Here’s a capsule outlook for the 2006 season:

Burning Questions

Will Randy Moss re-establish himself as one of the NFL’s elite receivers? Last season (his first with the Raiders), an injury-plagued Moss had 60 catches for 1,005 yards, well below his seven-year average of 82 catches and 1,306 yards.

Will the Raiders offensive line improve from its 2005 meltdown? Last season, the unit surrendered 45 sacks, fourth most in the AFC. Oakland ranked 28th in rushing, 23rd in total offense and 21st in scoring — all a reflection of poor offensive line play.

Entering the 2006 regular season, Oakland will have a revamped offensive line. Robert Gallery moves from right tackle to left tackle (his position in college). Barry Sims, arguably Oakland's best offensive lineman, moves from left tackle to left guard. Jake Grove (whose status is uncertain after sustaining a shoulder injury Aug. 22) remains at center while rookie Paul McQuistan (a third-round draft choice) is the projected starter at right guard and Langston Walker is back at right tackle after missing the final 10 games last season because of a stomach injury.

Will Aaron Brooks (right) be an improvement at quarterback over the disposed Kerry Collins? Brooks averaged 24.5 TD passes from 2001 through 2003 before his decline with the Saints. The eight-year veteran enters the 2006 season with a 38-44 win-loss record as an NFL starter. That record is somewhat misleading because Brooks had a 3-10 record in 2005 before being benched. Collins is 66-79. At the very least, Brooks gives the Raiders a mobile quarterback for the first time since the opening two games of 2004 — before Rich Gannon sustained a career-ending neck injury. Brooks' strong arm and his ability to move out of the pocket should help in upgrading Oakland's passing game.

Do the Raiders have enough talent to change their reputation as a poor defensive team? Three of Oakland’s best defensive players — defensive backs Charles Woodson and Renaldo Hill and run-stopper Ted Washington — bolted during the free-agent signing period. Last season, Oakland ranked 27th in total defense, 25th against the run and had a league-low five interceptions. The team’s top two 2006 draft picks — safety Michael Huff (first round) and linebacker Thomas Howard (second round) — won starting jobs during training camp.

Will former Texas safety Michael Huff, the seventh overall pick in the 2006 draft, compensate for the loss of four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson (who signed with Green Bay in May)? Huff will wear the No. 24 jersey, the same number that Woodson wore during his eight seasons in Oakland. Raiders’ Hall of Famer Willie Brown also wore No. 24. Barring injury, the hard-hitting Huff will upgrade Oakland’s tackling and pass defense.

Will coach Art Shell be able to cut down on Oakland's penalties? The Raiders have led the NFL in penalties the past three seasons, and 12 times overall. Only the Chicago Bears have a more dubious record — leading the league 15 times in penalties.

During the 2006 exhibition season, Oakland committed only 27 penalties for 266 yards, a per-game average of 5.4 penalties for 70.8 yards. The Raiders led the league in penalties three times (1991, 1993 & 1994) during Shell's first tour of duty as coach.

On The Hot Seat

Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan — During his first two seasons in Oakland, Ryan's defense has been horrible. During that juncture, the Raiders have allowed a combined 825 points (442 in 2004 and 383 in 2005) and ranked 30th and 27th, respectively, in total defense.

K Sebastian Janikowski — Is coming off a 2005 season in which he ranked last in the NFL in field goal accuracy with a career-low 66.7 percent (20 of 30 kicks). He made no field goals past 49 yards. Now, the good news. The Polish Cannon enjoyed a sizzling 2006 exhibition season by making all seven of his field goal attempts, including three from 50 yards or longer.

WR Jerry Porter — Has been in the organization's doghouse since his offseason blowup with coach Art Shell and trade demand. The disgruntled Porter contributed only two catches for 20 yards during the 2006 exhibition season.

5 Players To Watch

RB LaMont Jordan — Will the former New York Jets backup get enough carries to become an offensive force? Last season, Jordan’s first in Oakland, the Raiders were 0-8 when he had 20 or fewer carries. Jordan finished the season with 1,025 rushing yards, but he averaged only 3.8 yards per carry.

DT Warren Sapp — The Mouth Who Roared talks a great game, but can he rebound from rotator cuff surgery?

OT Robert Gallery — Will moving from right tackle to left tackle help improve his performance? During his first two NFL seasons, the former Iowa All-America hasn’t played like a No. 2 pick in the draft.

FS Stuart Schweigert — Made major strides in 2005 as a second-year player.

WR Ronald Curry — Can he rebound from Achilles tendon injuries each of the past two seasons? The former North Carolina quarterback contributed career highs of 50 catches for 679 yards and six touchdowns before tearing his left Achilles tendon against Kansas City in December 2004.

Did You Know?

Since Art Shell was fired after the 1994 season, the Raiders have had only three winning seasons (2000, 2001 & 2002). They've also finished .500 or worse eight times.

In the 2005 season, his first with the Raiders, defensive end Derrick Burgess broke a 19-year-old franchise record with 16 sacks, surpassing Sean Jones’ team record of 15.5 set in 1986. Burgess, who spent four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before signing with Oakland, had multiple sacks in six games last year and became the first Raiders player to ever lead the NFL in sacks.
The Raiders had an NFL-low five interceptions in 2005, the fewest interceptions by a team in a non-strike year in league history.
The Raiders are 1-11 against the AFC West the past two seasons. They finished 0-6 in 2005, equaling a franchise record for futility set in 1962 (Oakland went 0-6 against American Football League Western Division opposition en route to a 1-13 record).

History Lesson

The Raiders are trying to avoid a fourth straight losing season for the first time in franchise history. They've had three straight losing seasons twice — 1960-62 & 2003-05.

The Raiders have finished last in the AFC West each of the past two seasons. They also accomplished the dubious feat in 1961-62. No Raiders team has finished last in the division in three straight years.

Bottom Line

During the 2006 offseason, the Raiders changed quarterbacks (replacing erratic Kerry Collins with Aaron Brooks) but did little else for an offense that ranked 21st in yards and 23rd in scoring the previous season. On defense, they added former Texas safety Michael Huff (right) when they could have drafted a franchise-calibre quarterback in USC's Matt Lienart or Vanderbilt's Jay Cutler. Huff is expected to beat out former first-round bust Derrick Gibson at strong safety. The high-profile Huff isn't the only Oakland 2006 draft choice expected to contribute immeadiately. Linebacker Thomas Howard (second round) and guard Paul McQuistan (third round) won starting positions during training camp.

For the Raiders, the critical question is: Will the offseason changes translate into an improved win-loss record?

During its 2006 exhibition season, Oakland exhibited a deep passing game and a ball-hawking defense. With a 4-1 record, the Raiders equaled their best exhibition showing since 1994.

If the Raiders continue to develop play-makers on offense and defense, Oakland has the potential to stop the trend of losing seasons.

Updated: 9-7-2006


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