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2007 Season Preview

Lane Kiffin is the fourth Raiders coach in five seasons. The former USC offensive coordinator inheirts a team that has a league-worst 15-49 record the past four seasons.

When he was hired on Jan. 22, 2007, Kiffin, then 31, became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history. Now 32, he has no previous head-coaching experience.

His biggest challenge is to reverse the course (albeit corpse) of the Raiders' self-destructing offense. In 2006, Oakland had a league low 168 points and league highs of 72 sacks allowed and 46 turnovers.

There are fewer concerns on the Oakland defense — led by two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Derrick Burgess, cornerback Nnamdi Asmougha and linebacker Thomas Howard.

Oakland concluded last season with a 14-game division losing streak, an 11-game road losing streak and an overall nine-game losing streak.

The Raiders are working on a dubious streak of four straight losing seasons.

Kiffin and his players face an ominous task of climbing out of the abyss.

Here’s a capsule outlook for the 2007 season:

Burning Questions
Who will be the Raiders' starting quarterback? Former Viking and Dolphin Daunte Culpepper, right, was signed July 31 as top-draft pick JaMarcus Russell stayed away from training camp because of a contract holdout. Culpepper, Josh McCown and Andrew Walter competed for the job through the first three exhibition games before Kiffin announced on Aug. 27 that Walter was the odd man out. McCown started the season opener against the Lions (313 yards and three TDs) and Russell signed a reported a six-year, $61 million contract on Sept. 12.

If Oakland's offensive line doesn't improve its woeful 2006 showing, it won't matter if McCown, Culpepper or Russell take the center snap because they'll get burried by a relentless pass rush.

Will new offensive line coach Tom Cable help elevate his unit's play? In 2006, Oakland surrendered a league-high 72 sacks and ranked 29th in rushing (94.9 yards per game). Cable spent the 2006 season as the Atlanta Falcons offensive line coach. The Falcons led the league in rushing the past three seasons.

Will the Raiders' run defense rise up to complement its formidable pass defense? Last season, the Raiders finished third in NFL total defense at 284.4 yards per game and first against the pass at 150.8 yards per game, but they ranked 25th against the run at 134.0 yards per game. They were run on a league-high 524 times and passed on a league-low 483 times.

Will the Raiders players embrace new head coach Lane Kiffin? The Raiders reportedly imploded under their past three head coaches — Bill Callahan, Norv Turner and Art Shell. Kiffin's resolve won't be tested until the first sign of adversity. In the past four seasons, the Raiders crumpled once losing set in.

On The Hot Seat
WR Jerry Porter — Needs to re-establish himself as an NFL-caliber starting wide receiver after a one-catch performance for 19 yards in 2006. Before being banished to then-coach Art Shell's doghouse, Porter contributed 140 catches for 1940 yards and 14 touchdowns during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.

OL Robert Gallery — During his first three NFL seasons, the former Iowa All-America hasn’t played like the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Will moving from left tackle to left guard help improve his performance? In Gallery's defense, he's had to work with two previous offensive coordinators — Jimmy Raye (for two years) and Tom Walsh.

RB Lamont Jordan — The Raiders sent the injury-prone Jordan, right, a wake-up call during the offseason by signing former Colts running back Dominic Rhodes, who will miss the first four games of the 2007 regular season because of an NFL substance-abuse suspension. Jordan, who signed a reported five-year, $27.5 million contract in March of 2005, missed nine of Oaklands's past 18 games because of injury.

K Sebastian Janikowski — Has finished last in the league in field goal accuracy each of the past two seasons. Through his first five NFL seasons, The Polish Cannon made 80.8 percent of his field goals attempts (118 of 146). In 2005 and 2006, he hit only 69.1 percent of his kicks (38 of 55).

Players To Watch
CB Nnamdi Asomugha — His eight interceptions in 2006 were eight more than he totaled during his first three NFL seasons and three more than the team had in 2005.

DT Warren Sapp — Reportedly has extra incentive this season after being snubbed for his eighth Pro Bowl selection in 2006. Snapp recorded 10.0 sacks last season, his most since he had 16.5 sacks for Tampa Bay in 2000.

WR Ronald Curry — Had 33 of his team-high 62 receptions during the 2006 season’s final four games, showing he's recovered from Achilles injuries the previous two seasons.

SS Michael Huff — Didn’t have any interceptions, sacks or fumble recoveries despite starting all 16 games in his rookie season. Not the production you're looking for from the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft.

The Schedule
The Raiders' 2007 opponents had a 94-98 combined record in 2006. Oakland plays four 2006 playoff teams — Colts, Bears, Chargers and Chiefs. The Super Bowl champion Colts play their first game in Oakland since 1995.

The Raiders have potential cold-weather road games against Kansas City (Nov. 25) and Green Bay (Dec. 9).

For the first time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Raiders aren't scheduled to play a Sunday or Monday night prime-time game. Because of the league’s flexible schedule policy, Oakland could have one of its games moved to a Sunday night after Week 10. Detroit and Cleveland are the only other teams without any prime-time night games.

History Lessons
During the 2006 season, the Raiders set franchise records for most losses (14) and fewest points (168) in a season. It's the fifth fewest points by a team since the league adapted a 16-game format in 1987.

The Raiders have lost 14 straight games to AFC West opposition. They're 1-17 in division games the past three seasons.
Sebastian Janikowski needs seven field goals to break Chris Bahr's franchise record of 162 field goals. Bahr played for the Raiders from 1980 to 1988. Janikowski is tied with George Blanda for second place on the all-time list with 156 field goals. Blanda played for the Raiders from 1967 to 1975.

Bottom Line
The hiring of Lane Kiffin gives the Raiders a chance to succeed. No more recycled coaches. No more Bill Callahan, no more Norv Turner and no more Art Shell.

Kiffen, right, brings a fresh approach to a moribund Raiders team, ala Jon Gruden in 1998. Under Kiffen's watch, at least the Raiders will try to run an offense that wasn't conceived three decades ago. Two of Kiffin's top assistants — offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Tom Cable — will help implement new concepts to a stagnant offense that scored only 12 touchowns the previous season.

Kiffen reportedly is abrasive and demanding — just like Gruden, who led the Raiders to two winning seasons and two playoff appearances in 2000 and 2001.

If Kiffin can ressurrect the Oakland offensive line, the Raiders offense will be at least functional. That would be a major upgrade from 2006.

If Oakland's offense complements its already capable defense, the Raiders have a chance to win six to eight games. Gruden won eight games in his first season with the Raiders following a 4-12 disaster in 1997 under Joe Bugel.

If Kiffin can't improve the O-line, expect more floundering on offense. The losing trend will continue, and some Raiders players predictably will whine and point fingers at scapegoats. Just like they have the past four seasons.

Photo caption/credit:
Daunte Culpepper, LaMont Jordan
and Lane Kiffin photos:

By The Associated Press

Updated: 9-12-2007


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