From wonder to blunder, this was pretty much the
transformation of the Oakland Raiders through 2002 to 2003. After all, in '03, they won a total of four games, just one year following an AFC
Championship-winning campaign that saw them triumph almost three-times that amount during the regular season. For the upcoming year, however, the
black-and-silver are making strides to improve, starting with the coaching as owner Al Davis brings in head-coach Norv Turner. The NFL's 30th-ranked
defense is also being severely re-vamped with two veteran signings to the D-line- Warren Sapp and Ted Washington.
It doesn't stop there, as the Raiders also acquired other veterans, LB Dwayne Rudd and CB Ray Buchanan, to help that D', as well as OG Ron Stone and
rookie OT Robert Gallery to improve the offensive-line. The biggest question the Raiders have to deal with is who to start at QB: former Giants QB
Kerry Collins or 2002 MVP Rich Gannon? At the start, it will be the latter, and if he can stay healthy and repeat his past success, to go with
eventual Hall-of-Famer WR Jerry Rice, then the Raiders may have a shot. They should definitely be better than last year, at least.
Charles Woodson, CB, seventh season, 6-1, 200; Jerry Rice, WR, 20th season, 6-2, 200; Jerry Porter, WR, fifth season, 6-2, 220;
Rich Gannon, QB, 17th season, 6-3, 210.
Warren Sapp, DT (Tampa Bay), 6-2, 300; Ted Washington, DT (New England), 6-5, 365; Bobby Hamilton, DE (New England), 6-5,
280; Danny Clark, LB (Jacksonville), 6-2, 250; Ray Buchanan, S (Atlanta), 5-9, 185; Marques Anderson, S (Green Bay), 5-11, 210; David Terrell, S,
(Washington), 6-0, 190; Ron Stone, G (San Francisco), 6-5, 325; Amos Zereoue, RB (Pittsburgh), 5-8, 210; Roland Williams TE (Tampa Bay), 6-5, 265;
Kerry Collins, QB (New York Giants).
WR Tim Brown, DE Trace Armstrong, LB Eric Barton, DT Rod Coleman, S Anthony Dorsett, RB Charlie Garner, LB Eric Johnson,
OT Lincoln Kennedy, QB Rick Mirer, LB Bill Romanowski, TE O.J. Santiago, CB Terrance Shaw, OT Matt Stinchcomb, DT Dana Stubblefield.
Napoleon Harris, LB, third season, 6-2, 255; Tyler Brayton, DE, second season, 6-6, 280; Tyrone Wheatley, RB, tenth season,
6-0, 235; Zack Crockett, FB, tenth season, 6-2, 240; Langston Walker, OT, third season, 6-8, 345; Barry Sims, OT, sixth season, 6-5, 300; Adam Treu,
C, 6-5, 300, eighth season; Frank Middleton, G, eighth season, 6-4, 330.
The Norv Turner era officially opens for the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, as the new head coach takes his team into enemy territory to meet the
Steelers. Turner, who most recently served as offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins, was head coach of the Washington Redskins from 1994 to
2000, posting a record of 49-59-1. Turner will be charged with the task of reversing the fortunes of a Raiders team that went a miserable 4-12 last
season, the worst season for the franchise since 1997. Also attempting to erase the memory of a disappointing 2003 will be Pittsburgh, which stumbled
to a 6-10 mark last year. The record matched the team's worst showing in 15 years.
The Raiders have an interesting situation
brewing at quarterback with aging veteran Rich Gannon as the incumbent starter and former Giants QB Kerry Collins waiting in the wings. Gannon
appeared to be throwing the ball well in training camp and has shown no lingering effects of the shoulder injury that cost him nine games in 2003, so
he will begin the season as the starter. However, Turner prefers a vertical attack to the dink-and-dunk style that made Gannon successful under Jon
Gruden. Collins is younger than Gannon and his skills fit Turner's system better. The most obvious being that he has a stronger arm to stretch
opposing defenses. After filling in as the starter for the injured Gannon last year, Marques Tuiasosopo, who missed the end of the season because of
injury himself, has reverted to the No. 3 role and is not likely to see a lot of playing time unless the injury bug hits the QB position again.
With the loss of Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley
will take the majority of the load at halfback. However, there are legitimate concerns about his ability to hold up for 16 games as the team's
featured back. Second-year player Justin Fargas, who has durability issues himself, will share the load. He has the potential to develop into a
home-run hitter with the size to run between the tackles and the speed to bounce outside. Former Pittsburgh Steeler Amos Zereoue, who makes a nice
change-of-pace back, will push for playing time as the third-down back. Zack Crocket will start at fullback again this year, and while he is only
adequate as a lead blocker, he's a good option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Chris Hetherington is a better blocker and pass receiver,
but he was waived after he lost his job in the preseason to the versatile J.R. Redmond.
Oakland shook things up, bringing in a new coach and a lot of household names like Sapp, Washington, Collins, and Buchanan. Translating the wholesale
changes into success seems like a shaky proposition. The quarterback competition is contentious, the backfield is "journeyman central," and the
effectiveness of the offensive line will be dependent on at least two rookies. Defensively, the line has gotten better but the linebackers are
mediocre and Woodson's absence casts a pall over the secondary. In addition, there are new schemes galore on both sides of the football and a coach
that, quite frankly, never proved himself to be well-suited to the head role when he was in Washington. Another 4-12 season is highly unlikely, but
there appear to be way too many unanswered questions for the Raiders to compete with Denver and Kansas City in the AFC West. A .500 season won't sit
well with Davis, but will be a step in the right direction after last year's debacle.
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]