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News » Oakland Raiders Inside Slant 2008-08-28

Oakland Raiders Inside Slant 2008-08-28

Oakland Raiders Inside Slant 2008-08-28
Fittingly, it happened in a 24-0 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, and the only thing missing was that Denny Green wasn't around to hear Lane Kiffin say the Raiders are who he thought they were.

Kiffin decided to use take quarterback JaMarcus Russell out for a test drive of sorts, to see what the Raiders could do if forced to become a passing team.

The results?

Sacks, protection issues, an interception and zero points.

"I wanted to come out of here feeling good about our passing game," Kiffin said. "I don't feel good about that. I was very discouraged. It kind of reminded me of who we are."

What the Raiders are is a running team, and the ability to run the ball will determine whether they can aspire to .500 or beyond or suffer another double-digit losing season which would almost assuredly mean the eighth head coach in 14 years since returning to Oakland in 1995.

"Unfortunately, I think I saw what we already knew," Kiffin said. "If we try to just throw the ball around we're going to get penalties, the quarterback is going to get hit, he's going to be running around a lot. He will be in trouble ... we have to go back to the same way we were before."

The Raiders last season were the sixth-ranked rushing team in the NFL. In a season of poor quarterback play with Josh McCown and Daunte Culpepper going back and forth and Russell waiting on the sideline following a contract impasse, running the ball was the one thing the Raiders could count on.

In that area, at least, they should be even better in 2008. Justin Fargas, who had a breakout year with 1,009 yards rushing despite not starting until the seventh game and missing the last two with a knee sprain, returns, and he has lots of help.

Darren McFadden arrived as the No. 4 overall pick in the draft with the kind of speed the Raiders haven't had since Napoleon Kaufman, and he has good enough receiving skills to be a valuable resource for Russell.

So does Michael Bush, a load at 245 pounds who is more nimble than you'd expect and was once a potential first-round pick until a badly broken leg ended his final season at Louisville in the 2006 opener.

So the Raiders will run, run and run some more. Ideally, Russell will throw 25 of fewer passes per game as the Raiders control the clock and let their zone blocking system wear down opposing defenses.

The more success the Raiders have, the more they let Russell grow into his job as the quarterback of the future without the sort of physical and emotional scarring that would come with 40-plus sacks and a bevy of turnovers.

Kiffin's skepticism about the passing game is music to the ears of Oakland's offensive linemen, who took to the zone blocking system last year as taught by Tom Cable.

"We'd rather run the ball," left guard Robert Gallery said. "That's the type of team we are. If we run the ball well, it's going to put more people in the box and open up the passing game.

"If you're good at something, you want to concentrate on it. You don't want to go into every week saying, 'Oh, they're a good defense, so we have to throw it.' We want to run the ball. That's our identity."

The second part of Oakland's plan would be to stop the run -- something the Raiders failed miserably at last season. They ranked 31st in run defense, surrendered a league-worst 4.8 yards per carry and saw opposing running backs break 100 yards in 10 different games.

The solution?

Sign Gibril Wilson away from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and install him at strong safety, where his play in the box will close off running lanes. They also signed Tommy Kelly to a huge contract before he became a free agent and moved him from end to the "three-technique" tackle spot vacated by the retired Warren Sapp.

"We know we've got to get better, and we think we have," Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said.

Injuries will be a concern -- the Raiders already lost fullback Oren O'Neal and wide receiver Drew Carter for the season -- because of a lack of depth.

Kiffin openly acknowledged that depth is an issue when he conceded many players were going to make the roster simply because others hadn't been brought in for the sake of competition -- an indirect jab at owner Al Davis, who handles all personnel issues.

The head coach is already on thin ice with Davis, who surely won't tolerate another season with double-digit losses after putting out big money in free agency to improve a 19-61 record over the last five years.

Ryan is in the last year of his contract, as are offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, line coach Tom Cable and running backs coach Tom Rathman.

It's a win-or-else year, with the salvation for all involved resting with running the ball, developing a franchise quarterback and stopping the run.

COACHING: Lane Kiffin, 2nd year, 2nd with Raiders (4-12)

REMEMBERING: 2007 record: 4-12 (tied for third in AFC West)

PREDICTING: 2008 regular season record 6-10 (third in AFC West)

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

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Michael Bush Name: Michael Bush
Position: RB
Age: 24
Experience: 1 years
College: Louisville
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