Wide receiver Randy Moss’ impact already has been felt without having played a single game with the Raiders. The Raiders received four national television games, including the first regular-season game, three days before the most other teams play their first games, and divisional foes are loading up on top-notch cornerbacks.
Quarterback Kerry Collins has proven a good fit for coach Norv Turner’s air-it-out offensive style. The Raiders haven’t even considered giving former league MVP Rich Gannon a shot at regaining the starting spot.
Turner got some immediate fan reaction with the news that the Raiders had acquired Moss in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings “Driving into work that day, I thought I was going through a real bad incident of road rage,” Turner says. “A guy was honking at me. I thought I had cut him off. (He) pulled up, hitting on the window. I rolled my window down, said, ‘What’s going on?’ He goes, ‘Randy! Randy!’ Our fans are going to love Randy Moss.”
The Raiders may have helped their defense most by adding Moss and running back LaMont Jordan to their offense. That’s because a more productive offense likely would keep the defense off the field. The Raiders finished last in average time of possession last year.
The Prophecy: "Rich Gannon is no longer regarded as one of the league’s elite quarterbacks."
The Lie: “All this points to the Raiders being a much improved team, if not a playoff contender."
—Athlon Sports Pro Football 2004
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Wide receiver Randy Moss arrived in Oakland in early March and was escorted to Raiders headquarters by a phalanx of motorcycle-riding policemen. That is but one of numerous bold moves that has Raiders managing general partner Al Davis and the team's faithful eager for the season to start.
The Raiders didn't waste time crying about last season's 5-11 finish. Instead, they spent their time wisely -- trading for Moss, signing free agent running back LaMont Jordan, re-signing their key free agents, cutting dead wood from their horrendous defense and addressing almost every need during the offseason.
It's enough to make coach Norv Turner believe that the Raiders could be this season's version of the Chargers or Steelers.
"I've been on teams that won five and six games and the next year won 10 or 11 games," Turner says. "Things change fast in this league."
Kerry Collins is in and Rich Gannon is out, on the heels of a serious neck injury. Turner has entrusted his offense to Collins and secured the necessary players to enable him to be successful.
Collins got a 13-game-plus jump on mastering Turner's offense last season and enters this season confident, healthy and primed for the best season of his career.
Oakland's overall success will be dependent upon how well Collins plays. That might be asking a bit much because the Raiders need him to be more consistent and more effective than he has been. Collins is a streaky, hit-or-miss player who is prone to funks where he doesn't complete a high percentage of his passes and throws interceptions in bunches. That doesn't bode well for the Raiders in the long run.
If Collins falters or gets injured, Turner will turn to untested veteran Marques Tuiasosopo. Turner didn't give Tuiasosopo any game action last season and will likely pay for that oversight if Tuiasosopo is needed.
The Raiders whiffed by dragging their feet on trading for running back Corey Dillon last season. Turner was not about to get caught without a workhorse-like back once again.
So the Raiders paid a ton of money for Jordan in hopes his potential develops into stardom during his first starting job.
Again, that is a huge gamble on the Raiders' part. Jordan has never started a game in the NFL. He hasn't shown that he can handle a sizable workload, though he appears to have the size and strength to do so. He will finally get the chance to prove himself as a feature back this season.
Turner grew so disenchanted with Tyrone Wheatley and Amos Zereoue that he shied away from the running game for most of the season. The Raiders finished last in the league in rushing attempts and rushing yards per game.
Turner envisions Jordan as the kind of back who can balance out his offense, take pressure off of Collins and the receivers, and make his offense less predictable.
Justin Fargas and Zack Crockett are back again, with Fargas as the primary backup to Jordan and Crockett back in his role as short-yardage back.
Most teams likely would have difficulty saying they jettisoned two Hall of Fame-bound receivers and improved at that position. But not the Raiders.
Oakland parted ways with Tim Brown and Jerry Rice but now boast of a roster that includes Moss, Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry, with a handful of promising candidates waiting their turn.
The Raiders jumped at the chance to add Moss because he fits in very well with Turner's air-it-out approach. In the process, Porter and Curry likely will experience even better seasons this year than they had last year, with Moss drawing so many double-teams. Keeping all three players satisfied figures to be one of Collins' tougher tasks this season.
Throw in promising second-year tight end Courtney Anderson, young receivers Doug Gabriel and Carlos Francis, and the Raiders' receiving corps is as talented as any in the league.
The starting five from last season is back, healthy and planning to open holes for Jordan and give Collins the time he needs to get the ball downfield several times a game.
Oakland's line did an admirable job jelling into a cohesive unit the second half of last season despite the presence of two rookies -- right tackle Robert Gallery and right guard/center Jake Grove -- and another first-year starter -- center Adam Treu.
Left tackle Barry Sims remains the mainstay of Oakland's line. He played well enough to fend off Gallery for the starting spot on the left side and won't give up his spot without a serious fight this season, either.
Gallery and Grove have the makings of Pro Bowlers, with Sims, Treu and left guard Brad Badger the consistent types who don't get much recognition because of their lack of flash. Veteran guard Ron Stone is back from a major injury and will compete for a starting spot.
Chad Slaughter, Langston Walker and Corey Hulsey round out a deep unit that knows how to get the job done.
Raiders coaches are convinced that the lack of success stopping the run and getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks had more to do with the scheme than a lack of talent.
Ends Bobby Hamilton, Tyler Brayton and Grant Irons and tackles Ted Washington, Warren Sapp, Tommy Kelly and Terdell Sands are all back, with free agent signees Derrick Burgess and Kenny Smith and draftee Anttaj Hawthorne adding depth.
Sapp appeared lost and miscast as an end in Oakland's 3-4 last season. Brayton had a similar look as a linebacker-type. No more gimmicks. Everyone is back in his natural position this season, with the 4-3 expected to be the predominant look.
This unit figures to be the biggest question mark on a defense loaded with uncertainty. Starting middle linebacker Napoleon Harris was used as trade bait for Moss. Strong-side linebacker Travian Smith is still making his way back to full speed after a serious injury. Fellow outside linebacker Sam Williams is also returning from an injury. Outside backers DeLawrence Grant and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila failed to shine in their conversion from end and likely will be moved back. Things are so unsettled at these positions that rookie Kirk Morrison already has a strong shot at starting in the middle. Tim Johnson is a veteran noted more for his special teams play than his ability to play linebacker.
The Raiders showed what they thought of their secondary by cutting free safety Ray Buchanan, trading cornerback Phillip Buchanon to Houston and paying a king's ransom ($10.537 million for 2005) to keep cornerback Charles Woodson.
Nnamdi Asomugha and rookie Fabian Washington figure to challenge for the starting spot created by Buchanon's departure. Asomugha gets the nod based on his experience and solid play last season. Renaldo Hill and Denard Walker provide experience and depth as extra cornerbacks. Safeties Derrick Gibson and Stuart Schweigert have yet to play alongside each other and have plenty to prove.
Kicker Sebastian Janikowski and punter Shane Lechler are as talented of a kicking duo as any in the league. They give the Raiders a considerable edge in most games because of their consistency. Gabriel and Curry are accomplished returners who likely will be called upon to fill the void left by Buchanon.
Turner bolstered the offense by adding game-breaking receivers. Several defensive starters from an underachieving unit were cut or traded. The emphasis on a defensive philosophy that employs a 3-4 base alignment has been scrapped in favor of the 4-3. The offense and special teams should be among the best in the league.
Look for the Raiders to be an improved team. However, a tough schedule and a questionable defense make it unlikely that the Raiders will make the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season.