- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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To Al Davis, they are not really Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott, two aging superstars who came to the Los Angeles Raiders, along with their hefty salaries, via Plan B. No, they are Johnny Mize and Country Slaughter. They are all the famous names that the New York Yankees used to bring in to squeeze a little more greatness out of their careers. Plug a guy in here, another one there, and we'll still be on top. "I loved the old Yankees," says Davis, the Raider boss, "I loved their theory that when a great player was available you grabbed him, no matter what people said, no matter how much it cost."
So Lott and Craig, two former Super Bowl heroes, are now in silver and black. Lott will be the organizer of the secondary, the traffic cop and enforcer. And Craig? Well, he'll join a mob of running backs. Davis apparently subscribes to the theory that you can't have too many good people in high-risk positions.
"We'll open with Marcus Allen," Davis says. "Then we'll hit 'em with Craig, and when they're starting to tire a bit, when the edge is off, we'll sock it to 'em with the big rookie." Who is Nick Bell, the 6'2", 250-pound second-round draft pick from Iowa who was having an outstanding camp until he pulled a hamstring, an injury that will keep him on the sideline when the season starts. The x factor is Bo Jackson, whose injured hip might be well enough for him to play late in the season.
The concept, one the Giants exploited to the fullest last year, is a good one: Build your operation around a strong rushing attack. It will keep Jay Schroeder in comfortable passing situations. What's more, the Raiders have the offensive line needed for a strong ground game. But there's one thing to remember about playing a possession ground game: It only works if it's backed up by a dominating defense.
When we last saw the 1990 Raiders, Buffalo was annihilating them with 41 points in the first half of the AFC championship. "They were so unbelievably hot that no team in the world could have stopped them that day," says Raider defensive end Howie Long, who played the game with his right hand in a cast. He's well now and will anchor a defensive line that includes sack specialist Greg Town-send, tackle Bob Golic, nimble second-year pass rusher Anthony Smith and a big promising rookie, Nolan Harrison.
Once he was the answer to everyone's favorite sports trivia question: What quarterback started ahead of Joe Montana, John Elway, Steve Young and Vinny Testaverde? Then last season Steve DeBerg became an American hero. At 36, he led the Kansas City Chiefs to the playoffs, showing amazing courage as he struggled, wearing a plastic cast on his broken left pinky, facing up to the rush, keeping cool under fire. "Isn't it ironic," DeBerg was asked last year, "that at age 36 you're finally the undisputed starter on a playoff-caliber team?"
"Yeah," he said, "but why didn't it happen when I was good?"
Good? He threw four interceptions out of 444 passes last season. His teammates voted him their MVP. Now, if all goes well, he will be merely a caretaker for the Chiefs' strong running and excellent defense. (Sound familiar?) The latter features a terrific line, the league's top sacker in linebacker Derrick Thomas and its best cornerback in Albert Lewis. First-round draft choice Harvey Williams adds flash to a ground attack that last year relied on the brute surges of Christian Okoye and Barry Word. And if the Chiefs go airborne, they have wideout Tim Barnett, a speedy third-round pick, to go with the classic deep threat-possession pair of Stephone Paige and Robb Thomas.
There's only one jarring note: K.C.'s tendency to screw things up at the end, as they did in a last-second loss to the Broncos and in blowing big leads to the Colts and the Seahawks in two other defeats. Then Miami came from 13 points down in the final period to beat the Chiefs in the playoffs. Last year K.C. was learning how to win. Now it knows how.