Big offensive bet

first_imgPHOTO GALLERY: NFL Draft ALAMEDA How this unfolds, Al Davis’ latest swing for the fences, won’t be known for some time, but if the Oakland Raiders and their baby-faced coach, Lane Kiffin, are to be lifted out of the black hole the franchise has dug for itself, at least they are entrusting a man with sturdy shoulders. The Raiders chose JaMarcus Russell, the LSU quarterback and mountain of a man, at 6 feet 5 1/2 and 265 pounds, with the first pick in the NFL draft, declining trade offers that came their way and the temptation to select Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson, widely perceived as the most complete prospect in the draft. If Kiffin – who had never been a head coach or worked in the NFL until he was plucked off Pete Carroll’s staff at USC three months ago – had any doubts, it was hard to tell. “We know this was the right pick,” Kiffin said. “We know that tireless research, film study, talking to more people than you can imagine about all the possible picks, then coming out of the room with this thing – this is the guy for us. It was perfect.” It had better be. This franchise, though Davis still looms, is now about its two fresh faces: the 31-year-old Kiffin and the 21-year-old Russell. In recent days, Davis gave his blessing to begin work on dumping Randy Moss, his previous stab at the spectacular whose indifferent attitude, and the two years and $21 million left on his contract, had become a burden. (The question Kiffin received on Moss was whether he expected him to be a Raider by the end of the day. After some waffling, the answer was yes.) As the day wore on, the Raiders chose Arizona State tight end Zach Miller, then acquired receiver Mike Williams, a bust with Detroit who had starred at USC with Kiffin as his position coach – a move that also satiates Davis’ love of reclamation projects. This is how it is in the NFL’s salary-cap era. Teams that finish at the bottom of the barrel hire a new coach, draft a quarterback to buck up the populace, and then cross their fingers. In Cincinnati, it has worked out well for Marvin Lewis and Carson Palmer, and the prospects in San Francisco are promising for Mike Nolan and Alex Smith. In New York, the jury is still out with Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning, and in Cleveland and Houston the Tim Couch-Chris Palmer and Dom Capers-David Carr eras would like to be forgotten. For the Raiders, it will require plenty of work. Since reaching the Super Bowl after the 2002 season, the Raiders have been the worst team in the NFL, going 15-49. The offense has been particularly abysmal. The Raiders scored just 12touchdowns last season, and allowed 72 sacks – both figures the worst in the league. Kiffin said Saturday he expects the offensive line to be one of the best parts of the offense – a statement that should elicit great concern seeing as the only changes have been adding Jeremy Newberry, a former Pro Bowl center in San Francisco who hasn’t played in a year-and-a- half because of a bad knee, and journeyman Cooper Carlisle from Denver. Oh, but they’re learning a new zone blocking scheme. If that’s considered hubris or naivete, then Kiffin should be in good company with Russell. He strode confidently to the podium at Radio City Music Hall, where NFL commissioner Roger Goodell congratulated him and handed him a Raiders cap and jersey that went perfectly with the black suit, shirt and tie he wore. Later, when Russell spoke to reporters here by telephone, with a 45-person entourage that joined him in New York shouting in the background, he shrugged off any concerns about what he was walking into. “I think I’ll be ready for it,” Russell said. “I’ll be willing to work as hard as I can and make sure the guys are working hard with me to make something happen. It’s a new year, and I’m ready to be a part of this process.” How soon he’s part of it is unclear. Kiffin said Russell will play when he’s the best quarterback the Raiders have – a bar that rests now with Andrew Walter and Josh McCown, who was acquired with Williams for a fourth-round pick. “There’s not going to be an exact plan,” Kiffin said. “He’s going to play when he’s ready to play. That may be Day 1, it may be Year 3. I don’t know that.” While Davis was infatuated with Russell’s big arm – he has thrown the ball 80 yards – the Raiders bucked their own history with the move. Since 1996, they’ve chosen just one offensive player with their first pick – tackle Robert Gallery in 2004. In the past three drafts, they’ve passed up four quarterbacks who are starting for NFL teams: Philip Rivers of San Diego, Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh, Matt Leinart of Arizona and Jay Cutler of Denver. Since drafting Ken Stabler in 1968, the Raiders have had almost no success developing a quarterback of their own. They’ve taken just two quarterbacks in the first round and both of them were busts: Marc Wilson in 1980 and Todd Marinovich in 1991. Kiffin compared Russell to a No. 1 overall pick he is familiar with – Palmer, who was with Kiffin for two seasons at USC. Both were viewed as having off-the-chart physical tools, but had to answer questions about their leadership skills and other intangibles, the qualities that separate a Peyton Manning from a Ryan Leaf. “There are different ways for a quarterback to lead,” Kiffin said. “You have rah-rah guys. You have guys that sit back, guys who do it by example. (Russell) is a by-example guy. I’ve been around some good ones in college with Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. They were different. Watching Vince Young and studying him, he was different.” Kiffin said questions about Russell’s motivation with a contract expected to guarantee about $30 million aren’t a concern. It wasn’t anything Russell said as much as what the Raiders gleaned from others dating back to his high school days. Kiffin cited as an example Russell putting together offseason seven-on-seven workouts at LSU, which college coaches are prevented from being involved in. Russell would call anyone who didn’t show up, wanting to know why they weren’t there. “They all watch him, they follow him,” Kiffin said. “That’s what you’re looking for. “You want a leader who doesn’t have to tell you he’s a leader. He ain’t going to sit up and say I’m a leader, I’m starting tomorrow. You want the quarterback to be the leader when nobody is watching.” This being the Raiders, good luck with that. [email protected] (818) 713-3621 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more