Behind enemy lines: Oakland

Forget football. Right now, the Oakland Raiders would have difficulty getting up a good game of follow the leader. The leadership issue has been part of the public discourse regarding the Raiders and their 0-3 record, and some pundits are suggesting Oakland already is headed toward the top pick in the 2007 draft and - hide your eyes - maybe even a winless season.

On the NFL Network, Deion Sanders essentially conceded the Raiders the first pick of the draft and said it was because of the players, not the coaching.

Adam Schefter, also of the NFL Network, suggested 0-16 was a real possibility.

Criticism has even come from members of the Raiders family. Tim Brown, a studio host on Fox Sports Net's Pro Football Preview show, told the Los Angeles Times the Raiders had little in the way of veteran leadership.

Former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon, a CBS color analyst, echoed those sentiments in a radio appearance.

The comments struck left guard Barry Sims as odd, considering he hasn't seen or talked to Brown or Gannon.

"It's interesting to me those guys would make those comments. I haven't seen either one of them around here in years," Sims said. "They're not in the locker room, and they don't really know what's going on inside the building.

"Usually, when teams are struggling or have bad records, that can be the case, but I don't see it as our case. We do have leaders in here and we're working in the right direction."

Defensive captain Warren Sapp, when asked about Brown's views on leadership, snapped, "Next question."

Special teams captain Jarrod Cooper shrugged it off as a byproduct of an 0-3 record.

"When you're down, everybody has something to say about everything," Cooper said. "With all due respect to anybody that's been in this league and is doing their own thing now, if they were in this locker room and something was said about them, they'd know it was just part of the outside world. You don't even acknowledge it."

Fullback Zack Crockett, a Raider since 1999, would love to see Gannon and Brown take a more proactive role.

"When's the last time you saw one of them in the locker room?" Crockett said. "They could come down, talk to the guys, give an inspirational word, maybe point guys in the right direction. What have they done to help?"

However, one of the radio critics of late has come from inside the locker room. Wide receiver Randy Moss does not speak to the local media, but he has a weekly appearance on Fox Sports Radio's "The Drive," with Chris Myers, for which he receives advertising for his clothing line. When Moss was asked Monday why he didn't assert more of a leadership role, he said it was his belief the organization didn't want him to.

"I think that's already been established about how things are going to be around here," Moss said. "You don't let the vets be the vets or the leaders be leaders around here. All you expect them to do is come in, put on these pads and go to work and hopefully win on Sunday. That's about the only say we've got around here, the outcome of wins and losses."

Moss is the only Raider to put that frustration into words, and only on a radio show in which he gets advertising for his clothing line.

Andrew Walter, the second-year quarterback in place of the injured Aaron Brooks, did his best to steer clear of any discussion about Moss' concerns.

"He has his views. I have to go out and do my job," Walter said. "What I have to do isn't affected by what anybody says, outside or inside the program. He's entitled to his beliefs."

Crockett, who is friends with Moss, would rather keep whatever problems exist within the locker room.

"We've got to keep it in-house," Crockett said. "We've got a great group of guys. So guys are just going to go out there, keep playing hard. Everyone needs to look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'OK, what can I do to be better?' If you keep plugging, things will turn around."

Shell brushed aside the Moss radio interview and defended his team.

"All I know is I can say this -- the character in that locker room is very strong," Shell said. "I don't worry about all the stuff that's being said. I don't even ready the papers. Somebody told me what was said ... Maybe I'm naive, but I don't worry about that."

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Are the Raiders, who have long espoused the notion of taking what they want, honestly considering taking what the defense gives them?

That's the way Shell made it sound when assessing Walter's problem areas in the loss last week to Cleveland.

"He made some decisions about where to go with the ball where we probably should have gone elsewhere ... and taking advantage of the moment that was there ... you don't need to go to the deep ball right away, go ahead and take advantage of what's underneath," Shell said.

Said Walter: "I remember one in particular when I could have worked an underneath route, got a completion. I don't know how many times that was the case. Certainly there were a couple when I could have done that. We need to get the backs out there to feel great about finding the checkdown."

The Raiders have only two completions to running backs, both to LaMont Jordan on passes that were awkward forward flips by Walter to escape trouble.

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Aaron Brooks, who had never missed a game due to injury in his eight-year career before this season, is getting restless during practice.

"I keep telling the trainers all the time I don't know what to do," Brooks said. "I'm always checking in, asking. I try not to be a distraction. All I can do is give Andrew some words of encouragement and let him do his thing."

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Cleveland was able to gouge what had been some solid Raiders kick coverage teams by concentrating on special teams captain Cooper and linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba.

"Me and Coop got double-teamed on the kickoffs," Ekejiuba said. "I know he got doubled, I got doubled and they ran the return t our side. They schemed us really well. And the return they ran I felt we really worked hard on all week."

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Cooper was still confused about a blow that leveled Cleveland punt returner Dennis Northcutt in which he received a 15-yard penalty for not giving the returner room to make the catch.

Cooper and the ball arrived at nearly the same instant, with Cooper possibly blasting Northcutt a split-second before the ball arrived.

"I'm not sure how illegal it was since not one referee could tell me what the rule was on the hit," Cooper said. "One of them told me I didn't let the guy fair catch the ball. You call for a fair catch way before the ball gets there. Another one told me he didn't know what was wrong. Another one told me to let him catch it and make a move first, which I've never heard of. I still don't know what the rule is."

Shell, in a remarkable departure from Raider policy, agreed with the officials.

"Having been with the competition committee and understand the rules pretty good, you have to give the guy an opportunity to catch the ball," Shell said. "It was, 'bang.' It wasn't, 'Bang, bang.' The official thought about it and threw the flag. I told Cooper on the sidelines, 'Great play but you were a split-second too early."

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With a glimmer of success running the ball against Cleveland, expect the Raiders to run Jordan early and often against the 49ers. Justin Fargas, who had a 48-yard run against Cleveland, could also get additional carries if Oakland can move the chains.

While the Raiders philosophy is to look deep first and then check down, the alarming disparity in time of possession has Shell lecturing Walter about the prudence of getting some first downs with underneath routes rather than forcing the issue deep.

Defensively, with explosive rookie Vernon Davis out of the lineup, expect an expanded role for rookie strong safety Michael Huff in terms of playing in the box and occasionally coming as a blitzer.

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There was no sign of a red flag on the field, but there was one in the aftermath of the loss to Cleveland in terms of how the Raiders will go about the business of challenging the rulings of NFL officials.

Shell, trailing 24-21 early in the fourth quarter, decided against challenging the spot of a completion from Walter to Ronald Curry at the Cleveland 30-yard line based on information he got from club personnel upstairs.

Curry had caught a pass from Walter on a third-and-15 play and had clearly passed the 30, with the correct spot appearing to be between the 28- and 29-yard line - a first down.

Shell did not throw the flag, and Jordan was dumped for a 2-yard loss by Orpheus Roye on the next play. It turned out to be the last time the Raiders were in Browns territory.

"After I saw it, I was miffed, because we should have challenged it," Shell said.

Shell said the Raiders rely "on one or two people upstairs" to provide advice for those on the field. From his vantage point, Shell couldn't tell whether Curry had gotten the correct yardage or not.

It's club policy not to go into detail regarding replay procedure or personnel, but Shell said there would be changes made.

"We talked about it as a staff this morning, and we'll do something about it," Shell said.

Curry said he assumed he had the first down, but was surprised when he saw otherwise upon reaching the sideline. He figured the coaching staff may have not wanted to lose the timeout in case the Raiders lost the challenge and decided to go ahead and get the single yard necessary for the first down.

"I don't think challenging the play came up," Curry said. "It was inches and we thought we could probably get it. We only had two timeouts so maybe if it didn't go our way we couldn't afford to lose one. A lot of stuff goes into thinking before you throw the red flag out there."

Shell said the distance remaining for a first down had nothing to do with it.

"That shouldn't go into it," Shell said. "Based on what I saw on tape, it should have been challenged, and it shouldn't be about holding on to timeouts."

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The Cleveland loss marked the first time since the start of the 2003 season the Raiders lost a game in which they scored a defensive touchdown.

The four previous games in which Oakland had scores on defense, the Raiders won the game. Three came on interception returns by Phillip Buchanon, with the most recent one being a fumble recovery in the end zone by Cooper last Oct. 30.

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Robert Gallery, out with a torn calf muscle against Baltimore, returned to action against Cleveland. Although he picked up a holding penalty and was beaten for a sack, Gallery also threw a key block on LaMont Jordan's 59-yard touchdown run.

After being beaten badly by Shawne Merriman in the season opener, it was an improvement. Gallery didn't want to feel sorry for himself about being 0-3.

"We have a lot of football to play yet," Gallery said. "We have a lot of football to play yet. I'm not going to shut it down and I don't think anybody else in here is. Obviously the outlook on us right now probably isn't good from people outside of what we do.

"But if you look at the things we've done and look at the stuff on film and you realize you're not that far away. Especially in this league. There's not a whole lot of difference between winning and losing."

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