VINCE D'ADAMO: Raiders mysterious and better

On paper, the Oakland Raiders are a vastly better team than the one that limped to a 4-12 season in 2003. The fact remains, however, that they are the mystery team of 2004.

For all of his flaws, no one can accuse Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis of not caring about winning. That accusation has been applied prominently to the team across the Bay recently – without mentioning any names.

Davis responded to last season's debacle by firing head coach Bill Callahan and replacing him with Norv Turner and several new assistants. Since the relationship with Callahan, now the University of Nebraska head coach, and some of the players had gotten so poisonous, it was best for him and the Raiders to part ways.

The players seem to have responded positively to Turner and his group of assistants, notably defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Then again, the players outwardly responded favorably to Callahan when he first became the head coach. Turner's new group of assistants looks like a good one but how quickly their philosophy meshes with the players remains to be seen.

The Raiders have never been hesitant to bring in players who other teams thought were either too old or too much of a problem. Among the free agents, Oakland signed quarterback Kerry Collins, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, safety Ray Buchanan, defensive tackle Ted Washington, running back Troy Hambrick, linebacker Dwayne Rudd and defensive end Bobby Hamilton.

The Raiders have also upgraded their offensive line by acquiring guard Ron Stone and drafting tackle Robert Gallery (Iowa) and center Jake Grove (Virginia Tech) with their first two picks.

Again, give the Raiders credit for one thing; they do not use the salary cap as an excuse. Where will this lead Oakland?

In today's topsy-turvy NFL, anything is possible. There have been several 4-12 teams become contenders and contenders becoming lousy. Look no further than the Raiders. They went from Super Bowl participant to 4-12.

The players Oakland acquired certainly make them a better team but each individual has just enough question marks to where Raider fans should not line up for Super Bowl tickets just yet.

Plus, look in Oakland's division. Kansas City and Denver will be tough foes and no matter how bad San Diego is, it usually plays the Raiders very formidably.

Regardless of concerns or mysteries, at minimum, Oakland should at least return to respectability in 2004.

Vince D'Adamo can be reached at vdad7@yahoo.com


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