Inside slant

Of all the issues that have branded the Raiders a 3-6 team, none is more frustrating than their offensive struggles. The way it was supposed to be has been nothing like the way it has been.

The running game was supposed to support a go-for-it passing game. It was supposed to be a power running game that would force defenders to cheat toward the line and open things up.

That running game currently ranks No. 31 among 32 NFL teams.

The passing game was expected to be less high percentage than in the past, but more explosive.

That passing game features the NFL's No. 31 ranked passer, Kerry Collins.

Small wonder the Raiders are 23rd in scoring league-wide. In fact, given the fact there has been little to no contribution on defense or on the return teams in terms of scoring, it is rather amazing the team ranks that high.

Injuries have played a key part in this lack of achievement.

Starting running back Tyrone Wheatley missed four starts due to a shoulder injury suffered in Week 4.

His backup, Justin Fargas, injured a toe in the third game of the year and has only carried the ball twice since. He and Wheatley have completely missed a combined total of six games, leaving the bulk of the work to No. 3 back Amos Zereoue.

Quarterback Rich Gannon was knocked out for the year with a fracture of the seventh cervical vertebra in Week 3 and was replaced by Kerry Collins, who was slow to adapt, throwing six interceptions in his first two starts since taking over.

Wheatley is back. Fargas may return when the Raiders resume play after the bye week. Collins has gradually improved in terms of taking care of the football with four interceptions over his last three games and has thrown for 844 yards in that span.

But Collins trails 29 quarterbacks in third down passing efficiency (46.3 rating) and Oakland stands 25th in the league in red zone efficiency.

Moreover, on defense, the team ranks dead last in red zone stoppage and 28th in third down efficiency on defense.

It is a volatile combination, one coach Norv Turner is focusing on during the bye week.

"There are two things we want to get done and we are going to be very specific in what we are doing," Turner said. "We want to give our guys a chance to get mentally and physically rested so we're backing off guys that have some nicks. But the biggest thing we've worked on, on both sides of the ball, is the plus 20, red zone, stuff and third downs."

There is hope, at least on offense. Collins is showing signs of coming around. A large part of that improvement has come with better pass protection -- he has only been sacked three times over the last three weeks.

Meanwhile, Wheatley made his first start in five weeks against Carolina and scored two touchdowns. Now it appears Fargas may be ready to return.

"I think after this bye week I should be good to go the rest of the way," he said. "I am planning on playing from here on out pretty much whether it hurts or not."

"Tyrone gives us a chance to run our offense more effectively, to be a little more disciplined and stubborn with the run," Turner said. "I'd love to get Justin back because he gives us speed and outside (presence). It certainly helps Kerry."

NOTES, QUOTES

In retrospect, Barry Sims wishes he hadn't opened up the way he did on Raider fans back on Oct. 17.

"I wasn't thinking," he said of his frank post-game comments knocking the boo-birds at Network Associates Coliseum. "I guess, all in all, I regret saying that, even though I don't usually regret anything I do. I just should have thought about it before I said it."

At the time, Sims noted that because of the way the fans turned on the team that day it was like playing a third straight road game.

"Our fans sucked," Sims said at the time. "That's what it is."

Sims said he was surprised by the boos.

"I had never seen it like that since I've been here," the six-year veteran said. "They started in the second quarter. I think I was trying to take some of the heat off of Kerry (Collins) a little bit. I didn't feel like the fans were understanding about how he's our guy, it's who we want in there right now to run it. Times were tough and it would be hard to be in that situation."

Fans called for backup Marques Tuiasosopo while booing Collins and the team during a 31-3 defeat.

"I love our fans, they are great," Sims conceded this week. "I don't have any problem with them. It was in the heat of the moment. I probably could have chosen my words more effectively. I wasn't thinking. Obviously without the fans, I wouldn't have this job or any job like it."

In the aftermath, Sims said he has certainly got an earful since.

"The following week I got a lot of people yelling at me from the stands," he said. "But I can take it."

--There have been no stories in the local newspapers on rookie DT Tommy Kelly, who has a sack in each of the Raiders' last three games. It is largely because Kelly refuses to grant interviews.

"It's a rule for rookies, we can't do interviews," he said when approached.

Yes, but rookies Robert Gallery and Jake Grove are granting interviews, he was told.

"It's a rule for rookie defensive players," Kelly responded.

Yes, but rookie safety Stuart Schwiegert is granting interviews, he was told.

"It's a rule for rookie defensive linemen," Kelly shot back.

"He kind of slipped in under the radar," center Adam Treu said of the undrafted Kelly. "He's a pretty powerful guy and has a high motor.

"I don't know what questions there were about him (prior to the draft) but so far, so good. I think he's pretty darned good player."

Treu said he kept his first impressions of Kelly quiet because the person he was reminded of had a career that "didn't turn out the way he probably wanted it to."

That player: Darrell Russell.

--Some careers take off like a rocket. Sam Williams' career took off like a popped balloon.

The Raiders' third round draft choice in 2003, Williams only played one game as a rookie before a knee injury knocked him out for the year. He came back this summer with high hopes. Then the second week of training camp, he tore the labrum in his shoulder.

It was the same injury that ended Rich Gannon's season in 2003. It is one that usually does end a season. But inside eight weeks Williams fought back and was playing again.

His teammates couldn't help but take notice and be impressed. As a result, they voted him the winner of the club's 2004 Ed Block Courage Award.

"I don't like to talk about injuries, but when a guy comes back off an injury like that, it tells us just how hard this guy really wants to play and help you win," defensive lineman Bobby Hamilton said. "It was amazing. That was an out-for-the-season injury. You could see how hungry he was."

"I know why I voted for him," tight end Roland Williams said. "It's very simple. He's a guy that has a lot of heart, works hard and is humble ... he's a great guy who is going to have a great career. I was talking to the trainers and they said they had never heard of an NFL player coming back off that injury as fast as he did. That's just the kind of person he is."

Williams missed all but one game of his rookie year with a deep bruise in his knee, a diagnosis that was originally not found. He was ready to return at linebacker this year but on Aug. 14 in the exhibition opener at San Francisco, he hurt his shoulder. He knew immediately something was seriously wrong.

"All I could think of was `Oh my gosh, not another year of this,' " Williams said.

While he battled back, he said, his teammates encouraged him to keep his head up, he said, "because We need you."

The record recovery came to fruition on Oct. 17 when he played against Denver, wearing a harness that resembles the apparatus a sky diver uses to attach to a parachute. Though restrictive, it provides resistance so he can, as he puts it, "rehab while I play."

"All I know is that right after he came back he made a big play on special teams and that set the tone," Hamilton said. "He battled. That stuff motivates you."

A week after his return, he saw extensive duty in the defense, sharing time with DeLawrence Grant. Coach Norv Turner said he will continue to get more playing time on defense.

"What he did is phenomenal," Turner said.

"I am just so freaking happy to be playing" Williams said. "I will do anything I can to get out on that danged field, even if I have to wear this brace every day."

Cornerback Charles Woodson said, "He made a great recovery and he's making plays. All of us here are proud of him for sticking through it all and coming back strong. We're definitely counting on him."

--TE Teyo Johnson is only in his second year in the NFL but he's already making his own comeback -- a comeback from purgatory.

Bounced from a starting job he had for five games as a rookie, he has been buried at the No. 4 tight end position since training camp and until last week, he had been inactive for every game.

Now, with Courtney Anderson and Roland Williams injured, he figures in the offense again alongside Doug Jolley. The pouting that began in August is apparently over.

"We got to the point where Teyo recognized there were things he has to get better at and once he recognized that and started working hard on them, it was easier," coach Norv Turner said. "Teyo has a situation now where he is going to have an opportunity to contribute."

Also, in recent weeks, former Raider Pro Bowl tight end Raymond Chester has volunteered to take Johnson under his wing and tutor him.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This was a statement game for us, seeing how we would respond. We can still play better but we got the win and got it without playing our best game." -- WR Jerry Porter on the end of the team's five-game losing streak.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

During the bye week, the Raiders practiced Tuesday through Thursday then were given the next three days off.

No attempt has been made yet to fill the last remaining open spot on the roster.

Tuesday, coach Norv Turner said the team may consider trying to add a tight end since rookie Courtney Anderson will miss 4-to-6 weeks with a knee injury.

However, by Wednesday no tryouts had been held and although Turner said that could happen prior to Monday he added there was a also a possibility a player could be elevated from the practice squad, which has no tight ends on board.

The emphasis during the bye week has been on mental reps rather than contact drills.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

-- CB Charles Woodson is confident he can make a full return to action with his ailing hip and is practicing during the bye week, though on a limited basis.

-- In the four weeks since he had a 10-catch game against Indianapolis, WR Ronald Curry has made nine catches, none for touchdowns.

-- In his matchup last week with heralded Carolina DE Julius Peppers, RT Robert Gallery only allowed Peppers two tackles. Both, however, were sacks.

-- P Shane Lechler had a 67-yard punt at Carolina, marking the fifth straight season he has had at least one punt carry 65 yards or longer. He now has 28 punts of at least 60 yards in his five-year career.

-- RB Tyrone Wheatley is tied for third in the NFL in third-and-1 rushing conversions at 5-for-5. Only Kansas City's Priest Holmes and New York Jets Curtis Martin have done better (6-for-6).

INJURY IMPACT: The Raiders had hoped LB Travian Smith would recover from his knee injury over the bye week but after practicing Tuesday, he returned Wednesday too sore to practice. DE Warren Sapp is being held out of bye week practices due to a knee contusion. LB Danny Clark, who leads the team in tackles and also plays special teams, has been battling a sore knee and is being given time during the bye week to heal. WR Jerry Porter reported a sore groin Tuesday and did not practice but was back on the field at full strength on Wednesday. WR Alvis Whitted has been unable to practice due to a hip pointer.


SB Report Top Stories