Inside slant

Most teams that finish 5-11 do so quietly. They bother scarcely anyone, threaten even fewer and after chalking it up to "the breaks," they slink off to their respective caves and aren't heard from again until July.

That wouldn't be like the Raiders. They always make news. Maybe that's because they regularly bother people, including themselves. They threaten, they bicker, they make moves that make headlines, they get arrested, they get shot.

In short, they are the dysfunctional family no one can ignore.

The 2004 season was no different. It started with the hiring of an all-new staff to replace the despised Bill Callahan and a lot of hope that a return to what Al Davis calls the Raiders' "greatness" was imminent.

Once Norv Turner convened the club in training camp, cornerback Charles Woodson was a holdout. That was followed by the fare-thee-well release of controversial one-time Pro Bowl center Barret Robbins, who could no longer pass a physical (and just happened to be under league scrutiny for using the designer steroid THG).

Team of the Century free safety Rod Woodson had to retire with the same knee ailment as Robbins. That would have made banner headlines elsewhere but it was just a blip on the Raider Richter Scale in Oakland.

Seems he wasn't the only future Hall of Famer about to leave. Next came the release of wide receiver Tim Brown -- and no less than to Tampa Bay and former Raider coach Jon Gruden (not to mention former Raider general manager Bruce Allen).

Two months later, after Jerry Rice pitched a fit because he wasn't getting passes thrown to him, the Raiders would trade their other Hall of Fame receiver to Seattle ... for a bottom of the barrel draft pick.

After a summer spent trying to figure out why Kerry Collins was on the roster if he wasn't supposed to knock Rich Gannon out of the box at quarterback, Tampa did it for him. Gannon was lost to what amounts, graphically, to a broken neck, an injury that will probably end his career.

Of course, it came on the night Brown caught his 100th touchdown pass -- in front of Oakland fans, only for the other team.

After winning that game anyway, Oakland proceeded to lose five in a row, giving up more than 30 points in each thanks to a defense that couldn't stop the pass, the run or anything else anybody threw at them.

The final straw was a 42-14 loss at San Diego, a loss so bad that Woodson suggested the Raiders didn't look capable of winning another game all year.

At 2-6, those euphoric playoff goals were history. The Charger game was followed by a players' meeting called by running back Tyrone Wheatley and other veterans, a rally behind Collins' passing and three wins in six games prior to a two-game losing streak to end it all.

In the meantime, there was plenty else to savor. An offended wide receiver Jerry Porter said he wanted out of Oakland because he heard a rumor the team had talked with Cleveland about a trade for him. Second round draft choice Teyo Johnson was buried on the fourth string for having a petulant attitude. Defensive lineman Warren Sapp got into a yelling match with Turner on the sidelines. Sapp also endured a threatened (eventually abandoned) boycott by Oakland beat writers as retribution for a profanity-laced outburst against a female reporter. Later, Sapp was named, along with Woodson, as one of the league's most over-rated players.

Not to be forgotten were the late-season arrests of Woodson and starting safety Marques Anderson on charges of public intoxication, and plaintive whining from the other starting cornerback, Phillip Buchanon, that things were so bad in Oakland he wanted to be traded.

There also were the loss of star wide receiver Ronald Curry (torn Achilles), season-ending injuries to both starting guards and the wall of silence erected around defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Whether it was Ryan's idea or the club's, he has been in the bunker since the second week of the season.

"Man, we sure had a lot of weird stuff happen this year," said free safety Ray Buchanan, a newcomer to Raider World. "But hey, it's the Raiders, right?"

Right. And about the only thing that didn't happen was a second mutiny in two years against the coaching staff.

Players almost unanimously have backed Turner. More telling: defensive players swear by Ryan. The fact that the team ranked No. 31 in the league in points allowed, No. 30 in pass defense and near the bottom of the pile in quarterback sacks was "their fault" for not playing the way Ryan told them to.

Meanwhile, there were some inflammatory remarks from Wheatley to the effect that the Raiders and their commitment to excellence was a total sham ... that some teammates were just going through the motions.

"I'd be a rich man if I knew how to change that," Wheatley said.

It wasn't all disruption and dysfunction, however. Through it all, there were strides made.

--Once he caught on to Turner's offense and got in tune with his receivers, Collins had four 300-yard passing games and had games where he threw for five and four touchdowns.

--The offensive line, bolstered by the addition of rookies Robert Gallery and Jake Grove, was the picture of steadiness, giving up just 30 sacks, fifth lowest total in the league.

--Curry and Porter may not be future Hall of Fame candidates like Brown and Rice, but they improved as the season evolved and appear to be quality receivers worth watching in the future.

--Two undrafted rookie defensive linemen, Tommy Kelly and Grant Irons, came out of nowhere and were probably the most productive players on the unit by the end of the year.

--Punter Shane Lechler was the club's only league leader, taking the title again with a 46.7 average. It was something to boast about but, of course, when the club handed out end-of-season league stats, the page containing AFC punting leaders was missing. All three copy machines in the building were on the fritz and were skipping pages every so often ... which figures.

By July when the Raiders report again, dysfunctional copying machines and football issues will hopefully have been addressed.

The Raiders will be going nowhere without 1) a running back capable of taking pressure off Collins and the deep passing game, 2) a pass rusher capable of getting more than 4.5 sacks, which was the club high in 2004, and 3) linebackers to fill the conspicuous gaps in Ryan's 3-4.

As for dysfunction, of course it is true the Raiders have won in the past when they were not exactly the Partridge family. But when you back up a 4-12 season with a 5-11 finish, things probably seem worse than they are.

Or not.


--The Raiders take great pride in their history of centers starting with Hall of Famer Jim Otto in 1960. Until recently, there had only been three to hold the position on a regular basis since Otto retired after the 1974 season -- Dave Dalby (1972-85), Don Mosebar (1983-94) and Barret Robbins (1995-2003).

All share the distinction of being Pro Bowl selections. But this proud tradition also seems to have come with a high price.

First there was Otto and his battered body, a recent battle with cancer and other family tragedies. Then it was Dalby, an apparent suicide victim, which left friends shaking their heads. Mosebar's career ended when he was struck in the eye in a training camp scrimmage with the Cowboys in 1995 and was all but blinded.

Life without football and a recent separation from his wife may have been the blow that sent him over the edge and found him unlawfully in a Miami Beach office building hiding in a women's bathroom after hours last weekend. The ensuing encounter with police ended with a struggle and Robbins being shot twice.

No one knows whether his presence in the building was a case of burglary, trespass or mere confusion, but when he attacked the police officer and tried to get his gun, he was shot. He is hospitalized in critical condition after one bullet passed through his lung and another lodged in his heart.

Miami police said there was no choice, that Robbins, whose weight is believed to be hovering near 400 pounds, was throwing officers around like rag dolls prior to shots being fired.

A police spokesman called it an "unfortunate incident," noting the shooting took place because officers feared for their lives.

"I am sure there are a lot of blanks ... I can't fill them in for you right now," Robbins' agent Drew Pittman said, noting that Robbins had been in south Florida for about a week.

Robbins has been charged with trespassing and battery on a police officer. Additional charges could be pending.

One month after being selected to his first Pro Bowl, Robbins made news when he bolted from the team's hotel and went on a two-day bender in San Diego prior to Super Bowl XXXVII. He was suspended for the game, sent home and eventually entered a clinic to deal with alcohol abuse.

He eventually won his job back in 2003 and appeared to have straightened his life out. However, his problems then shifted to the field. A badly damaged knee ended his season early. Radical surgery to try to re-grow cartilage subsequently failed last winter and in July, he failed his physical and retired.

"It's sad," former teammate Travian Smith told Associated Press. "It was good to see somebody like that who had a bad thing happen get a second chance with the team. It's always good to see somebody get a second chance in life. I guess he couldn't get well enough."

Of the total of 55 Raiders who have been selected to the Pro Bowl since the 1970 merger, only three remain with the club today and of that group, it is possible only one will line up for them in 2005.

--Punter Shane Lechler's selection to the Pro Bowl this year made him the only Raider who will go to Hawaii.

Tim Brown, released in August, has the most Raider Pro Bowl appearances (9) followed by Howie Long, Art Shell and Steve Wisniewski with eight.

The legendary Jim Otto only had three appearances, but that is only because his first 10 years in the league the Raiders played in the American Football League. He was the only all-league center the AFL ever had, earning the honor from the league's inception in 1960.

--Although he did not start a game until the fourth week of the season, Kerry Collins passed for 3,495 yards -- the sixth most passing yards ever compiled by a Raider quarterback.

His 259-yards per game average would have netted him 4,142 for the full season. That would rank No. 2 behind Rich Gannon's 4,689 yards in 2002.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Norv (Turner) really appreciates special teams. I don't know how much (Bill) Callahan appreciated (them). I remember times it was fourth down, going in to punt and he (Callahan) wouldn't even look at you. Norv is like `All right, we need to get good field position here -- you've got to flip the field. Let's see what you've got.' He's real upbeat about it and understands that part of the football game."

-- Punter Shane Lechler.


There are no assurances Rich Gannon and Charles Woodson, each of whom have been named to four Pro Bowls, will be back -- Gannon with a serious neck injury and Woodson coming off a season when he was franchised but then injured for the third straight season.

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Kerry Collins. Backups -- Rich Gannon (injured), Marques Tuiasosopo, David Rivers.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Tyrone Wheatley, FB Zack Crockett. Backups -- RB Amos Zereoue, RB Justin Fargas, FB J.R. Redmond, FB Chris Hetherington.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Doug Jolley. Backups -- Courtney Anderson, Teyo Johnson, Roland Williams.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry. Backups -- Doug Gabriel, Alvis Whitted, John Stone, Carlos Francis, Johnnie Morant, James Adkisson.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Barry Sims, LG Brad Badger, C Adam Treu, RG Jake Grove, RT Robert Gallery. Backups -- G Frank Middleton, G Ron Stone, T Langston Walker, T/G Chad Slaughter, G Corey Hulsey, T Joe Wong.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Bobby Hamilton, NT Ted Washington, RE Warren Sapp. Backups -- T Tommy Kelly, E Grant Irons, T John Parrella, NT Terdell Sands.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- LOLB Tyler Brayton, LILB Danny Clark, RILB Napoleon Harris, ROLB Sam Williams. Backups -- OLB Travian Smith, OLB Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, ILB Tim Johnson, OLB DeLawrence Grant.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Charles Woodson, RCB Phillip Buchanon, SS Marques Anderson, FS Ray Buchanan. Backups -- CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Denard Walker, S Derrick Gibson, S Stuart Schweigert, S David Terrell, S Jarrod Cooper.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters -- K Sebastian Janikowski, P Sean Lechler, PR Buchanon, KR Gabriel.

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