Inside slant

It will be interesting to see how coach Norv Turner makes use of fullback Zack Crockett this year now that LaMont Jordan has joined the Raiders rushing corps and seemingly solved their 2004 ground woes.

The Raiders were stone last in the league in rushing last year, through no fault of Crockett, who may be the most under-appreciated ballcarrier in the league.

Raider followers know that when it comes to short yardage or goal line, Crockett is money. However, last year, he didn't get many chances to prove, or rather re-prove, his worth in that department.

The reason, ostensibly, was that he was too valuable as the fullback. Consequently, through the first 12 games of the year, Crockett got just four carries.

Then, when the season was all but history, he was finally handed the ball and produced big time -- 45 carries for 213 yards and two touchdowns over the last four games.

In the season finale, he had 22 carries for 134 yards against Jacksonville. That turned out to be the biggest output by a Raider back all year.

He was rewarded by nothing less than the arrival of Jordan. On that front, it is no secret Turner plans to get the former Jet the ball 20 to 25 times a game.

But in training camp, as impressive as Jordan has been -- and Turner rhapsodizes about him -- Crockett has been no less effective.

In fact, at age 32 he has been running like a man possessed.

"I appreciate that (observation)," Crockett said. "But I've been doing that for years. You know how I do in short yardage. It never changes. I am always ready. I always prepare. But I am patient. That's why I have been in this game for so long."

Last week during goal line, Crockett followed center Jake Grove straight up the middle where he was seemingly swallowed up with nowhere to go. But Crockett refused to stop, kept churning his legs and with a display of power, forced his way through traffic and into the end zone.

It's not unusual to see running backs hitting the ground hard in this camp, a good sign the rush defense is on top of its game. However, Crockett and Jordan are the exceptions. They're running over and through people on a regular basis.

In the exhibition opener, Crockett made an immediate impact with three straight carries that gained 8, 4 and 3 yards before taking a seat for the evening. It helped the Raiders to a controlled first half lead of 6-0 in which they ran 59 plays to the 49ers' 19 and gained 203 yards while allowing 39.

CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp at Napa concludes Aug. 24 at which point the team returns to Alameda for the final 15 days before the opener at New England on Thursday, Sept. 8. The only open practices the Raiders will have will be in Texas when they have controlled scrimmages with the Houston Texans Aug. 18 and 19 prior to their exhibition game. The California portion of their camp is not open to the public.

NOTES, QUOTES

-- A one-time third round pick of Buffalo, massive 6-7, 330-pound tackle Robert Hicks made it all the way through most of camp last year before being cut. This time, he may be able to mount a challenge to 6-8, 340-pound Chad Slaughter, who has been the team's key reserve.

Hicks recently bowled over former Atlanta DT Ed Jasper during an afternoon drill. And it's not that Jasper, who had considered retirement, has lost it. In the Raiders' exhibition opener at San Francisco he had one of the Raiders' three sacks.

There almost appears to be a pair of twins standing behind center when the Raiders line up for an offensive play here.

No. 5, Kerry Collins, and No. 16, Andrew Walter, are both not only highly motivated but highly elevated -- Collins standing 6-5 and Walter a slight, yet clearly visible inch taller.

Since neither is a scrambler and both possess rocket arms, there are those who are already prepared to conclude the two are pretty much the same guy.

Not coach Norv Turner.

While praising Walter for being natural with "a great feel for the pocket and a quick release," he notes that aside from being big and strong they are alike in just one way.

"They're both big, strong guys that throw up the field," he said. "Andrew's background is just a little different."

True: he hasn't been to a Super Bowl yet. But he appears to have an arm that just might get a team there.

-- Punter Shane Lechler is a former quarterback and, as such, just like Raider legend Ray Guy considers himself a football player first and a kicker second.

That mentality, while making him a popular teammate, can work against him. It did in Saturday's opening exhibition game at San Francisco.

On Lechler's first punt of the year, he got a rather bad snap from Kenny Smith, found himself facing a possible block by 49er Keith Lewis, sidestepped the rush and started to kick anyway ... until he realized the kick would be negated by blockers being downfield.

There was room to run on the right side so, ever the athlete, he took off. Bad decision.

Just past the line of scrimmage, 49er Saleem Rasheed made a dive for him, grazing his leg and sending Lechler into an out-of-control stagger in the direction of the first down marker.

Officials at first ruled Lechler got the first down by a yard but the 49ers challenged that his knee was down three yards short of where the ball had been spotted. The review proved San Francisco coach Mike Nolan correct.

Small issue in an exhibition game except for one problem. The awkward dive Lechler had made for the first down marker left him hobbling. He had pulled a hamstring and did not return the remainder of the game.

He also got a lecture from his coach.

"I told him if he got into any trouble, I didn't have any problem with him going down if he got a bad snap," Norv Turner said.

"It was instinct," Lechler said. "There was no way I was going to lay down. Looking back, I should have turned and kicked it out of bounds. But hindsight is 20-20."

The hamstring injury was declared a mild strain.

-- For the second time in 10 months, Raiders defensive line coach Sam Clancy had to be taken to a hospital after fainting on the sideline while coaching.

The most recent incident came Saturday night during the Raiders' exhibition opener against San Francisco. Early in the second half Clancy fainted then, after reviving, went to the locker room before being transported to a nearby hospital where he was held overnight for observation.

The previous incident occurred last October at the Raiders' Alameda encampment when Clancy, 47, complained of chest pains and shortness of breath. He was diagnosed at the time with an irregular heartbeat.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was my fault. It was my choice and I messed up. Nobody did it to me. You have to be a man and take responsibility for what you do and I am paying for it now." -- Rookie DT Anttaj Hawthorne, who fell from a projected first or second round draft pick to the sixth round after testing positive for marijuana in February at the Indianapolis combine.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: It's not for a position but it's what is taking place on the practice field between left cornerback Charles Woodson and wide receiver Randy Moss. The two are involved in pitched battles daily between defender and receiver and it has been no less than spectacular at times. One day Moss makes a one-handed grab, the next day Woodson -- who seems more motivated and challenged than he has been in years -- will close with a rush and bat the pass intended for Moss down. It has paralleled their battles when they were not teammates and Moss was in Minnesota. One time Moss would prevail, the next it would be Woodson.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Gibson, who is more accomplished as a pass defender, and Anderson, stronger against the run, are making their own statements to start but it seems clear that Gibson will be on the field more frequently as a key member of the nickel and dime packages ... Tim Johnson has been annoying offensive players with what they consider to be cheap shots as he fights off the challenge of rookie Kirk Morrison for an inside spot in the 3-4 ... Although coach Norv Turner has said that WR Doug Gabriel is his No. 1 punt and kickoff returner, rookie free agent Chris Carr is emerging from the pack as his chief challenger. In the exhibition opener, Carr had impressive punt returns of 17 and 12 yards but Gabriel one-upped him with a 36-yard runback on his lone return. Carr also had an interception on defense.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Johnnie Morant, faced with the possibility of not making the roster due to a glut of talent at the position, took advantage of hamstring injuries to Jerry Porter and Carlos Francis by making four catches for 76 yards in the opener against the 49ers. A fifth round pick a year ago, Morant appeared to be on the bubble but now must be considered a serious contender.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Fabian Washington continues to back up RCB Nnamdi Asomugha but isn't close to replacing him in the starting lineup and remains a non-participant in first unit nickel and dime defenses. ... No. 2 pick Stanford Routt had a disastrous first outing at San Francisco. He was beaten for two touchdowns in a 21-13 loss, letting Brandon Lloyd get behind him for a 36-yard score and then whiffing on a short hook to Arnaz Battle, who wheeled and went into the end zone untouched from 13 yards out. ... Pick 3-a, QB Andrew Walter mirrored his practice work in the opener throwing some impressive passes in a 13-for-24 debut for 131 yards, but also dealing out a pair of interceptions. ... Pick 3-b, LB Kirk Morrison is getting plenty of playing time and while not dominating, seems to be well on his way in his bid to be a regular in the 3-4 defense. ... Pick 6-a, DT Anttaj Hawthorne stepped it up in the second week, showing quickness at the nose at 317 pounds, a real change of pace from the man ahead of him, 360-pound Ted Washington. ... Pick 6-b, DE Ryan Riddle has displayed aggression but also lots of mistakes as he makes the switch from defensive end/edge linebacker to the inside. He faces long odds to be part of the final 53 however. ... Pick 7, T Pete McMahon, is getting additional work at guard in hopes of finding his niche.

INJURY REPORT: While WR Jerry Porter is to return and possibly play in the second exhibition game at Houston, WR Carlos Francis is still at least a week away. Both have hamstring injuries ... Backup center and No. 1 long snapper Adam Treu returned to practice Aug. 15 after sitting out more than two weeks with a calf strain ... RB DeJuan Green suffered a sprained ankle and will be out indefinitely ... Ronald Curry (Achilles) will sit out the Houston game but is expected to make his return from offseason surgery for the Arizona game the following week.


SB Report Top Stories