Winds of change in Raider Nation

When seasons don't turn into postseason berths and carrying clubs to the links comes early, change is needed. It began with the hiring of Art Shell as the head coach of the Raiders and has trickled on into the early camp.

The first hints of change came at the pre-draft minicamp, when coach Art Shell put the Oakland Raiders through six practices in three days instead of the usual five.

Defensive tackle Warren Sapp noted it was the first time a team he played on didn't get away early on Day 3.

Although league rules prohibited Shell from an extra practice at the post-draft minicamp, he continued to lay down the law.

"I think with the first camp he kind of put it to us how it was going to be, and we worked long days," left tackle Robert Gallery said. "The attitude is changing because he's demanding it. We'll see when we put the pads on, but I think we're moving in the right direction, that's for sure."

Coaching, Shell discovered, was like riding a bike. Now 59, and not having coached since 1994, Shell is enthused about how things are going.

"It's coming, it's getting there," Shell said. "I haven't lost anything. I haven't missed anything in the sense of knowing how to approach the players. That's working well. The coaches have to get in shape, too. Walking around this football field we have to get in shape for (training) camp, because you know, you're back starts to bother you a little bit because you're walking around and moving around. But I'm doing fine."

Unlike the unmistakable presence of Jon Gruden, the clear distinctive voice of Bill Callahan or even the occasional on-field blow-ups by Norv Turner, Shell's practice persona is by contrast understated.

One has to strain to hear Shell from a sideline vantage point. He spends much of his time working with the offensive line, occasionally strolling from position group to position group and imparting his thoughts.

But his status, players insist, brings a built-in credibility. Shell's resume speaks volumes.

"He's not a man of many words, but when he does say something, it's important," reserve quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo said. "It's like, `you'd better do this, or you may not like the consequences.'

"He's played. He's coached. He's in the Hall of Fame. So there's validity there."

Shell considers the field a place for teaching, and his office as the site for discipline. He's had a face-to-face meeting with virtually every player on the team, giving each man specifics on his expectations.

He has in a sense deputized some key veterans to help carry out his vision.

"I think your veteran players, your veteran leaderships, needs to police the locker room," Shell said. "For years we did it here under John Madden and Tom Flores. If something got to them, that meant it was bad, but very seldom did that happen. We as veterans took care of the locker room. We made sure everyone knew how we did things with the Raiders, this is what is expected of you, and we expect you to abide by that."

Not that Shell feels his job is done.

"It evolves. Leadership comes from guys watching you and wanting to be with you," Shell said. You can't just say, `Hey, I'm a leader in here.' That's not going to wash."

Sapp rejected the theory that Shell's glory days as a player are too far removed to have any effect with modern players.

"You'd have to be a dead man not to know who Art Shell is," Sapp said. "But your past never equals your future and he understands that. This is a fresh start with a whole new group of guys. He just wants to get us going in one direction. If we're all rowing in the same way, the boat is going to move."

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