MICHAEL WAGAMAN: Shell's already put his fingerprints on the team, and while there will be growing pains, the Raiders have far more pressing needs. For starters, the offensive line was horrible last season and was the prime reason Oakland's offense struggled as much as it did. Aaron Brooks might be a rung or three up from Kerry Collins on the ladder of mobile quarterbacks but if the offensive line blocks as it did in '05, it won't matter who is back there. Same goes for the running game. What makes this even more a critical issue for the Raiders is that the offensive line has undergone a massive reshuffling and there will be three starters playing in spots they didn't play last year. How quickly they make the transition will determine how far Oakland can go.
TK: Just putting fingerprints on the team isn't enough — he's got to get a complete and firm grip on it. Next on the agenda has to be the quarterback situation, which promises to be a little messy. True, Brooks is more mobile than Collins, but so are most coffee tables. Brooks more than likely is a transitional guy, someone to keep things from collapsing until Andrew Walters, a strong-armed pocket passer apparently slotted as Oakland's QB of the future, is ready. The dilemma — a familiar one in recent years — is that the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks don't have the same strengths and styles. Collins was nothing like Rich Gannon, and Marquis Tuiasosopo is nothing like Collins. Shell and new offensive coordinator Tom Walsh will have to create a system that can accommodate both Brooks and Walters, and if they can do that, they deserve to be anointed geniuses.
MW: I'll agree that the quarterback spot is not exactly one to make you sleep well at night. But again, I think you have to look deeper. More important to me is what Walsh is bringing to the table as the offensive coordinator. Is he really ready to return to the NFL or is he just the beneficiary of good-guy gesture from his long-time friend, Art Shell. From a creative standpoint, this team looked extremely bland last year under Norv Turner and they're returning pretty much the same squad for '06. All the bed-and-breakfast and political jokes aside, Walsh's coaching resume hasn't exactly been one of model success. He's also been away from the professional game for awhile and defenses are doing far more than they did in his last stint in the NFL. If Walsh can shock us all and get the offense turned around, the Raiders have a chance. If the offense stays in the rut it was in last year, they don't.
TK: It's hard to argue with almost every point you've raised, but that has less to do with any brilliance on your part and more to do with recent bumbling by the Raiders. In truth, pinpointing the single most pressing issue IS the single most pressing issue. Run defense, pass defense, running game, passing game, special teams, coaching staff ... where in the heck do you begin? There's no need to fix Derrick Burgess or alter the classiest uniform in professional sports, but almost every other aspect of the organization needed improvement after the past three seasons. That given, you're right to say the offensive line is probably as good a place to start as any. I've said before in this space that the O-line is the foundation for any NFL success, and in a way my initial point about Shell repeats that argument. The personality and style he'll impose on the team is the personality and style of a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. If Raiders fans are lucky, the current Silver and Black players, especially the ones on the O-line, will absorb the right lessons from a man with one Super Bowl ring as a player and another as an assistant coach.
MW: Giving you credit for anything gives me gas but you're on point when you say they've got an abundance of issues. This is not a team that is going to be able to correct everything overnight. Can Shell and his staff inspire unity among a group of players that were fractured and separated a year ago? What about the penalty problems that have been this franchise's Achilles Heel for so long? Sebastian Janikowski's psyche -- and skills -- need improving. The coverage units on special teams have been horrible. On and on it goes. Then again, you could make the point that every NFL team has a list of issues just like Oakland. The difference will be which ones have answers for those questions. No one will be able to accuse Shell of easing into a cushy job, that's for sure. The Raiders, like their head coach, have a lot of work to do. And Shell, like his team, has a long haul ahead.