Shell brings discipline to Oakland

In bringing back Art Shell as head coach and making little effort to re-make the roster other than the draft, the Oakland Raiders made it clear who was accountable for the debacles of the last two seasons.

It was Norv Turner and Kerry Collins, and with the beleaguered coach and quarterback out of the picture, the Raiders could get back to being the Raiders.

Of course, Oakland's struggles pre-dated Turner and Collins by a year -- the Raiders are 13-35 over the past three years. but it's hard to call the early days of the Shell regime anything but an unqualified success.

Oakland won its first four preseason games, the last two impressively. The Raiders built on an existing defense that was better than its statistical standing last season, and began to reap dividends with a retro offense featuring heavy-legged running and vertical passing.

Most important, Shell made it clear who was in charge. Not since Jon Gruden arrived in 1998 has the Raiders' head coach been so, well, coach-like.

"It starts with respect," Shell said. "You have to respect someone in order to gain respect. You've got to earn that. I'm the head coach, and they're the players, but still there has to be a mutual respect among us. And that's being done."

Shell wasted no time in getting the team's most influential veterans on board -- wide receiver Randy Moss and defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

Moss has praised Shell's sense of discipline and likened him to Dennis Green, with whom Moss had his best years in Minnesota.

Whether it was merely a symbolic coincidence or something more, the Raiders became a better team the day Shell threw them off the field in the second practice on the last day of double sessions.

"That was something that hadn't happened to too many of us," Sapp said. "We took notice. We don't want to be put in a position where he's not pleased with us. And we've started playing really well."

The only Raider out of step with Shell was wide receiver Jerry Porter, who had an office blowup with the new coach in February and said he wanted to be traded. Porter has thus far stood as a man alone -- one who no longer has a starting job.

Shell has acted decisively since Day 1, remaking the offensive line by shifting Robert Gallery from right tackle to left tackle, Barry Sims from left tackle to left guard and Langston Walker from left guard to right tackle. Rookie third-round pick Paul McQuistan was anointed the starting right guard.

Aaron Brooks began training camp as the No. 1 quarterback, held his position through a shaky start and improved dramatically to remove all doubt that he would be the starter over second-year man Andrew Walter. Shell never wavered even though Brooks was horrendous in the first two-preseason games.

Tyler Brayton, miscast as a linebacker, was made a starting defensive end. Kirk Morrison, a rookie starter at outside linebacker, moved to the middle to make room for second-round pick Thomas Howard. First-round pick Michael Huff moved in as the starting strong safety.

New special teams coach Ted Daisher has cracked the whip on those units and is getting the usual high-standard from punter Shane Lechler and much improved performance from Sebastian Janikowski, who went 3-for-3 from 50 yards and beyond through four preseason games.

Although owner Al Davis first offered the job to Louisville's Bobby Petrino, who turned it down, he is clearly more comfortable with Shell in charge. He has often said firing Shell before the club moved to Oakland in 1995 was one of his biggest regrets.

"I know who he is. I know what he wants. I know his drive and determination," Davis said. "The only thing I said about (Turner) when we made the change was I never did see the running game nor did I see the deep passing game. I wasn't being negative. It just didn't happen.

"I just know (Shell). It's a lot different. I know the guy. I have a good feeling about him and I respect what he has done, and I am a little mad at myself because I let him down back in '94."

That's not to say the Raiders aren't looking at some rough times. Their commitments to running the ball and stopping the run will meet the acid test in the AFC West, where Oakland is 2-16 over the past three years and was 0-6 last season.

More than scheme, both those areas require a group effort and a mindset Shell has been trying to establish since the day he was hired. Although he has said he expects the Raiders to compete for a championship every year, and has cited examples of teams which have reversed their fortunes in a year, Shell seems to understand that winning seven games or even reaching .500 would be a considerable upgrade.

"We've made some strides as a team," Shell said. "We're getting close, but we're not there. And we probably won't get there until the middle of the season. We're still a work in progress, there's still a lot of work to be done. You have to get better each week in this league."

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