Building blocks set; coach up next

Something had to be done. There was too much bickering - on the sidelines, in the locker room, and between the front office and Art Shell. Things would never have moved forward with Shell "leading" the team.

Following the worst season since he took over the franchise in 1963, Al Davis was being deliberate, as usual, attempting to sort out the best way to restore the Raiders to respectability.

But it still took less than a week for him to come to the conclusion that Art Shell was not the right man to lead the team. The team announced Thursday that Shell will not return as coach for the final season of his two-year contract.

Davis' team became a national punch line by season's end, with long-time adversaries delighting in the misery of the team they love to hate.

But Davis, as well as Oakland's opponents, know the Raiders may be further along than your usual 2-14 team. Oakland was not a 53-man disaster, a wreck from top to bottom, even if the record would indicate as much.

The Raiders, in fact, had one of their best defensive teams in years -- a defense that might have been even better than the 2002 edition that helped Oakland win the AFC championship.

"You have to build from somewhere," free safety Stuart Schweigert said. "We have started to build with our defense."

The Raiders allowed 284.8 yards per game, the first time they've been under 300 yards since giving up 296.8 in 1990. It was the team's lowest average since it gave up 247.7 yards per game in 1973.

In 1990, the Raiders were 12-4, and in 1973 they were 9-4-1, and they made the postseason both times.

Perhaps Oakland's defensive numbers were deceiving, given the team's overall record, but most of the blame goes to the offense, which achieved all-time levels of incompetence.

The Raiders scored a franchise-low 168 points, with the offense accounting for only 138 of those. Oakland had four defensive touchdowns and a safety.

With the Raiders unable to score points, foes essentially went into four-minute drills early in the second half once they had a lead of 10 points. Since opponents were working the clock, they gained fewer yards.

The Raiders ended up facing a league-high 542 rushing attempts on defense, and they gave up 2,144 yards for an average of 4.0 yards per carry. Many of those came late, when Oakland's defense was essentially worn down.

But this was still a defense worth building on. The Raiders had 18 interceptions, played exceptional pass defense most of the season and had a strong pass rush led by end Derrick Burgess and veteran tackle Warren Sapp.

The offense was the reverse of that, as the Raiders failed in every area. They finished 29th in rushing, 32nd in passing and surrendered a franchise-record 72 sacks. They couldn't block, couldn't run and couldn't catch.

The offensive foundation is not easy to spot, which is likely a major reason for the coaching staff shakeup. Very few players will be safe, either.

Two of Oakland's biggest distractions were wide receivers Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. While Moss was a major disappointment with indifferent play and 42 receptions for 553 yards in 13 games, moving him will be a difficult proposition unless Davis is willing to accept a lowball offer.

Getting a first-round draft pick will be a difficult proposition, meaning the Raiders may need to simply do a better job making Moss happy rather than dumping him.

Porter, who played in just four games and caught one pass for 19 yards, may have seen his last game. He butted heads with Shell immediately over his decision to train away from the facility and never returned.

Robert Gallery, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft, is a key player whom Oakland needs to make strides. Gallery had a solid rookie year but has regressed each subsequent season. His 2006 season included two separate groin strains that cost him games as well as an elbow dislocation that cost him five more.

Odds are good Oakland's starting quarterback is not on the roster. Aaron Brooks was 0-8 as a starter and has one year remaining on a two-year deal he signed last offseason. The contract contains a $5 million roster bonus. Brooks said he wants to remain a Raider but noted, "There's not two or three changes that need to be made, there's a laundry list of things that need to be done."

Andrew Walter, considered Oakland's quarterback of the future, wilted under the consistent rush and occasionally struggled when he had time.

"People can think what they want to think, I can't control that," Walter said, "but I'm confident I can play in this league."

Oakland finished with 24 interceptions, with Walter throwing 13 of them. The team lost 22 fumbles, with Walter losing nine of them.


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