All signs point to positive in Oakland

JaMarcus Russell is on the verge of inking the most lucrative contract in Raiders' history, but there are still some final details to work out.

Nevertheless, all indications are that a deal will be done in time to get the No. 1 overall draft pick into training camp on time. That's just one of several reasons the Raiders have for optimism as the start of workouts draws nearer.

JaMarcus Russell and his agents have been in steady talks with the Raiders on a contract that could be worth nearly $60 million and include $25 million in guaranteed money. The deal is said to be so complex that no fewer than six members of Oakland's front office have been called in to work the details out.

Getting Russell into camp on time would be a major bonus for first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, who has generated plenty of optimism in his first few months on the job.

The Raiders have plenty of reasons for their positive outlook to training camp. Chief among them:

New coach, new attitude: The Raiders were incredibly dysfunctional under Art Shell and there was a dark cloud that loomed over the team all season.

Kiffin is a breath of fresh air and he's brought an entirely different, upbeat vibe that's been missing in these parts for some time. None of that will mean much unless the team starts proving it can win games but it is a start and one that the majority of players on Oakland's roster have bought into. Having an up-to-date offense helps, too.

No quarterback crisis: Unlike a year ago, when Aaron Brooks and Andrew Walter were the only two QBs of note the team had, Oakland is much deeper and infinitely more talented at quarterback than it was in 2006.

Josh McCown is a solid QB who won't make the silly mistakes that both Brooks and Walter were guilty of, be it forcing throws into coverage or committing silly turnovers. McCown is no Joe Montana but he's good enough for what the Raiders are trying to accomplish. Having a rookie like Russell also helps improve the overall grade of Oakland quarterbacks.

Dominant defense is back: Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has assembled an impressive group of players who helped mold the NFL's No. 3 defense a year ago, and -- with few exceptions -- most of those same players are back.

The key to keeping the defense running on all cylinders is getting some help from the offense. Oakland's defense was on the field far too much in 2006 and the entire unit seemed to wear down as the year moved along. Keeping them fresh is critical, because talent is not an issue.

Top kicking game: Some teams boast better place-kickers than the Raiders' Sebastian Janikowski but there's no arguing the fact that, as a tandem, he and punter Shane Lechler are the top duo in the league. That's huge when you have an offense that is as bad as Oakland's was last season, but both Jano and Lechler had sub-standard seasons.

Janikowski's problems are with the pressure kicks, not to mention the chip-shots. Lechler simply needs to stay consistent and healthy.


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