Kiffin remains and so does the drama

For the third straight Monday Lane Kiffin spent the majority of his press conference talking about his job security rather than the Raiders' most recent game. Such is life in Alameda these days, where the head coach's future has devolved into a minute-to-minute guessing game.

Yet in this three-ring circus -- and let's face it, that's exactly what this season has turned into -- that isn't the best indication of how low things have got. That, my dear friends, came minutes after Kiffin finished surmising about his job, the loss to the Bills, his relationship with Al Davis, etc.

Senior executive John Herrera and San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami got into a toe-to-toe confrontation over a question posed by Kawakami to Kiffin.

In short, Kawakami asked Kiffin whether or not he felt isolated from the rest of the organization, based on what has happened, the reports surrounding his job and that according to one story, an employee of the organization -- Herrera -- had distributed stories critical of Kiffin to reporters covering the team.

Herrera interrupted the press conference, shouting over Kawakami's question, then immediately confronted the columnist seconds after Kiffin stepped away from his podium while television cameras and reporters tape recorders captured the entire incident.

Kawakami tried to calm the situation by placing a hand on Herrera's shoulder but it was slapped away, followed by a angry tirade mostly generated by Herrera, whom we have to believe is acting as Davis' point man. A few days before the team left for Buffalo, I asked Herrera if Davis might want to talk about Kiffin's situation. His response? "Personally I don't see a need for him to talk. His feelings are well known and they're out there."

Really? Considering Davis had not spoken publicly to anyone about it and that every report cited unnamed sources, it would seem that anything being reported would be purely conjecture. Yet Herrera didn't bother even asking Davis, instead taking the reigns himself.

Maybe that's why he reacted so angrily to Kawakami's question. Perhaps the pressure of being the voice of the organization frazzled Herrera's nerves.

Whatever the case, at one point Kawakami asked Herrera if he wanted to take a swing at him. Herrera's response: "I'd love to."

And thus concluded the latest chapter in what has been one of the most unbelievably ridiculous sideshows in professional sports history.

Sadly, the off-field issues have taken away from what the real story is. Outside of the season-opening loss to Denver -- which remains inexplicable -- the Raiders have actually made a lot of progress on the field.

Offensively, you're starting to see the maturation of a young quarterback. Slowly, for sure, but progress nevertheless.

JaMarcus Russell continues to show glimpses of greatness, like his touchdown pass to Ashley Lelie in the fourth quarter against Denver or the 84-yarder late against Buffalo. Phenomenal plays, particularly the throw to Johnnie Lee Higgins against the Bills. Not many quarterbacks in the history of the game can whip off a pass that fast on a rope and beat the defender like Russell did.

He's also had his fair share of mistakes, holding onto the ball too long at times and trying to make a big play instead of throwing it away at others.

Still, for a guy who had very little experience coming into the season and who is forced to operate behind a mediocre offensive line and with mediocre receivers, the Raiders have to be pleased with what Russell has done.

The running game has been very effective, though the injuries to Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden have taken a bit of the luster off. Still, the duo -- along with Michael Bush -- is as effective as any backfield in the league.

On the other side of the ball -- again, wiping out the disaster that was the Denver debacle -- Oakland has had several bright spots. The run defense, for one. That's been the Raiders' Achilles Heel for the last five seasons and was a serious question mark coming into this year. Yet for the most part, Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands and Tommy Kelly have done a fairly solid job.

The pass defense has had some problems, most notably cornerback DeAngelo Hall who was roasted by Denver rookie Eddie Royal and had troubles against Kansas City and Buffalo.

Nevertheless, there has been considerable progress on both sides of the ball. Maybe not enough to make Davis happy _ nothing outside of a playoff berth will _ but far better than anything the team has put on display in the past half-decade.

"There are no moral victories but I do like the direction we're going," Kiffin said. "I do believe that some of our core beliefs in what we need to do to win are happening. The penalties are coming down. We're taking care of the football better. We're getting the ball back on defense, forcing turnovers. We're in the positive in the turnover margin, which is a new thing around here for a long time. There are some things going in the right direction."

Unfortunately, a lot of it has gone unnoticed. At 1-2 the Raiders are once again near the bottom of the standings in the AFC West with San Diego coming to town. The Chargers are off to a terrible start but have played far better than their record and are still the pick by some NFL experts to represent the AFC in this year's Super Bowl.

But after watching the franchise fall apart for the last five years and seeing Davis go through coach after coach, the view isn't so bad.

And as long as the sideshow continues with performances like the one Kiffin and everyone witnessed the day after the loss to Buffalo, it's guaranteed to be an exciting ride the rest of the way.


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