Raiders Look to a Shell of a Past

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By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006; 11:27 AM

Offseason Roundup: Oakland Raiders.

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis reached into his franchise's glorious past to attempt to recapture the winning ways that have eluded the team lately, most recently under former coach Norv Turner. After firing Turner in January on the heels of two seasons in which the club went a combined 9-23 and then being rebuffed by Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Davis rehired Art Shell as his coach.

Shell coached the Raiders between 1989 and '94, going 54-38 and reaching an AFC title game. Davis fired him following the '94 season, and Shell tried but failed to land another head-coaching job in the league. He was working in the league office when Davis gave him the second chance he'd been seeking for so long. But the Raiders needed him every bit as much as he needed them: They had only three winning seasons between Shell's departure and return. They've had three straight losing seasons for the first time during Davis's ownership tenure.

Shell inherits a team coming off a 4-12 season, but with possibilities on offense. The Raiders ranked only 21st in the league in total offense and 23rd in scoring offense last season even after trading for wide receiver Randy Moss and signing tailback LaMont Jordan as a free agent. One of the big reasons was that Moss wasn't as productive as usual. He was bothered by nagging injuries all season and barely reached 1,000 receiving yards, finishing with 1,005. He didn't have a two-touchdown game until the final game of the season.

If he's healthier this season, the offense should be far more explosive. The Raiders released quarterback Kerry Collins and signed former New Orleans Saints starter Aaron Brooks to replace him. Brooks wasn't the answer in New Orleans, and he makes too many mistakes to be the long-term solution in Oakland. But he is a talented player with the sort of strong arm to get the ball down the field the way Davis loves, and he could provide a short-term boost. One of Shell's first major moves has been to shift Robert Gallery, the second overall choice in the 2004 draft, to left tackle, his natural position, after two seasons at right tackle.

The Raiders lost cornerback Charles Woodson in free agency but signed two New England Patriots castoffs, Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks, to replace him. That could be a net gain for the Raiders. Woodson no longer was the dominant cornerback that he and his agents, brothers Kevin and Carl Poston, thought he was. The Postons managed to get Woodson a handsome contract from the Green Bay Packers. But the other club that was interested in him -- the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the former Raiders brain trust of Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Bruce Allen -- was considering using Woodson at safety.

The Oakland defense also will benefit from the addition of free agent linebacker Robert Thomas. The Raiders used two of the first 38 picks in the draft to bolster the unit as well, getting Texas safety Michael Huff with the seventh overall choice and UTEP linebacker Thomas Howard in the second round. Both should be immediate contributors. The Raiders passed over quarterbacks Matt Leinart and Jay Cutler to select Huff, so they'd better hope he becomes a star.

Davis is to be applauded because 17 years after he made Shell the first black head coach in modern NFL history, he rehired Shell and made him only the second black coach among the 10 head coaches hired league-wide this offseason. But Davis didn't hire Shell to spare the league further embarrassment over its minority hiring record. He hired Shell to try to win again. A .500 season would be a big step in the right direction, but even that is asking a lot as the Hall of Fame offensive tackle reclaims the job that he probably shouldn't have lost a dozen years ago.

Around The League

The Saints agreed to trade defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, a first-round draft pick in 2003 who never had fulfilled his draft-day promise, to the Patriots for speedy wide receiver and kick returner Bethel Johnson . . . .

Who says there are no trades in the NFL? Sullivan and Johnson became the 22nd and 23rd players league-wide to change teams this offseason via trades. There have been five trades in which one player was traded for another, and 13 in which a player was traded for a draft choice or choices . . . .

New York Giants wide receiver Jamaar Taylor retired after two injury-plagued NFL seasons. Taylor is only 25 but has had a seemingly endless series of leg injuries and told his agent, Ray Savage, that he was tired of trying to rehabilitate them . . . . Buffalo claimed quarterback Kliff Kingsbury off waivers. He'd been released by the New York Jets.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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