Veteran injuries equal inexperienced line
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Right tackle Lincoln Kennedy's torn left calf still aches. Right guard Mo Collins has an injured knee. Neither can play. To make matters worse for the beleaguered Raiders, left guard Frank Middleton went down with a severely strained right quadriceps in Sunday's loss at Cleveland -- and he might be sidelined for the season.
Guess what else is hurting on Oakland's veteran offensive line? Their pride.
The Raiders committed an NFL season-high 19 penalties in a demoralizing 13-7 loss to the Browns, and a good share of them by the offensive line. In the past, this unit has handed down fines to each other as a motivational technique to avoid mental miscues, then used the money for a party after the season.
If things don't get better in a hurry, they won't be feeling very festive come January.
Oakland, 0-4 on the road for the first time since 1962, had five straight penalties for 35 yards during one offensive series in the third quarter. Three of those calls went against the offensive line, specifically the backups for the injured players.
Brad Badger, who replaced Collins, began the string of penalties with a false start. Then Langston Walker, filling in for Kennedy for the third straight week, was flagged for holding and tripping on consecutive plays.
"Spirits are down," said Kennedy, who made the trip to Cleveland but was inactive. "It's at a point where you're in a slump like this, you're very capable of being 0-6 and you're very down on everything that you do. You question everything about it because nothing has gone right."
Of the healthy players, left tackle Barry Sims is the only offensive lineman who opened the season in the same position he's playing now.
"We always look for the leadership of those guys and draw from their energy," said Sims, in his fifth NFL season. "I look for their feedback when they come off the field. Not having them, it's noticeable."
Second-year coach Bill Callahan keeps saying he and his staff are working harder than ever to rectify all the problems -- but when things will actually change is anybody's guess.
The Raiders (2-4) have an extra day of practice this week and the schedule doesn't get any easier -- their next game is a Monday night showdown with unbeaten Kansas City.
"When you do create those penalties, it's like a sore thumb sticking out there," Callahan said. "It really hurts your productivity."
Behind the strong play of their offensive line, the Raiders had the top-rated offense in the NFL last season on the way to winning the AFC title, but this year has been brutal.
Rich Gannon and company have been outscored 144-115. It's hard to believe this team won the AFC West and then the conference title.
Still, safety Rod Woodson believes the Raiders could easily be 5-1 now.
"That's what's really frustrating," he said. "We've lost some close games and we've played TERRIBLE! And teams are barely beating us. We're so talented and we're playing so bad and we should still win these football games.
"They talk about our age -- five guys over 37 or so, and another 12 guys over age 30 -- but we've got some young guys who don't quite understand how to play the game yet."
Because of the injuries, many young players are being thrown into the mix because Oakland is running out of options.
Players such as Kennedy hate to see it come to this.
"You do feel a lot of doubt, and worthlessness," he said. "That's the way I feel, because I'm not out there on the field and I can't do my part to help out, which is really hard for me to take in light of what's going on.
"I've been looking back at the last couple of games. You just feel helpless. You really don't have anything you can contribute to the guys."
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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