Moss' presence has team, offense optimistic
WR Randy Moss has a businesslike approach with the Raiders that has been greatly appreciated.
|Inside Raiders camp|
How has a scheme switch benefited Warren Sapp? Who's the front-runner to start at strong safety? Those are just a couple of the things John Clayton touches on in his observations from Raiders camp.
• Inside Raiders camp
"I've really taken it from a business standpoint, to just going out and doing my job," Moss said in a group interview a week ago. "I just do whatever I can to help this team get back on top. I'm not looking at it as trying to find a new home. I'm just looking at it, like I said, as a business and just going out there and doing my job. It's been very, you know, mind-racking to get the plays down and knowing where to line up. But I'm enjoying myself."
And the Raiders are enjoying him. His trade from the Vikings was the steal of the offseason. Al Davis acquired the game's most explosive offensive weapon and didn't have to surrender three first-round choices. It cost the Raiders the seventh overall pick in the draft, linebacker Napoleon Harris and a seventh-round draft choice. Already, Moss has exceeded expectations.
|Fantasy focus: Kerry Collins|
The addition of Randy Moss could boost Collins to post the best numbers of his life. Moss is a unique receiver who can actually make a QB look better, and Collins certainly knows how to get the ball downfield, where Moss can make plays on balls that many other receivers can't. Plus, Collins has never had a combination of wideouts like Moss and Jerry Porter. Don't be surprised to see him approach 30 TD passes for the first time in his career. Yes, he'll still throw his share of interceptions, but his yardage and TD totals might be better than ever.
The Raiders certainly will engage in a lot of shootouts, and Collins will throw often enough to make him a very good statistical source this year.
Collins has tested Moss in practice. Even if he tries to overthrow Moss, Collins comes up with a completion because Moss is so fast and has such great leaping ability. "He has so much range and he's so quick he can catch up to anything," Collins said.
Thanks to the addition of Moss and halfback LaMont Jordan, the Raiders should have the NFL's most improved offense. Jerry Porter is a big, physical receiver with blazing deep speed. Ronald Curry, who made a successful conversion from quarterback, is now a proven receiver who caught 50 passes and grabbed six touchdown receptions last season. Moss should be good for at least 10 touchdowns, which should add maybe one a game to a Raiders offense that scored 20 points a game and ranked 17th overall offensively.
"Wow, it's going to be disgusting how good we can be," Porter said. "As long as we run the ball well, it's going to make defenses play us honest. We do so much off play-action. Last year we didn't have much of a running attack but we still had a pretty good passing attack as the season went on. Now, with LaMont Jordan running the ball, we will be hell to deal with."
Coach Norv Turner is a big proponent of play-action passing. The Raiders' problem a year ago was that there wasn't a lot of action in play-action. They had no running attack. The team's top two runners -- Amos Zereoue and Tyrone Wheatley -- combined for 752 yards, and neither has a job in the league this year.
Jordan left the Jets for $5.5 million a year, and the Raiders feel as though he could double Zereoue and Wheatley's total. Turner's system is proven. It comes from the playbooks of Don Coryell and Joe Gibbs, making it the best of two worlds. Air Coryell meets Gibbs' commitment to the run. Given a good back, Turner usually can produce 1,400-yard runners.
"If we can get Kerry to manage the offense the way he will and the way he has, we will be able to have great balance," Turner said. "If you can have great balance, then, I think, defenses have problems. The balance I'm talking about is the ability to run and the ability to throw short and when the opportunity is there to make big plays."
No one can take away from the success of Jon Gruden and the West Coast system he installed when he developed the Raiders into a Super Bowl contender a few years ago. Though it worked, the Raiders didn't look like the Raiders. Davis believes in the "Vertical Stretch," the big plays, the long passes. Raiders football is taking no prisoners. Turner brought the stretch back into the philosophy. Moss epitomizes the vertical aspects of the game. Jordan is important because, as a running threat, he plays games with defenses.
"My figures may be wrong, but I think we ran play-action about 65 percent of the time last year," Porter said. "The safety may take a step up to read it, but that was it. With Jordan here, we can establish the run and the safety will have to take three wrong steps. That's going to help Randy, Ronald and me get up on them just that much closer and get behind them."
The problem facing the Raiders is they have to jell quickly. Their opening schedule is brutal. They have trips to New England and Philadelphia in the first three weeks. They have home games against the Chiefs and Cowboys before an Oct. 10 bye week. The Raiders can't afford to stub their toes and start 1-3, or panic could set in. Conversely, it's going to be hard to get to a 3-1 start with those road trips to New England and Philadelphia, last year's Super Bowl teams.
Injuries aren't a problem in camp, but they do slow the jelling process of the offense. Porter is out another two weeks with a hamstring pull. Curry is shaking off the rust following an Achilles tendon tear. Jordan is healthy but missed a couple of days of practice because of a death in the family. No problem. Moss worked throughout, all business, all big plays. Collins has had more time to get acquainted and get his timing down with his new receiving star.
"As far as building the relationships, I think it's more of just believing in one another," Moss said last week. "I think what I've done in my career, a lot of people are looking at me 'Oh, that's Moss, that's Moss.' That's not how I'm approaching this change. I'm approaching it as, I've got to come in here and establish myself. Just like doing it all over again. So I'm trying to work hard. Like I said, the physical part of it is something else I'm getting used to, going into my eighth year in the league and in this training camp. It's very hard from a physical standpoint. Mentally, I'm up for the challenge."
Pressure will be on the offense because the Raiders aren't going to have a shutdown defense. On the field, the Oakland defenders look quicker and more athletic. They are switching more to a 4-3 approach, but a heavy dose of the 3-4 is still present. There are a few big names on the defense -- such as Warren Sapp, Ted Washington and Charles Woodson -- but the star power is on offense.
A year ago, the Raiders' defense looked confused. It surrendered 27.6 points and 371 yards a game. The secondary was burned for 30 touchdowns. The run defense gave up 21. That can't happen again if the Raiders want to have a winning season. Even if Moss adds seven points a game to the offense, Oakland still would be at a scoring deficit if the defense doesn't improve.
|“||Everything is so effortless for him. It doesn't look like he's running. I can throw it as far as I can and he catches up to it with no problem. He's a unique guy. He can run unique routes. Every day, I see something that's new and different, and it's something that I like. ”|
|—QB Kerry Collins on WR Randy Moss|
"I think the good thing is we have all of our guns on defense in camp," Sapp said. "Charles Woodson is here and not holding out. It gives you a chance to get your whole unit in there and gives you a chance to mesh real well. That's the one thing we didn't do last year. We didn't mesh real well together. We have 3-4 and 4-3 personnel. It's the best of both worlds."
But the offense should dictate the direction of the defense. That's where Jordan comes in. The Raiders were killed last year because they lost so much in time of possession. They had the ball only 26.47 minutes a game, leaving their defense on the field more than 33 minutes. Opponents ran 132 more plays -- roughly eight a game -- on the Raiders. When you are giving up 5.5 yards a play the way the Raiders did a year ago, well, you can see why the team finished 5-11.
Jordan and Zack Crockett, who moves into the No. 2 halfback role, will try to pound it and balance the possession time. Sure, the Raiders will try to score quickly throwing to Moss, Porter and Curry, but to win, they can't score one touchdown and give up a long touchdown drive a few minutes later.
"We were unbalanced last year and we need to get some balance and you do that with the running game," Collins said.
Porter talks of the fear factor Moss adds to the offense. Moss' presence on the field dictates coverage changes.
"His name alone is going to command a role coverage or a double coverage," Porter said. "Once he goes out and he starts making plays, he's going to make teams devise schemes to stop him. It will open things up for me and Ron."
Moss hasn't made the full conversion to the Silver and Black. He parks his expensive purple SUV by the gate of the practice field. There are no plans to paint it. First, prudent with his money, Moss doesn't want to pay for a paint job. Second, he still wants to remember his seven years in Minnesota.
"I really want to keep it purple because that was my way of remembering Minnesota," Moss said last week. "But in the same sense, I plan on giving that truck away, probably within the season. And that's why I'm keeping it purple, because it's customly made for the old 84 Moss in Minnesota. And one lucky fan hopefully this year will have a chance to get that truck."
This is the new 84 -- actually, No. 18 -- and the Raiders love this model.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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