Lane Kiffin reminds many people of Jon Gruden as a first-year coach with the Raiders, but he has a much tougher job. Gruden’s main goal was an attitude change. Kiffin’s main problem is a serious talent shortage.
That showed most recently when, with No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell not signed, the Raiders signed veteran quarterback Daunte Culpepper. That was a clear sign they had no confidence in Josh McCown, signed in the offseason, and third-year quarterback Andrew Walter. Even if Russell had been in camp, McCown was expected to be the starter when the season started. But neither he nor Walter have looked good in early camp sessions.
Team owner Al Davis loves to talk about the past, when the Raiders were successful, and he compared Culpepper to Jim Plunkett. That’s a stretch. Culpepper has not been a good NFL quarterback since 2004 because of recurring knee problems.
His knee is supposedly healed, but the Miami Dolphins cut him after signing Trent Green. In Raiders camp, Culpepper has been spraying passes. Indeed, he almost hit me with a pass at one practice. I was standing on the sideline beyond the end line when a Culpepper pass went high over the head of a receiver, sailed over the pylon and hit a couple of feet from me.
McCown and Walter didn’t look much better. After practice, Kiffin criticized his quarterbacks for the interceptions they threw.
“Sometimes, players get in a habit of thinking that it’s just practice, so it doesn’t count,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Kiffin is a very confident young man, as Gruden was, and he speaks of the future, obviously not expecting the same quick departure of the three Raiders coaches since Gruden — Bill Callahan, Norv Turner and Art Shell.He has already started to reshape the roster, removing long snapper Adam Treu and special teams standout Jarrod Cooper. Some observers think he is getting rid of older players who are team leaders and might challenge his authority.
The offense he is installing is much like Gruden’s, an offshoot of the system that Bill Walsh brought to the NFL with more emphasis on shorter passes and a quarterback who can move. That’s quite different than the offense Davis prefers, with the deep passes, but Davis seems to have given Kiffin more authority than he’s ever given a new coach, including the ability to hire many new assistant coaches.
One of those coaches is offensive line coach Tom Cable, who is teaching a system of cut blocking — most notably used in Denver and Atlanta — which will only be used in games, not in practice.
“We don’t want to hurt our own players,” Kiffin said.
Davis has been good at identifying young coaches with bright futures but, since Gruden, he hasn’t been able to convince any of them to come to Oakland. He clearly thinks he’s got a gem in Kiffin and, from the limited exposure I’vehad to the new coach, I’m inclined to agree with that. Kiffin is obviously intelligent, seems to have a good grasp of what needs to be done and also seems to have the attention of his players.
In time, I think Kiffin will get it done. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. It took some time for the Raiders to get in this mess, and it will take time to get out.
How long will the Raiders’ rebuilding process take?
Share your comments below.