There was good news and bad news when the Raiders announced their cuts. The good news: Al Davis continues to let new coach Lane Kiffin run his own show. The bad news: The Raiders still don’t have enough talent to expect an improvement past the five- to six-win stage this season.
Kiffin made a very significant remark last week when he said there were no players “on scholarship” with the team this year, a reference to the fact that some of Davis’ pet players have been kept longer than they should have been in the recent past.
Significantly, one of the cuts last weekend was receiver Alvis Whitted, who has stayed on the roster under previous coaches though his world-class speed never translated into top receiving skills.
Davis has always liked sprinters. He’s had spectacular success (Cliff Branch) and spectacular failure (Jimmy Hines). Most recently, James Jett had success as a rookie but quickly tailed off to an inconsistent and sometimes surly player who was a drag on the team. Yet, he lasted 10 years because Davis liked him.
Whitted was a hard worker who never caused any problems, but he was never consistent enough to be a big-play receiver. When he failed to catch what would have been the winning touchdown pass in the exhibition against the 49ers, he was as good as gone. He was knocked down on the play, but had a clear shot at the pass when he got up, which Kiffin noted when he was asked about a possible pass interference call.
Just as significant was the cutting of fullback Zack Crockett. On the Jon Gruden teams, Crockett was valuable because he could always get the short yards for a touchdown. But if you have a team that struggles to even get into position to score, Crockett is an unnecessary luxury.
For all the talk about improvement, the Raiders are still offensively challenged. Offensive line coach Tom Cable is teaching good blocking schemes, but changing the system doesn’t automatically make good linemen out of stiffs. The Raiders needed to work on that in the draft — as the 49ers did by trading up to draft Joe Staley, now a starter — but they didn’t.
The Raiders got one starter, tight end Zach Miller, out of the draft, but not much help otherwise. No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell remains unsigned and will obviously not be a factor this year. Running back Michael Bush, who Raiders fans thought was a steal, is on the physically unable to perform list. Defensive end Quentin Moses, who had looked good in camp, was surprisingly cut and signed by Arizona.
The only decision in the quarterback race was to drop Andrew Walter to No. 3. Walter clearly has no future in Oakland. My belief is that Kiffin will name Daunte Culpepper as the starter, though he still lacks familiarity with the playbook, because he is better and more experienced than Josh McCown, a good athlete who has failed with two other teams because of his tendency to spray passes.
Kiffin is doing all the right things with this team, and that bodes well for the Raiders’ future. But this year? I’d advise those fans who are predicting a huge turnaround — to as many as 10 wins this season — not to hold their breath on that.