Put aside their trouncing at the hands of their ex-coach and the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl for a moment. When your offense finishes first in the NFL and your quarterback breaks all kinds of records, there doesn’t seem to be much cause for change. Yes, it’s been a quiet offseason on the transaction wires in Oaktown—much quieter than the courtroom saga that hangs over the franchise. Last year’s successes combined with a restrictive salary cap situation led to few “notable” moves on offense for Al Davis’ “I want to move my team out of Oakland” Raiders.
That’s not to say the Silver and Black stood pat. There’s always some turnover among the veterans, but all the familiar starters are returning, including Rich Gannon, Charlie Garner, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, and Jerry Porter. Last year’s starting fullback Jon Ritchie took his bleeding forehead and bullish blocking to Philadelphia via free agency. To replace his blocking, the Raiders brought in Cecil Martin and Chris Hetherington. The constant bleeding may be gone for good; no word yet on whether either is learning how to blade their own forehead from Ric Flair.
The draft resulted in a few new faces for the offense. Running back Justin Fargas was selected in third round out of USC—one round later than wide receiver turned tight end Teyo Johnson was selected out of Stanford. One of the two could have a role in the Raiders’ offense in 2003, and will give you one hint: that’s not Teyo.
Position Battles: The aforementioned Fargas will have his work cut out for him if he wants to make any sort of an impact as a rookie, but we’re saying there’s a chance. All he has to do is impress upon the powers that be that he’s a better change-of-pace to Garner than veteran Tyrone Wheatley. It’s kind of a long shot, but it could happen. At least it gives us something to watch during preseason games.
In a far less sexy battle, Martin and Hetherington will duke it out for the right to start at fullback. Heading into camp, Martin has the edge according to most observers. Zack Crockett is more of a fullback/halfback blend a la Mike Alstott. Martin or Hetherington will do all the dirty work, while Crockett comes in for the short yardage glory, especially at the stripe.
One other position battle worth mentioning comes at center where Barret Robbins has returned from an offseason of treatment for bipolar disorder and alcoholism to fight for his job. But after abandoning the team on the eve of the Super Bowl, he still faces an uphill battle. Right now Robbins is the second-team center, behind Adam Treu.
Keep an Eye On: We won’t get to see a lot of Gannon, Garner, Rice et al in preseason action, but there are some things we hope to get a better read on by week one.
Fantasy players are eager to see if last year’s apparent changing of the guard at wide receiver between Brown and Porter evolves even further. Is Brown finished? Is Porter ready to become a top-10 fantasy receiver? The answer appears to be “not quite” to both questions, but we may have a better sense following this preseason. Brown is still technically the starter, but there probably aren’t many fantasy players out there who have him ranked anywhere nearly as high as Porter. How will training camp news and preseason performance alter their rankings?
Tight end Doug Jolley stepped up toward the end of his rookie season and displayed the receiving skills that made him a second-round pick. We’re eager to get another look at him this summer because he has the potential to give Gannon another great target (as if he needed any more) and fantasy players another legitimate tight end.