It's been over a month now since the stories started inundating the net about the rift between Oakland Raiders Head Coach, Lane Kiffin, and the notoriously impatient and crass owner of the Raiders, Al Davis. While many of the media still expect a change in philosophy and personnel from the head coaching position of the Raiders, there is another theory that could be just as accurate judging by all of the moves out of Oakland since the explosion of rumors flooded the net...Al Davis believes Kiffin will turn things around (still).
I know, most of you are probably saying, "WHAT?!? This guy is outta' his mind!" While many of my friends and family could tell you stories to reinforce that thought, bear with me for a few paragraphs while I make my point. One could look at the changes that have occurred over the past two months on and off of the field to see that Big Al is placing all of his chips on the Lane Kiffin 'pass' line.
James Lofton has been called, "Kiffins' successor at head coach." How about calling him the most questionable firing of the 2008 off season? The Chargers young receivers showed marked improvement last year over years past. Stats don't tell you how much better the receivers have gotten at catching a football, they only tell you how many times that guy DID catch the ball. A look at Philip Rivers' stats from 2006 and 2007 shows that he attempted the same number of passes (460) for seven fewer receptions last year, but that doesn't tell the whole story either. Rivers threw six more picks and had three more fumbles in 2007 than in 2006, which would also begin to explain the lower average yards and total yards in the Charger passing game. L.T. and Gates both had their usual seasons combining for 135 of 281 receptions made, which also steers away from Lofton's accomplishments. Where Lofton succeeded was in the development of Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers. Jackson caught a career high 41 receptions during the season, 16 games, while in the three post season games he had a total of 18 catches for 300 yards. Chambers played in only 10 games for the Chargers and caught 35 balls for 555 yards, but in the post season he had 16 catches for 278 yards. If you take their production in the post season and translate that to 16 games, Jackson would catch 96 passes and Chambers would catch 85!! You don't get tougher competition than in the post season, and that's where the benefits of good coaching shine.
On the flip side of the Chargers receiving production, the Raiders receiving corps was not as successful. Running backs on the Raiders combined for 89 receptions of a total of 260! Curry and Porter each had 55 and 44 receptions while rookie Tight End Zach Miller also caught 44. Tim Dwight, Johnie Lee Higgins, and Chris McFoy combined for a total of 13 receptions and this year Porter and Dwight won't be on the team. With Curry getting older, Walker a health risk, and Carter here for a year, the Raiders need to have receivers developed within the next two years. This is why the James Lofton hiring makes sense and also why it rings of an endorsement to Kiffin's abilities. Why replace the receiving coach if you think the person calling the plays is at fault? Simply put, you don't. If you think the Head Coach/Offensive play caller is doing things right, you give him more tools to get the job done, and what better tool to give an offense that struggles with the pass than a Hall of Famer Wide Receiver turned coach? The only way Al could've done better would've been to convince Jerry Rice to be the receiver's coach/third receiver.
Despite all of the reports to the contrary, Kiffin's admin Mark Jackson is still taking an active part in signing players. It's been reported that he's been doing much of the contract 'hammering' since the off season started. He may not be an active part in Davis' decision making this off season, but from the looks of it, only Davis is making decisions. One of the most overlooked aspects of the Raiders off season has been the overall minor tweaking he has done on the offensive side of the ball. Most of his work continues to be defensive, and that gives me hope that this is also another vote of confidence in the young, brash, Kiffin...sometimes referred to as 'Lance'.
On offense, Al has made only one big signing while making other moves that would make the offensive staff very happy. We've already spoke of the new receivers' coach, but how about the additions of Javon Walker and Drew Carter? Walker, by far was the jewel of the 2008 free agent receivers this side of Randy Moss. It was reported that over 10 teams were trying to land him, but the 'lowly' Raiders were the clear winners. Although the Raiders didn't land Berrian or Bryant Johnson, (which I was hoping they'd do), they did pull in Drew Carter who has flashed the ability to be a star in the league. Due to Carter's inconsistency, he was free to sign on with the Raiders for 1 year at $2 million. At Lane Kiffin's end of season press conference, he mentioned his 'hope' that the Raiders would be able to resign Fargas. Kiffin's hope was realized while not breaking the bank. Then the wily Davis signs Harris, fulfilling offensive line coach Tom Cable's hope of getting another zone blocking lineman. To the world, Harris is a bust and a waste of $14 million. Only time will tell, but Cable was reported to say at the combine that 2/3d's of the linemen are disqualified off the top due to the agility demands of zone blocking. With that said, let me also point out that Cable was also reported to want Harris.
Kiffin said there would be many changes before next season, but who's to say he meant coaching changes? Are we to believe everything the media writes? If that were true, history would look much different than it does now. The truth of the matter is, only Kiffin and Davis really know what's going on. Full scale changes have already occurred on the defensive side of the ball with the retirement of Sapp, signing of Wilson and Hall, and other lesser discussed signings and releases. As it stands now, the Raiders defense already has 4 new starters, and that my friends is plenty on a team of 11 players. What's next? Your guess is as good as mine, but I predict that nobody else will be clear on Al-Lane's plans until April 28th, a day AFTER the 2008 draft.