Raiders finish season with some positives but few wins Print
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Monday, 31 December 2007 14:37
NFL Headline News

 ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) -Lane Kiffin's first season as Oakland's head coach had plenty of positives. The Raiders ended a 17-game losing streak in the AFC West, doubled their win total from a year ago, revamped the worst offense in the league and began the JaMarcus Russell era.
The end result, however, wasn't much different as Oakland (4-12) had its fifth straight double-digit loss season to extend the worst stretch in team history. Kiffin wants to make sure that everyone around the team understands that that is unacceptable no matter how much better shape the team might be in than it was a year ago.
``It's not OK because we played some teams well and we won a couple divisional games,'' Kiffin said Monday. ``That's not OK. This season was not a success. We're 4-12. That means that you lost more than you won and we've got to get that fixed. We're going to work on that right now and we're going to look at every single way we can to fix that, whether that's free agency, draft, anything.''
Kiffin's biggest task after taking over a 2-14 team from Art Shell was to change the culture of losing that has surrounded the Raiders since they went to the Super Bowl following the 2002 season. They have been the worst team in the NFL since then, winning just 19 games in five seasons.
Progress on that front has been evident, as the Raiders were much more competitive under the 32-year-old Kiffin than they were a year ago. Defensive tackle Warren Sapp compared the progress here to what he saw early in his career in Tampa Bay, when Tony Dungy molded a young nucleus on a franchise known for losing into one of the league's best.
``We're making strides,'' Sapp said. ``I'd like to see where this team is in two years. It's going to be something special to watch, because these kids are going to grow up. I guarantee you that.''
Whether Sapp is here when that happens is in doubt. He is contemplating retiring after 13 seasons and plans to make an announcement soon. If Sapp is done, he feels good about some of the young defensive players on the team, offering specific praise for linebackers Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard, and defensive backs Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff.
Sapp also is high on Russell, whose progress was slow this season after being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Russell missed all of training camp in a contract dispute, signing his $61 million contract three days after the season began. He didn't step on the field until December, playing as a reserve in three games before starting the season finale against San Diego.
Despite throwing an interception on his first play and losing a fumble in the end zone that led to a Chargers touchdown, Russell showed signs of why he was the No. 1 pick. He completed 23 of 31 passes for 224 yards, going to his secondary target on a sharp 32-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Porter.
It was a big improvement over his four-turnover performance the previous week as a reserve against Jacksonville, offering a glimpse of what the future could hold in Oakland.
``I think it was really important for our whole franchise,'' Kiffin said. ``I think it was really important for our fans, our building, our players, everyone, to see him play very well and make some dynamic plays at times that he did. It's very valuable because it just increases their faith and trust in him and where we're going. I think it was really, really powerful and important.''
Russell will get some time off before beginning his offseason work. He already has been named the starter for 2008 and had promised at least one big difference from his rookie year.
``I can bet your bottom dollar I'll be in camp on time,'' he said. ``That was a big downfall just to the side of me coming in and playing. That was the business side of football and it's over for me and everything is done.''
The biggest positive this season was the vast improvement on the offensive line under assistant Tom Cable. The Raiders allowed 31 fewer sacks than last year, had their most yards rushing since 2000 and beat Kansas City and Denver in consecutive weeks to end a 17-game skid in the AFC West.
But there were still problems that need to be addressed, starting with a defense that allowed the second-most yards rushing this season and the lack of a big-play receiver.
The problems on defense could cost coordinator Rob Ryan his job. Kiffin has not said whether Ryan would be back, saying decisions on the coaching staff will be made soon.
The other issues will be addressed through the draft and free agency. The Raiders will have either the third or fourth pick in the draft, pending a coin flip with Atlanta in February.
Kiffin has some decisions to make on his own free agents. With Dominic Rhodes having topped 100 yards in his two starts and rookie Michael Bush expected to compete for playing time, the Raiders must decide whether to try to bring Justin Fargas back after gaining more than 1,000 yards despite starting only seven games.
Asomugha, one of the top cover cornerbacks in the league, is also a free agent but could be given the franchise tag.
 

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