Good Randy Or Bad Randy?
Moss’s importance to the Raiders was underscored last week when Ryan Riddle, trying to make the conversion from a defensive lineman at Cal to a pro linebacker, hit Moss hard after a catch – and was raged at by teammates. Riddle was just trying to make a play, but his teammates are far more concerned about Moss’s health than whether Riddle makes the team.
In camp this week, I talked with Jim Plunkett, who quarterbacked the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins, about this year’s receiving corps. With the addition of Moss, this may be the Raiders’ best group ever.
“The receivers are bigger now than in my time,” Plunkett said, “but they’re just as fast. Cliff Branch was really quick, which made him special, but Randy Moss is 40 pounds heavier (and probably 6-7 inches taller) and he’s just as quick.’’
Plunkett thinks this receiving group may be just about unstoppable. “You’ve got Moss joining Jerry Porter, who was very good last year. I had Raymond Chester and Todd Christensen as my tight ends, and you need that, but Courtney Anderson stepped up big last season and Teyo Johnson could be something special.’’
Johnson is potentially a great player, with speed and 6-7 size. His problem has been a poor work ethic, which led to him not even being on the playing roster at times last season, but he’s learned his lesson. He stayed home from the Super Bowl to work on his training program this year, instead of partying in Jacksonville. “If you spread him wide, I don’t see how you cover him,” said Plunkett. “With Moss and Porter (and Doug Gabriel or Johnnie Morant in multi-receiver formations), what are you going to do? You can’t double everybody.”
Moss will usually be the one who gets double coverage, but even that won’t be enough. At his best, Moss is impossible to defend, because he can out-leap defensive backs on high passes and run away from them after the catch.
This is the best situation for quarterback Kerry Collins, because Collins’ strength is his long passing ability. The Raiders also drafted Andrew Walter out of Arizona State because he’s the same kind of quarterback. I’m frankly surprised that Marques Tuiasosopo is still on the roster. His game was well suited to the offense Jon Gruden was running but not to this one. Gruden should trade for him.
Moss’s presence also helps the running game because defenses won’t be able to crowd the line of scrimmage; newcomer Lamont Jordan should have ample running room.
Even the defense is helped, because a more efficient offense keeps them off the field, which is a much desired goal. Last year, the Raiders usually lost the time of possession game, sometimes by as much as 10 minutes, because their offense was three-and-out so frequently. When you’ve got old, overweight defensive linemen, you don’t want them on the field that much.
SO, THAT’S the best case scenario, but it can’t be assumed that this will happen because of Moss’s personal unpredictability.
There’s been a cloud hanging over Moss since he was eligible for the NFL draft; many teams backed off on selecting him, though he was easily the most talented receiver in the draft, because he was already considered trouble.
That hasn’t changed during his pro career. In Minnesota, there were troubling incidents. Once, he declared that he would decide when he would play hard – and there were occasions when he seemed to take time off. Unlike Jerry Rice, who has always run out his patterns even when he didn’t expect to get the ball, Moss will jog through a pattern if he’s not the intended receiver, so defenses know the ball is going elsewhere. He mooned a fan last year and walked off the field into the locker room before the Vikings’ playoff game was over last season.
Though his statistics are very impressive – he’s ahead of Rice at a similar point in their careers – the Vikings were tired of his act. When they made it known that they were willing to trade Moss, only the Raiders called, and they got him at a discount, for their first-round draft pick and linebacker Napoleon Harris, who had been a disappointment.
The Raiders, of course, have long had the reputation of being able to take a problem player and get good production out of him. Will they be able to do the same with Moss?
So far, the results have been encouraging. Moss is working hard in Napa, and he’s even mentoring the young receivers. Coach Norv Turner mentioned that when we talked. Later, when I talked to one of those receivers, Morant, he said the same thing. Morant said he was learning from Moss, as he had learned from Rice before Jerry left the team last season.
Is it possible that Moss, at 28, has finally matured?
THOUGH IT’S usually folly to think a problem player will be different with a new team – hello, there, Terrell Owens! – this may be one time when a change of scenery does work.
Perhaps the major reason the Raiders have had success with problem players is that they don’t try to put players in a trait jacket. They’re judged on performance, not personality.
At Minnesota, there always seemed to be tension and controversy surrounding Moss. Not with the Raiders,. He’s in a very comfortable situation.
That doesn’t mean the Raiders are on the road to the Super Bowl, because there are still serious questions about their defense. but with Moss bringing a lights-out dimension to the offense, the games will be very exciting. There may be several 42-35 games, and fans can only hope that the Raiders will be the ones with 42.
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