Is Collins the Raiders Problem?
by Glenn Dickey
Nov 29, 2005

THE KNIVES are out for Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins. Fans are booing, writers are speculating on his replacement, his teammates are questioning him. After the dispiriting loss to the Miami Dolphins, some players, seeking anonymity, wondered why coach Norv Turner was sticking with Collins. That was so Raider-like: Blame somebody else, never take responsibility for your own failures. The philosophy permeates the organization, starting at the top.

In reality, Collins is the same quarterback he has always been, with the same strengths and weaknesses. At his best, he can make beautiful deep throws to receivers streaking downfield. At his worst, he panics, throwing balls up for grabs, making bad decisions.

Though writers sometimes refer to this as his inconsistency, it’s actually more a result of the defenses he faces. If he has time to throw – as he had in the late going of the win over the Washington Redskins – he can look very good. But when he’s under heavy pressure, which he has been lately because of injuries and poor play in the offensive line, he plays poorly. Frankly, if I were a defensive coordinator of a team playing the Raiders, I’d blitz him on every down.

And, of course, Collins is no leader, but we’ve known that from the start, too. He suffers especially from following Rich Gannon, a fiery leader in the George Blanda mode.

If he were replaced, though, would it be any better? Not likely.

Marques Tuiasosopo, the No. 2 quarterback, hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game since November, 2003. When Jon Gruden was the Raiders coach, he talked Al Davis into drafting Tui because he was a quarterback in the Gannon mode, not a picture-perfect passer but a mobile quarterback who made big plays, with his arm and with his feet.

Tuiasosopo was perfectly suited to Gruden’s offense. Indeed, he should be in Tampa Bay with Gruden now, but there is so much bad blood between Davis and Gruden (and former Raider executive Bruce Allen) that the Raiders would be more likely to trade with the 49ers than the Bucs.

The current Raider offense, with its emphasis on getting the ball downfield to fast, acrobatic receivers like Randy Moss and Jerry Porter, is not a good fit for Tui. It’s almost certain that he will opt out of the last year of his contract and be a free agent, and almost as certain that he will finally make his way to Tampa Bay.

A more likely future candidate for starting quarterback is Andrew Walter, a third-round draft pick this year. Walter has great size, 6-6 and 230 pounds, and a strong arm, and he had a great collegiate career at Arizona State.

But as the third quarterback on the depth chart, Walter hasn’t taken a snap with the first team in practice. He runs the “Scout” team, with the offense of the team the Raiders will play that Sunday. Forty-Niner fans saw, with Cody Pickett, how difficult it is for a quarterback in that situation to go to being a starter – and Pickett is a year ahead of Walter in NFL experience. Playing Walter now might actually retard his development, because he’d be certain to play poorly. Turner knows that, so he won’t do it.

QUARTERBACKS ARE always the focus of attention, so it’s natural that Collins be blamed for the Raiders disappointing season, but he’s hardly the only problem.

From the start, this team has never seemed to be as good as the sum of its parts. Nothing unusual about that. The Raiders often are a team which looks much better on paper in the spring than on the field in the fall.

Putting a team together as the Raiders have done in the recent past, bringing in veteran free agents, is always a gamble. Even if the free agents play well, they owe no allegiance to the team, only to themselves. If things start to turn sour, they’ll be looking out for No. 1. We’ve already seen signs of that with Ted Washington fighting on the sidelines with Tommy Kelly in the fourth quarter Sunday, with Moss making comments about not getting the ball enough. The infighting among teammates will only increase as the season goes steadily downhill.

This team has had a losing record since the first game of the season, yet players still talked about making the playoffs. There were the usual excuses and claims that they were being picked on by officials; a couple of controversial calls were blamed for their two defeats by the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Raiders are 0-4 against AL West rivals this season. They’ve lost all the big games; the home loss to the Denver Broncos, before the last home sellout they’ll have this season, was especially embarrassing.

Yet, after they beat the Redskins, they still insisted they were in the playoff picture. All it would take would be “running the table,” winning their last seven games to get to 10 wins, usually what’s needed to get a wild card berth.

Their fans knew better. The loss to the Broncos had convinced them. Though the official count for the Dolphins game was 49,000 plus, the unofficial estimate by those who were there was about 40,000. Mount Davis was vacant. The fans who were there were uncommonly quiet – until they booed the Raiders as they left the field after the most embarrassing loss of the season.

Now, all the Raiders have to do is win six of their last five.

REALISTICALLY, the Raiders are looking at their third straight losing season, which hasn’t happened since Davis came to the team as coach in 1963. In the last 20 years, they’re a cumulative three games under .500 in regular season play. I wonder how many people in the Raider building still believe their own propaganda about being an elite franchise.

It’s past time for Davis and his people to start looking at the way they build a team, to start looking for players with character and leadership ability, to start thinking of what a team should be, instead of picking up star players as if this were a Fantasy Football league.

Yes, Kerry Collins is not a championship quarterback, but nothing about this team or franchise says championship.


NO COLUMN TOMORROW: I’ll be working on a possible book project tomorrow, so I won’t be posting a column. See you again on Thursday.

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