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Raider Camp : Mueller Standing Out Among All Those Guys From Major Programs

September 01, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

OXNARD — On one side, there's Marcus Allen, the 1981 Heisman Trophy winner from mighty USC.

On the other, there's Bo Jackson, the '85 winner from proud Auburn.

And you're Vance Mueller from . . .

Oxy?

"It's like so overwhelming, you just don't think about it," says Mueller, the Occidental Raider. "The comparison is just so night-and-day. That's the way most people perceive it.

"Division III doesn't even compete with Division I. I just try not to think about it."

Division III may not compete with I, but Mueller competes daily with Kenny King of Oklahoma, Ethan Horton of North Carolina and Zeph Lee of USC for the second and last--until Bo Jackson arrives--tailback spot.

King and Horton, too, may have edged him in Heisman votes but in this competition, Mueller has the favor of an important local voter--Al Davis. If there is one thing that Davis likes almost as much as stealing the crown jewels out from under 27 noses, it's discovering a diamond in the coal bin.

The race is all but won. Bulked up to 210 pounds for his second season, still fast enough to break the big play as he did with his 40-yard touchdown burst Sunday in Dallas, Mueller has run as if possessed through the exhibition season. The totals are 97 yards in 13 carries.

"It's pretty obvious," Mueller says. "'They have me listed No. 3, behind Marcus and Kenny. Then there's Ethan, and we still have Zeph. There are 10 backs in camp and they're probably only going to keep four before Bo comes along.

"I was definitely discouraged when they got Bo. I knew I had a long way to go but it seemed like they felt I was making progress. They were so enthusiastic. Then they had all those acquirees. I just kind of felt like, 'Oh, wow, they just don't think I'm going to be ready.' I took it personally at first.

"Then I just said, 'I can't worry about it. If I'm good enough to play, I'll play. If not, maybe I'll get a shot with another team. If not, maybe I'll be in the business world.'

"I just figure, they must like me for some reason. I'm still here. I must be doing something right. Hopefully, I'll keep doing whatever it is. Then those Heisman guys can flash their trophies around and I'll still have a job."

On Jessie Hester:

The question arises, if you have a young quarterback such as Rusty Hilger, whom you want to establish as quickly as possible, why not let him open up with the best receivers, specifically the newly acquired James Lofton rather than the drop-prone Hester?

Last week, Raider management was still suggesting that Hester's reputation is undeserved, that he was charged in team statistics with only six drops all last season, that the other guys drop balls too, as indeed, Lofton did Sunday at Dallas, with far less fanfare.

The rejoinder isn't difficult. Even assuming that the Raider count isn't overly charitable, six drops against 23 receptions last season is still far too high a percentage. There is an invisible process of subtraction: if long passes stretch the field, drops shrink it. The more he drops, the less anyone feels like calling his plays and there goes half the playing field.

After Hester's drop and fumble in the exhibition opener this season, the Raiders didn't throw to him in the Buffalo game. As if to make up for it, they went hard to him Sunday at Dallas but he still came away without a catch.

On one long comeback pattern, he fell down. On the spectacular bomb-to-be from Hilger, he got open behind Everson Walls, caught the ball, and then, as he was putting it away, lost it. And there went Hilger's half.

The Raiders will cut to 60 players today while everyone waits to see what happens to Jim Plunkett.

Assuming that Hilger and Marc Wilson hold the 1-2 slots and that rookie Steve Beuerlein goes on injured reserve, will the Raiders keep a 39-year-old No. 3?

"Usually, when you have a third quarterback, he's a young guy," Coach Tom Flores said Monday. "Someone who has a chance to be something in three-four years."

Is there any assurance the Raiders will even keep three quarterbacks?

"It really is hard to go with three," Flores said. "We really don't have a commitment to going with three."

New best bet: Plunkett to start the season on injured reserve.

Raider Notes

For the Raiders, the good news was that they kept a right guard--Bill Lewis--healthy through an entire game. The bad news is that they lost right tackle Shelby Jordan, who suffered a tear in his right triceps. Jordan underwent tests Monday but is considered more week to week than day to day. . . . The Raiders traded Willard Goff, a defensive tackle who got into only one of their three exhibitions, to the 49ers for a draft choice, presumably on a round in double figures. Why the 49ers, who cut defensive lineman Manu Tuisasosopo Sunday, would trade anything for a player certain to be cut is something you'll have to ask them, but they have Jeff Stover holding out.

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