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PRO FOOTBALL '93 : It Has to Be a Better Season : Raiders: Everything that could go wrong last year did. Shell won't even discuss it.

September 02, 1993|STEVE SPRINGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It began with a quarterback controversy and ended with a tailback controversy.

And the time in between wasn't exactly peaceful.

For the Raiders, 1992 was a lost year. They lost games, they lost fans and, most painful, they lost some of their mystique.

The team finished 7-9. That in and of itself is hardly cause for panic.

But it was the way they lost. There was controversy everywhere--Jay Schroeder and Todd Marinovich fighting for the quarterback job, owner Al Davis and tailback Marcus Allen fighting in public and players and front-office officials fighting with the media. Raider players and the opposition questioned the team's game plan.

This club didn't belong on "Monday Night Football." It belonged on "Days of Our Lives."

Attendance dropped. And finally, all the losing and squabbling left people questioning the Raiders' ability to intimidate people as they once did.

"When we're winning, we have mystique," veteran defensive lineman Howie Long said. "When we're winning, we are intimidating. Great players are intimidating. Great teams are intimidating."

But all that pertained to last season. It's a season Coach Art Shell refuses to even discuss.

He'd rather talk about a team with a new quarterback, a new primary running back, a new left tackle, and, perhaps, the most exciting new player in the game. He'd rather talk about a new attitude and a new outlook.

QUARTERBACK

This position was a lightning rod for controversy and a focal point for the inconsistency and criticism that plagued the Raiders in 1992.

So Davis' first order of business in the off-season was to clean house. And clean he did.

Replacing the strong-armed but erratic Jay Schroeder is the less powerful, but steadier, Jeff Hostetler, who adds accuracy and mobility to an offense in need of both.

And replacing talented but troubled Todd Marinovich is Billy Joe Hobert, whose days at the University of Washington elicited similar adjectives.

The only holdover is 38-year-old Vince Evans, who seems to be getting better as he gets older.

Question: Can Hostetler maintain his impressive numbers--high completion rate, low interception percentage--in the Raiders' high-flying, high-risk offense?

Comment: Unspectacular but solid.

RUNNING BACK

Last season's system didn't work. With three backs in Eric Dickerson, Nick Bell and Allen, and only one ball, nobody was happy.

Of course Allen hadn't been happy since his feud with Davis began. They gladly parted company in the off-season, Allen rushing all the way to Kansas City.

Dickerson also took a one-way ticket out of town, heading to Atlanta via the trade route.

That left the ball in the hands of Bell, a two-year player who has to show he can carry a rushing offense.

Behind him are Greg Robinson, an eighth-round draft choice who will be Sunday's starting tailback because of an injury to Bell; Ty Montgomery, a converted receiver who offers speed and versatility, and Gaston Green, the former Denver Bronco and Ram who has had a terrible exhibition season.

Questions: Can Bell be a 25-carry, 100-yard-per-game runner? Can Green regain the form he flashed in his only 1,000-yard pro season? Is Robinson for real?

Comment: Too many questions.

RECEIVER

Here lies the strength of the offense.

Davis has assembled a track team in pads. There is Alexander Wright, two-time winner of the NFL's fastest man race; James Jett, a gold-medal winning Olympic runner; Willie Gault, another Olympic sprinter; Rocket Ismail, the nickname says it all, and Tim Brown, the most talented receiver of them all, along with rising stars Daryl Hobbs and Charles Jordan.

Davis says speed is the ultimate intimidator, and he has certainly assembled enough here to throw terror into opposing defenses.

At tight end is Ethan Horton. The Raiders don't throw to this position the way they did in the heyday of Todd Christensen. But Horton has caught 119 passes over the last three seasons.

And with Hostetler being a master of the short game, Horton's number may come up more often.

Question: The receivers will be out there, but will the Raiders be able to get them the ball?

Comment: Speed kills.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

A strength last season, it figures to be even more so this year.

The starting front four are Howie Long, Chester McGlockton, Nolan Harrison and Greg Townsend.

Behind them are Anthony Smith, Willie Broughton and Aundray Bruce.

Smith, with 23 1/2 sacks in the last two seasons, keeps getting better. Maybe someday, he'll convince the powers that be that he is good enough to start.

Townsend, who missed the preseason last year as a holdout and reported out of shape, is ready from the start.

McGlockton, whose rookie season was marred by a long, nagging foot injury, had hoped to begin at full strength this season, but, instead, limps into opening day with another foot injury.

Long, at age 32, had nine sacks last season and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Questions: Can the defensive line avoid injuries and maintain its consistency? Can Long remain a vital force? Can Smith become a full-time force?

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