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AFC OAKLAND REPORT

He Leaves No Change From a Nickel

January 25, 2003|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Raider quarterback Rich Gannon turned in an impressive practice Friday, completing all 18 passes he threw in two drills designed to perfect the Raiders' red-zone performance against nickel defenses.

"He's like this every week," Coach Bill Callahan said. "He works on his timing and execution through the early part of the week and by the time we get to nickel offense, he's absolutely zeroed in.

"He'll need to be this week, because we'll be facing the best nickel defense in the NFL."

Gannon, 37, completed the 18 passes to six receivers.

The one-hour, 35-minute practice at the San Diego Chargers' Murphy Canyon facility featured no pads for a third consecutive day and participation by all 53 Raiders, including normal turns in drills by injured center Barrett Robbins (foot), cornerback Charles Woodson (leg) and outside linebacker Eric Barton (leg). Robbins, Woodson and Barton are listed as questionable on the team's injury report.

Barton and defensive tackle Sam Adams intercepted passes by backup quarterbacks to lead a strong effort by the first-team defense.

"We were good Wednesday, very good Thursday and I thought excellent today," Callahan said. "We wanted to simulate game speed today, and the guys did a very good job. I think we're prepared to cut it loose on Sunday."

The practice was watched by owner Al Davis and several former Raiders, including George Blanda, Jim Otto and George Atkinson.

"I'm so happy for Al," said Blanda, 76, who lives part-time in Palm Springs.

"A lot of owners say they want to win. Al's whole life is football. Everything he does is for winning."

Raider senior assistant Bruce Allen scoffed at speculation and rumors that the 73-year-old Davis is considering retiring if his team beats Tampa Bay on Sunday.

"I've got bad news for our opponents: He's never going to retire," Allen said. "He's laughing at those reports."

The Raiders will conduct an afternoon walk-through practice at Qualcomm Stadium today and maintain their customary 11 p.m. curfew, Callahan said.

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Callahan said his players have "been on a mission from day one, and the mission is incomplete."

The first-year head coach said he plans to complete a script of his offense's first 15 plays today after a discussion with offensive coordinator Marc Trestman.

"I don't know where this game is going to go," Callahan said. "The game will take on its own identity as it transpires."

The Raiders' success in handling various defensive alignments is the reason they are favored.

Callahan, who succeeded Jon Gruden in March, has tailored an offense that helped claim a Sept. 15 victory at Pittsburgh in which Gannon threw the ball 64 times.

Callahan also presided over a Dec. 28 triumph over Kansas City when the Raiders compiled 60 running plays.

The best strategy for his top-ranked NFL offense against Tampa Bay's top-ranked defense?

"Whatever it takes to win," Callahan said. "No-huddle, one back, whatever. [The Buccaneers' defense] is a difficult challenge, it's a defense that has carried its team to the Super Bowl on its back single-handedly.

"I believe you have to attack the Tampa Bay defense with patience. You have to be smart enough to not waste plays because if they back you up on downs and distance, it can be a long afternoon. They are very good at getting turnovers."

Callahan is comforted that he has veterans such as league MVP Gannon and receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice to handle the passing precision.

The Raiders' offensive line has been superb during the 9-1 run to the Super Bowl, and the team has maintained a routine preparation schedule this week while playing so close to home.

"I understand how hard it is to get here," Callahan said. "It is important for us to conclude this journey with a victory Sunday."

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Disneyland will host a parade featuring a Super Bowl star from the winning team at 11:45 a.m. Monday.

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