SEATTLE — Five weeks ago, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin assembled his 80-man roster for the first time, as training camp commenced in Napa. At that time, Kiffin had almost as many questions about his team as he did players.
Tonight marks Oakland's fourth and final exhibition game, against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field. By game's end, Kiffin will have a pretty good idea which 53 players he'll take into the regular-season opener Sept. 8, against the Denver Broncos. That gives him and his coaching staff nine days to find answers to whatever questions linger.
That task pales in comparison with what they faced entering camp. What follows is a look at the five key issues we identified before training camp started and how the Raiders look in those areas today:
1. Firming up offensive line.
Offseason acquisition Kwame Harris made the conversion from right offensive tackle to left tackle without difficulty. It helped that he played the position his first two seasons with the 49ers. However, it was of paramount concern for the Raiders because they entrusted Harris with protecting quarterback JaMarcus Russell's blind side.
Also, one-time starting center Jake Grove showed that the offseason surgery he had on his right knee achieved the desire goal. Grove has regained the form and strength that enabled him to start 32 games at center his first three seasons. In doing so, he also regained the starting job.
2. Get rolling with Russell.
Russell hit the ground running in training camp this year — the quarterback taken No. 1 overall in the draft missed all of training camp as a rookie last year because of drawn-out contractual negotiations — and proved to Kiffin that he has a firm grasp of the offense, strong command in the huddle and the ability to function well in the pocket and on the move.
Russell also used the countless practices and first three exhibition games to learn the nuances of his receivers, running backs and offensive linemen. Kiffin now feels much better about Russell's status as engineer of his offense.
3. Defining Darren's role.
Kiffin called rookie running back Darren McFadden "the star of camp." With good reason, too. McFadden showed the burst, speed, power and versatility that prompted many to tab McFadden as the most-talented player available in the 2008 NFL draft.
Kiffin thrust McFadden into various roles throughout training camp as a means of gauging how best to use McFadden in regular-season games. The coach soon discovered that McFadden is capable of excelling in any role. The problem will be resisting the temptation to use McFadden too often.
Even so, don't be surprised to see McFadden at running back, lined up as a wide receiver, returning punts and/or kickoffs and, perhaps, taking direct snaps from time to time.
4. Assuaging Asomugha.
Veteran cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha surprised Kiffin and his teammates by signing the team's one-year, $9.8 million contract offer as the team's exclusive franchise player on the eve of training camp and reporting in time for the first practice. Asomugha said he felt it was important that he set an example by participating in all of camp. So, he got his money, the Raiders got their best defender in the fold, and Asomugha still made his point about being unhappy with being tagged and not wanting to be tagged again next season.
5. Keying on Kelly.
Veteran defensive tackle Tommy Kelly's surgically repaired right knee healed in time for him to make it to the first training camp practice. He needed more than eight months to recover, which resulted in a huge weight gain.
Kelly has worked hard at losing some of the weight and increasing his stamina in preparation for taking over for the retired Warren Sapp as the anchor of the line. He still has a ways to go before he gets to where Kiffin wants him to be for the regular season.
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