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JaMarcus Russell makes his first start as Raiders quarterback against the San Diego Chargers at the McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. on Sunday, December 30, 2007 (Dan Honda/Contra Costa Times)

QUARTERBACKS

  • JaMarcus Russell is the full-time starter for the first time — he started only one game as a rookie last year. He has the arm strength, size and confidence to back it up. However, he might not get many chances to showcase his talents because coach Lane Kiffin isn't sold on the pass protection and thin corps of wide receivers. Overall, Russell and backups Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo have started only 11 games in their NFL careers. The sky's the limit for Russell, at this point. Just don't expect gaudy numbers this season.

    RUNNING BACKS

  • Justin Fargas enters a season as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his six-year NFL career. This came about as a result of his breakout season last year, when he rushed for 1,009 yards and forced out veterans LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes. The addition of super-rookie Darren McFadden and a healthy Michael Bush should complement Fargas and help keep him from being overused. Bush and McFadden also excel as receivers. Don't be surprised if the Raiders rush for at least 2,000 yards this season. Fullback Justin Griffith is a solid blocker.

    RECEIVERS


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  • Ronald Curry and Javon Walker are the starters, almost by default. Veteran Drew Carter is out for the season with a left knee injury, and Ashley Lelie, released Saturday by the 49ers, was signed this week to provide a deep threat. The other backups — Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens and Todd Watkins — have only six catches among them, all by Higgins. Curry and Walker are dependable players whose best years are behind them. Yards after catch won't be a phrase used too often in describing these receivers. Even so, there is more talent at receiver than the Raiders had last season. Tight end Zach Miller caught 44 passes last season as a rookie. He has developed into a favorite target of Russell, so his reception total should increase a great deal.

    OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

  • Kwame Harris crossed the Bay to take over for deposed veteran Barry Sims. Harris also has crossed over from right tackle to the left side. Solid veterans Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle return at the left and right guard spots, respectively. Cornell Green is a functional right tackle. Veteran Jake Grove replaces Jeremy Newberry at center after successful offseason surgery on his right knee. This group is better as a unit than its individual parts would seem to indicate. That owes to the firm teachings of offensive line coach Tom Cable. Depth is a major concern.

    DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

  • Star end Derrick Burgess added 10 pounds or so of muscle and agreed to a scheme change that moves him from side to side. He anchors a line that is without standout Warren Sapp for the first time in five seasons. Tommy Kelly returned from knee surgery sporting more muscle and a fatter bank account, thanks to a contract that guarantees him more than $18 million. The Raiders are banking that Kelly's move from right end to a tackle spot will help shore up a horrendous run defense. Jay Richardson has been thrust into a starting role opposite Burgess despite a lack of experience. Gerard Warren and Terdell Sands add brawn and beef inside.

    LINEBACKERS

  • Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard still haven't reached their full potential. That's saying something considering both are on the verge of making the Pro Bowl. They excel in pass coverage and blitzing. There is room for improvement against the run. Third-year player Ricky Brown unseated veterans Robert Thomas and Sam Williams for the strong-side spot. He is a player on the rise. Williams and Thomas give the Raiders adequate depth at linebacker.

    SECONDARY

  • Few sneer when Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall boast of being the league's top cornerback tandem. Their ability to shine in man-to-man coverage allows safeties Michael Huff and Gibril Wilson to make plays elsewhere. Wilson's arrival enables Huff to move from strong safety to free safety, where his ball-hawking skills are more useful. Stanford Routt is a proven player as the nickel back. There isn't much depth beyond Routt.

    SPECIAL TEAMS

  • Punter Shane Lechler is fresh from a Pro Bowl season. Sebastian Janikowski has made only 70.1 percent of his field goal attempts the past three seasons. In his defense, 12 of his 26 misses were from 50 yards or longer. Higgins is back for a second shot at returning punts — he lost the job because of ball-security issues last season — and rookie Tyvon Branch is expected to replace departed kick returner Chris Carr. Top coverage man Jarrod Cooper retired late in camp. In other words, the Raiders special teams have potential but are anything but a sure bet.

    — Steve Corkran