LET'S RATE THE Raiders' potential leaders. Potential, because they don't have any. Seriously. That's been a major factor in their demise the past six seasons.
Thursday's print column intertwines this leadership crisis with running back Darren McFadden's workload. It would have just been a column on him, but after he talked about seizing a more vocal role, coach Tom Cable spoke a few minutes later about wanting Nnamdi Asomugha to improve as a leader.
We've already heard the past six months about Cable's wish for quarterback JaMarcus Russell to step up as a leader. So hearing Cable lump Asomugha into the same boat signals how dire a leadership void the Raiders have.
OK, on with who should be considered for the Raiders' leadership roles:
* * * Quarterback JaMarcus Russell * * *
Cable has pined for Russell to emerge as a stronger voice — and thus break from his laid-back character — because it's in the NFL's nature to have a starting quarterback who is eager to lead. Russell showed signs Wednesday of doing just that, whether it was completing passes to his end-zone targets or loudly clapping after a frustrating incompletion in another drill. As for his always-questioned body size, he doesn't practice as if he's out of shape. Now, as for his practice attire, he wears three shirts and baggy shorts that make him look like Larry Johnson's "Grandmama" character in old shoe commercials. But he'll wear the same uniform as everyone else on Sundays.
Current leadership level: 6. Needed level: 10.
* * * Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha * * *
For as rich as a contract he signed this offseason, Asomugha's presence was long overdue before he showed for this week's voluntary workouts. With new defensive coaches tutoring one of the NFL's worst units, Asomugha needs to be a daily and vocal presence. The Raiders know how great he is emerging as a cornerback (Randy Moss' torching last season, aside), and they can only hope he becomes as strong as a leader as Rod Woodson was at the end of his Hall of Fame career.
Current leadership level: 8. Needed level: 10.
* * * Linebacker Kirk Morrison * * *
As the middle linebacker, he is in charge of that defensive huddle. I watched him closely in Wednesday's practice and liked what I saw in terms of his hustle and ability to command that huddle. Obviously, in offseason workouts like this, he can't tackle, so his play-making ability is uncertain. But he's entering his fifth season and it's time he turn his leadership up a notch. He needs to get as intense (and productive) as, say, a Ray Lewis.
Current leadership level: 5. Needed level: 10
* * * Left guard Robert Gallery * * *
Before we analyze his leadership traits, let me just say this: I have never seen so much hair come from someone's head than Gallery's on Wednesday. His long locks drop past his shoulders, and his beard looks about two inches thick. OK, enough about his Bigfoot look. Gallery is entering his sixth year and emerging as a potential Pro Bowler at left guard (even though we all assumed he'd be a dominant left tackle when drafted No. 2 overall). He's been around long enough to know how to lead a locker room. But first he needs to anchor the offensive line that's so pivotal to Russell and the running game.
Current leadership level: 7. Needed level: 9
* * * Punter Shane Lechler * * *
He and kicker Sebastian Janikowski are the longest-tenured Raiders, as they enter their 10th season. Lechler is regarded as the league's best at his craft, so that obviously carries weight, too. But, as Ray Guy can remind everyone, no punter is in the Hall of Fame, so it's hard to ask so much out of one in terms of leadership.
Current leadership level: 8. Needed level: 8 (why ask for anything less than his current rate, right?)
* * * Defensive lineman Tommy Kelly * * *
He'll have a hard time ever living up to last year's whopping contract, which thrust him into a greater spotlight. He understood those stakes last year and was willing to break a media boycott. But he's gone mute again. And he keeps jumping offside in offseason workouts. At 6-foot-6, 300-plus pounds, he is a gigantic presence on the line that coaches Dwaine Board and John Marshall need to get more out of this season.
Current leadership level: 3. Needed level: 8
* * * Defensive end Derrick Burgess * * *
Forget it. He is a short-timer who can't wait to flee the Raiders. He isn't participated in offseason activities for yet another year. His malcontent presence usually can be found with him sitting at the far left end of a bench during games. He had 27 sacks his first two seasons with the Raiders, but just eight in 2007 and 3 ½ last season. It's almost a moot point to ask him to show up and support the team, but he's still on the payroll and still might be their best pass rusher, so he should come forward and lead.
Current leadership level: 0. Needed level: 8
* * * Free safety Michael Huff * * *
Remember him, the 2006 first-round draft pick who's closing in on "bust" status? Maybe he'll embrace this make-or-break season and come through as a playmaker, finally. On Wednesday, he was very vocal and encouraged his teammates at free safety. But can he play beside talk?
Current leadership level: 1. Needed level: 6
* * * Quarterback Jeff Garcia * * *
He might be the best natural leader on this team, having experienced plenty of highs and lows in his 10 previous years in the NFL (plus his earlier Canadian Football League duties). But for as helpful as he will be in pushing Russell and tutoring other offensive players, he is the backup quarterback.
Current leadership level: 9. Needed level: 7 (based on him being a backup and thus putting a ceiling on his contributions).
* * * Fullback Lorenzo Neal * * *
Look, he's had a great career. Like Garcia, he has a lot of valuable advice and sage words to offer. But he is entering his 17th season and first with the Raiders. Does he have anything left in terms of his blocking ability? If he can be a great lead-blocker at age 38, he can lead them in the locker room, too.
Current leadership level: 8. Needed level: 9 (to show young running backs how it's done, as well as where to run)
* * * Wide receiver Javon Walker * * *
In a perfect world, he would have been a great addition last season and ready to show the young wide receiver corps this season how it's done. But injuries have ruined him. Rookie Louis Murphy praised Walker for indeed being a mentor. But Walker will need to get on the field and make some plays before he is a legitimate leader to Murphy, rookie Darrius Heyward-Bey, second-year receiver Chaz Schilens and third-year speedster Johnnie Lee Higgins.
Current leadership level: 2. Needed level: 9
* * * Running back Justin Fargas * * *
The Raiders' leading rusher the past three seasons is headed for a reduced role, so how he handles that could depend on his leadership impact. He's been a valiant soldier, ready to crash through defenders. But he doesn't strike me as a dominant locker-room presence, and many of his carries will go to Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
Current leadership level: 5. Needed level: 8 (come through when called upon, stay supportive when on the sideline)
* * * Running back Darren McFadden * * *
I wrote a lot about McFadden in my Thursday column, but let me summarize his assets as this: His explosive running is in dire need to spark this offense, and those actions will be his best representation of leadership. He's only in his second season, so it's unlikely he'll be looked upon for inspirational words.
Current leadership level: 5. Needed level: 7 (for now, until he gets more mileage on those legs).
* * * Receiver/returner Johnnie Lee Higgins * * *
If he can provide as much a spark on punt returns and as a deep threat at wide receiver, he will inspire others to play better. He has charisma, too, so that's a bonus. But he's only in his third year, and even though Russell is as well, Higgins doesn't have the ball in his hand every snap.
Current leadership level: 6. Needed level: 7
* * * Defensive tackle Ryan Boschetti * * *
Bay Area native and sixth-year veteran has been a pleasant surprise in his first spring with the Raiders. Perhaps he can wake up the defensive line from its long slumber.
Current leadership level: 3 (and growing). Needed level: 6 (him being so new and all)
Let's stop there. I may be missing a cornerback, some linemen and others, but that's the problem: We don't know who wants to lead this team. Well, except for Al Davis, of course.
Look for Cam Inman's Web-only "Candid Cam" takes whenever there's a breaking sports story, or whenever Cam's got something to say _ in short, just about every day. You can reach Cam at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.
BANG colleague Tim Kawakami shares his transcript of JaMarcus Russell's media session Wednesday: blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami/2009/06/10/jamarcus.-russell-at-raiders-ota-just-cutting-loose-and-looking-pretty-good/
BANG Raiders blogger Jerry McDonald's Wednesday notes: www.ibabuzz.com/raidersblog/2009/06/10/wednesday.-ota-notes/