It's that time of year again, when optimism has checked out, reality sets in, and thoughts about what lie ahead take center stage in the land of the Raiders.

As usual, first and foremost on the agenda is the fate of the coach. Three days from now, managing general partner Al Davis kicks into high gear his seemingly annual process of deciding whether to bring back his coach for another season.

Coach Tom Cable's harsh assessment of third-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell on Monday has many inside the Raiders fearful that Davis has little choice now but to decide between Cable and Russell.

"If you're 10-5, that's the kind of stance you can take," one prominent Raider said, on condition of anonymity, of Cable's hard-line stance toward Russell. "That's not a wise thing to do when you're sitting on five wins. Who do you think (Davis) is going to side with on this one?"

In the past, Davis has sided with his players and said coaches are expendable.

Russell isn't just any player, mind you. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. Davis cited former coach Lane Kiffin's dislike of the Russell pick as a reason for their relationship reaching an irreconcilable state.

In announcing Kiffin's firing on Sept. 30, 2008, Davis said he told Kiffin in a letter, "I realize that you did not want to draft JaMarcus Russell. He is a great player. Get over it and coach this team on the field. That is what you were hired to do."

So it was that Cable replaced Kiffin and also attempted to coach the Raiders with Russell as the starting quarterback. That lasted through the remainder of last season and the first nine games this season, before Cable benched Russell.

On Monday, Cable said there is much Russell needs to do to become a front-line NFL quarterback.

"It's pretty clear what he has to do," Cable said. "He has to learn how to take care of business on a daily basis consistently and prepare himself and take care of his development as a quarterback. We'd be here forever to discuss all those things. There's a lot of them."

Cable added the Raiders would have been a playoff-caliber team this season if the quarterback play was just average throughout the season. He has started either Bruce Gradkowski or Charlie Frye the past six games because, he said, they give the Raiders "the best chance to win."

The players rallied behind Gradkowski and Frye and seemed content with the drastic change. In the end, the move might work against Cable.

The players and coaches are hopeful that Cable returns next season so the Raiders can build upon the positive changes that have transpired on his watch.

"Continuity is always important," cornerback Stanford Routt said. "You always want your mom and your dad to stay together, so to speak, but that's a part of life.

"Part of being a man and part of being a professional is dealing with change, because when you stop changing, they say, that's when you die. You've just got to roll with the punches."

Passing game coordinator Ted Tollner said Cable has done an admirable job as the coach, offensive play-caller, overseer of the offensive line and the point man in the personnel department.

"He's done a tremendous job because his plate is full," Tollner said Thursday. "You'd always like to win more games, but I've been very impressed with how he has kept things together, how he's stayed focused. And he does have a lot of things that he's got his hand in "...

"The main thing is, he's consistent, he's solid and you know what to expect every day, no matter if we've had a good ballgame or if we've had one that's been not so good, there's been a consistency, especially with how he treats the players and how he demands of his staff. 'Hey, we're going to keep on pushing and we're going to get this thing turned right.' We believe it."

Notes: Routt, tight end Tony Stewart and defensive lineman Richard Seymour were fined for personal fouls committed against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Stewart and Routt were ejected for their transgressions. "... The Raiders' home game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday didn't sell out by the league-mandated deadline, which means it won't be televised locally. This marks the seventh straight home game blacked out.