NAPA

Andrew Walter dropped back to pass Thursday morning, looked to his right and took dead aim on a target not much different from the place where his career once appeared to be headed.

His high-arching spiral landed in a garbage can.

His Raiders teammates raised their arms in triumph and responded with hoots of appreciation for a remarkable bit of target practice, a moment of levity in the 11th practice of training camp.

Then Walter went back to work, mindful that his long-term future lies elsewhere.

A year ago, even Al Davis felt sorry for Walter, and Davis seldom feels sorry for anyone.

``Poor Andrew Walter,'' Davis said last Aug. 1 at a wide-ranging press conference addressing the death of Bill Walsh, ``he got hit so many times I don't think he knew where they were coming from.''

In 12 games and eight starts in 2006, Walter absorbed 46 sacks as coach Art Shell and offensive coordinator Tom Walsh went with a vertical attack that often left the quarterback horizontal.

When it mercifully ended, there were those close to Walter who wondered if he would ever be the same. In came a new coaching staff, as well as No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, meaning Walter's tenure as Davis' hand-picked quarterback of the future had expired.

Walter's career-highlight film was distilled to a single afternoon, a 22-9 win over the Arizona Cardinals in which he completed 17 of 30 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown. Walter outplayed Matt Leinart, wryly noting afterward that while Leinart had been at USC winning championships, he had been at Arizona State, ``building character.'' You have this vision of Walter sitting in front of the video screen and popping in the disc of the Cardinals game every now and then for the sake of his self-confidence.

You'd be wrong.

Walter watched it the day after the game as a part of the normal review and never again.

``That was something that happened in a horrible system and situation,'' Walter said. ``I tell people, you look at the world beater, you look at the best quarterback in the league, Tom Brady. When the Giants were able to put pressure on him, it affected him. Not just him personally, the team, the rhythm, the offense.

``You look at that season, people were coming down on myself and the offense. The players have to be put in a position to make plays. They can say what they want to say, but I knew what I could do. I never looked back at my tape and it never affected me.''

Walter's words are without bitterness, but he brings the heat to Shell and Walsh the same way defensive linemen brought it to him in 2006.

``It was a fiasco and as clueless a staff as I've ever heard (of),'' Walter said. ``To come out of the other end of that and still survive, I can't name another guy in the NFL who has been through that type of situation at quarterback.''

The Lane Kiffin regime has had its own challenges. Walter, 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, is a classic dropback passer drafted in 2005 who fit then-coach Norv Turner's system. Kiffin wanted a zone-blocking running scheme, which works best with the use of bootlegs and rollouts, similar to the Denver Broncos.

With Russell unsigned, Kiffin favored the more mobile Josh McCown as the starter and never seemed a big fan of Walter.

Whether it happened because of what he experienced in 2006 or something else, Walter has a habit of slumping his shoulders and dropping his head when things aren't going well. Kiffin is big on body language and projecting leadership.

The lack of confidence in Walter was underscored when Daunte Culpepper showed up, pushing him farther into the background.

When Russell finally signed, it appeared Walter would be set free. No chance. Since McCown and Culpepper were not under contract for 2008, Walter remained with the Raiders.

Walter is consistently running with the second team and having his best training camp. But he understands the game can be rigged. Even Kiffin conceded Walter had the best completion percentage of the quarterbacks in camp last year, and it didn't matter.

One of Kiffin's mantras is ``everything counts,'' and Walter looked at the weekly stats last offseason that said he was 10 points higher with far fewer interceptions than his competitors.

``It's disconcerting when it's open competition and it doesn't matter,'' Walter said. ``You take everything with a grain of salt.''

There is a scoreboard on Sundays, but Walter isn't always sure he knows the score Tuesday through Saturday.

``I told them, `Guys, if I'm not in the plans, just tell me,' '' Walter said. ``Everybody has their preference. Some like short, fast guys. Some like taller, stronger guys. Just tell me . . . there would be a lot less problems and miscommunication if people did communicate. I'm not saying Lane, specifically, but in general.''

Lo and behold, through chain of command, Walter went into this year understanding he has a chance to be the backup. Then the Raiders signed Marques Tuiasosopo, a former Raiders quarterback who has the kind of mobility Kiffin prefers.

Assume Walter is wise enough to keep his bags packed, just in case.

Jerry McDonald can be reached by e-mail at jmcdonald@bayareanewsgroup.com