ALAMEDA _ The task was clear enough. Get in position for a field goal with 1:39 to play, starting at your own 31.

The Raiders' first-team offense, with the golden arm of JaMarcus Russell, managed a sack, a dumpoff completion to Justin Fargas and three consecutive incomplete passes on short- to medium-range attempts before it was declared a victory for the first-team defense.

Right tackle Cornell Green stalked to the opposite sideline and watched the second-team offense take its shot against the second-team defense.

Andrew Walter stepped back and hit Todd Watkins over the middle for 19 yards and a first down. On the next play, he spotted Johnnie Lee Higgins sprinting past Michael Waddell and hit him in stride for a 50-yard touchdown.

``Why can't we do that?'' Green said with no small amount of disgust.``Y'all gave them a go-route.''

Yes, Walter was operating against the second team and Russell could have conceivably done the same thing against inferior opposition.

But starting Sept. 8, there will be no opposition as inferior as the Raiders' second-team defense, and teams will be coming at Russell hard and fast.

Yet, you can count on a segment of Raider Nation that is not going to warm up to the conservatism that's likely to ensue. You may even hear boos as the season wears on, directed at the play-calling, if not the player.

There are still Raider fans who never really warmed up to Rich Gannon because of his annoying propensity for taking what the defense gave him, rather than taking what he wanted.

Raider traditionalists believe in going vertical, and were overjoyed when they drafted a quarterback with an arm compared to John Elway.

So how come coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp seem so intent on turning the Mobile Missile into Captain Checkdown?

Because a quarterback is built in layers, and the bedrock of the foundation starts with avoiding turnovers.

Russell was wise beyond his years on this concept before he got to the Raiders, even before he got to LSU.

``The thing coach told me in high school was, `The best play is the next play,' when you still have the ball,'' Russell said Tuesday after practice.

Russell has led the Raiders to just a touchdown and a field goal in his first two preseason games. In Kiffin's mind, he is 10-for-10. Ten possessions, zero turnovers.

``I don't really want to bring it up but he hasn't been close to a turnover in two games,'' Kiffin said.

Someone in last week's weekly on-line chat brought up Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger as a rookie model for what the Raiders should do with Russell, and it's an ideal if somewhat unrealistic comparison.

Roethlisberger became a starter in Week 3 and never passed the ball more than 28 times in a game. Six times he had 20 attempts or fewer.

With Pittsburgh running the ball a league-high 618 times and passing it a league-low 358, Roethlisberger completed 66.4 percent of his passes (196-for-295) for 2,621 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Rest assured, the Raiders would be overjoyed if Russell's numbers were anything like that in 2008.

The Raiders have the backfield to run the ball 600 times, but the flip side for the 2004 Steelers was having one of the league's top rushing defenses, giving up 82.2 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry.

Pittsburgh was dominant enough to be persistent. The Raiders were the NFL's No. 31 rushing defense last year, and even a significant upgrade will only put them in the middle of the pack in that regard.

With the Raiders' wide receiving corps off to a shaky start in training camp and the preseason, checking the ball down to the likes of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, or finding Zach Miller or John Madsen over the middle, seems like the wisest course of action.

Besides leaning hard on the running game, Oakland's moving pocket also plays into one of Russell's strengths. He is very good on his feet and can escape trouble, but in most cases it will be to get off a pass and not to expose himself to injury as a runner.

``That's the one aspect of my game that's pretty good,'' Russell said. ``Most times, you get of the pocket, smaller guys will try and hit you. So I just sit back, relax and see the field before making a throw, just make a play.''

In Russell's lone touchdown drive, the Raiders passed on every play, and it's worth noting deep passes were called, with the quarterback opting for the safer play.

``We had go routes on both sides, depending on their coverage,'' Russell said. ``We did it so much at practice, checking the ball down, that it's better than the deep ball sometimes, letting the backs break a few tackles, get a first down or a big run. We kind of forced that into my head, and I'm just kind of living by that right now.''

From the sofa, it's tempting to urge Russell to drop back and wing it after watching a few third-and-9 completions stopped short of the first down marker.

Considering the Raiders outside receiving issues and pass blocking concerns, playing it safe also happens to be the long term, common sense approach to developing a multi-million dollar talent.

Contact Jerry McDonald at jmcdonald@bayareanewsgroup.com.