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Collins optimistic about Raiders season

ALAMEDA, Calif. (June 23, 2005) -- Kerry Collins came into Oakland Raiders' training camp last season with the tough task of learning a new system and unsure if he would even get to play as the backup to Rich Gannon.

After an early-season injury sidelined Gannon, Collins got the chance to show why the Raiders wanted him. The results were mixed at best but Collins expects the experience will pay dividends this season.

"Even though there were rough stretches last year it really will help me for this year," Collins said in a conference call. "Having been in the offense and run it, I've seen what worked in what coverages. Experience like that is so helpful. I've had a full offseason to work on things and really hammer in on the details of what this offense has to offer. It's going to help me a lot. I felt like I was learning a lot on the run last year."

More than the experience he gained in coach Norv Turner's offense, it's the players the Raiders added that offer the biggest reason for optimism in Oakland following a 5-11 season.

The biggest acquisition was the electrifying receiver Randy Moss, one of the NFL's best big-play threats during his seven seasons in Minnesota. Moss will team with re-signed Jerry Porter and Ronald Curry to form a potent receiving corps.

Collins said he knew about Moss' athleticism but has been most impressed by his feel for the game and his ability to be a vocal leader. Collins doesn't expect it to take long to get fully in sync with his new receiver.

"For me it's really easy with Randy because he's a good route runner and he's easy to pick up because he's so big and tall," Collins said. "From my standpoint, it is as easy as it can get and will get even better."

Collins will also benefit from an improved running game led by free agent LaMont Jordan, who gained 4.9 yards per carry in four seasons as a backup with the New York Jets.

The Raiders struggled to move the ball on the ground last season with Amos Zereoue and Tyrone Wheatley as their top two backs. Their 75 first downs rushing were the third fewest in the league and they had only 10 touchdowns on the ground.

The lack of a solid running game allowed defenses to key in on Collins and left the Raiders in long-yardage situations on third downs, where their 35.5 percent conversion rate was 21st in the NFL.

"I think we can be an efficient offense," Collins said. "I think we can be positive in the running game. I think bringing a guy like Randy in and re-signing Jerry and the threat they will bring form a passing standpoint will make it harder for teams to load up in the box. That in itself will help the running game."

It should also help Collins, who struggled at times in his 13 starts finding his comfort zone in a new offense. He lost his first five starts with Oakland and his quarterback rating was 62.0 in that span before topping 90 in each of his last two months.

For the season, he completed 56.3 percent of his passes, his lowest rate since 1998, and his 20 interceptions were tied for the most in the NFL.

Collins said the biggest changes in the playbook this season will be some tweaks to the red-zone and third-down offense and a few special plays to take advantage of Moss' athleticism.

"Because he is so rangy, he gives you the opportunity to throw the ball to spots where with other guys you couldn't," Collins said. "You can put it over guys' heads or drop it in different places where either he'll get it or no one else will get it. He's such a rangy guy and can get the ball better than anybody in the league."

The biggest question facing the Raiders in on defense, where they gave up 27.6 points per game -- second worst in the NFL last season -- and made few veteran acquisitions.

But Collins was impressed by linebacker Danny Clark and rookie cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt at a recent minicamp.

"I think we will be improved from last year," Collins said. "People talk about how we will have to have big shootouts to win. I think we can have a defense that can win a lot of ballgames for us."

AP NEWS
The Associated Press News Service

Copyright 2005, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved

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