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Walter wants to reward Raiders' confidence

ALAMEDA, Calif. (Sept. 21, 2006) -- The Oakland Raiders thought so highly of Andrew Walter even before he threw his first pass in a regular-season game that they decided against drafting quarterbacks Matt Leinart or Jay Cutler with their first-round pick in April.

With Aaron Brooks sidelined for 2-4 weeks with a strained pectoral muscle, they will get an early sign whether their decision was correct.

"I'm excited, of course, but I try to take everything in stride," Walter said. "I just know that I have to perform well enough to give our team a chance to win. That's what it's about. That means protecting the football and managing the game. I need to do that. It'll be good just to get those extra reps in practice, sure."

Walter gets a break in the schedule because the Raiders have a bye this week. That will give him a few extra practices with the first team before he takes the field at home against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 1.

Walter takes over the league's worst offense through two games. The Raiders have scored only two field goals in losses to Baltimore and San Diego, have given up a league-high 15 sacks, turned the ball over seven times, and are last in the NFL in total yards.

"The biggest thing is getting the offense going in the right direction," Walter said. "So if it's me, it's me. If it's Aaron, it's Aaron. It really doesn't matter, just as long as someone's doing it and making plays to help us win."

Walter was picked in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft after a prolific career at Arizona State. He threw a then-Pac-10 record 85 career touchdown passes and had 10,617 yards passing in his career. He set almost every school record during his time with the Sun Devils.

Walter will become the fifth quarterback from that draft to start an NFL game, following San Francisco's Alex Smith, Cleveland's Charlie Frye, Chicago's Kyle Orton and St. Louis' Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"He's a tough kid," coach Art Shell said. "He's played in major football, playing at Arizona State. That's big football. It's not like he's coming from a small school like Maryland-Eastern Shore. He's played in some big games in some big stadiums, but this, of course, is the biggest stage there is and he'll have to adjust. He had a good start the other day."

Walter had mixed results in his first extensive action in the NFL when he replaced Brooks on Oakland's third drive against Baltimore. Walter put together a few effective drives against the tough Ravens defense, leading the Raiders to a pair of field goals for their only points of the season. But he also lost one of his three fumbles, suffered three interceptions and was sacked six times.

He finished 10-for-27 for 162 yards and has an anemic passer rating of 19.0 through two weeks.

"It's hard when you're getting banged around, hit and sacked," offensive lineman Barry Sims said. "That's a tough environment to come in and still try to make your reads and your calls and everything that a quarterback is responsible for. He did a good job with that. We need to do a better job of giving him and Aaron an opportunity of getting time to get open receivers."

Walter battled injuries last season and did not play at all as a rookie. But the Raiders passed on Leinart and Cutler, believing they already had the quarterback of their future.

Despite his inexperience, Walter has to quickly become the leader of an offense that has veterans such as receiver Randy Moss and running back LaMont Jordan who want the ball. Moss pulled Walter aside before he came into the game for a pep talk and even made some suggestions to change plays in the huddle -- something Shell would prefer happen on the sideline instead.

But Walter said he welcomes the input from Moss.

"The guy's one of the best ever," Walter said. "What can you say? Just try to give him the ball and let him go do his thing. That will be key to helping this offense get cranked up."

AP NEWS
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