Hot Topic and Player Notes

Hot Topic and Player Notes

Fabian Washingtpn came into the NFL a first-round draft pick out of Nebraska, a speed burner, a player destined for big things. Three weeks into his first training camp his destiny looked bleak.

He wasn't expected to start with two other first round choices - Charles Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha - ahead of him. But the fact he wasn't even playing on passing downs when up to six defensive backs were on the field, was another thing.

Among those he was behind was his roommate Stanford Routt, another rookie cornerback the Raiders had taken in the second round. The B-word (bust) was heard.

"I knew it would be harder (in the NFL than in college) but I didn't know exactly how hard it was going to be," Washington said, conceding he got something of an eye-opener.

"I wasn't The Guy anymore," he said. "My whole life I have been starting at corner. Then, to come in and not really even be playing ... it was a lot different."

Washington is being circumspect with the word different. What it was, was hard.

"It was something I had to deal with," Washington said. "I feel I adjusted pretty well. I didn't sit around and pout about it. I just carried on."

Instead of having a meltdown and going ballistic, he buckled down and went to work. Six weeks later, he's seeing the fruits of his labor.

When Woodson takes a more active role all over the field - a safety one down, a corner the next, a blitzing rover or a designed defender against a specific receiver - Washington is in the game.

Sunday against Dallas' Keyshawn Johnson, a big name opponent, Washington made a play that had coach Norv Turner's attention.

"Another guy might try to reach in and grab," Turner said. "Another guy might try to bang him. He (Washington) just used his quickness and got underneath and got a hand on the ball. It's an outstanding play."

What was also impressive about the resulting incompletion was that Washington trusted his instincts on how to make the play at a time in his career when he might have been forgiven for being uncertain.

"If I had (stopped to) think about anything, he would have caught that pass," Washington said. "I just reacted. It was instinct, something I have been doing since I've been playing corner."

Washington is the first to admit he has not arrived in the NFL yet.

"I am a rookie and so they are going to come after me," he said. "I have to be a lot more consistent. I had some good plays and then I had some plays that should never have happened. But I am a long way from where I want to be."

At least he is on the field now.

GOOD NEWS

The Raiders defense, so bad that it affected the offense adversely a year ago, has rallied.

After a subpar opener at New England in which they gave up 30 points, the Raiders have settled down and given up fewer points each week - 23, 23 and 13. They now rank 22nd in points allowed (22.3).

With Derrick Burgess recording three sacks and Warren Sapp returning to the days of his effectiveness in Tampa Bay as a tackle and the primary deployment of a nickel defense, the Raiders handled the outside passing game of Kansas City, Philadelphia and Dallas. They struggled against a pass-catching running back at Philly but Dallas was only able to complete 11 of 28 passes in Oakland's most recent game.

They have done so with a rookie, Kirk Morrison, as one of two linebackers in the game. Morrison has either led the team in tackles or was close to the lead in every Raider game.

If the defense continues to progress and allows 20 points or less, the Raiders believe the combination of QB Kerry Collins, RB LaMont Jordan and WR Randy Moss will be able to produce enough points to win.

What is also encouraging is that the Raiders have only committed three turnovers in four games and although still looking hard for a takeaway defense, is plus-one in the turnover differential department.

BAD NEWS

The team lost one of its three star receivers when Ronald Curry went down with his second Achilles' tendon tear in two years. TE Courtney Anderson has picked up the slack up to now, but the team is in dire need of an effective No. 3 receiver to get Moss free downfield.

Much criticism of the Raiders is that Moss has yet to make a major impact. That is not entirely true - he has touchdown catches covering 64 and 73 yards and is averaging 22.9 yards a catch. However, he has no scores in his last two games and has seen fewer and fewer chances. He was the target of 14 passes in the opener, seven in each of the next two weeks, then five in the Dallas game. He's been good but has not yet been given an opportunity to dominate.

The pass defense, though improved in recent weeks, still looks vulnerable enough that the Raiders feel they must use the nickel approach because they have first round picks in the backfield in Charles Woodson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Derrick Gibson and Fabian Washington available in the secondary. So far, it still doesn't look like the level of play matches the skills of the players.

But probably the worst news of all is the team's insistence on committing penalties in every facet of their football. They are on a breakneck pace to destroy all NFL penalty records a quarter of the way through the season and their next game, a key division game against San Diego, means they will be going up against a Marty Schottenheimer team that has succeeded against the Raiders for the last 15 years because Schottenheimer has a theory that if you stay solid, in the end the Raiders will destroy themselves.

They have yet to disprove that.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Jerry Porter has 16 catches for 197 yards compared to 14 for 213 a year ago. In both cases, he has gone through the first quarter of the season without a touchdown reception and hasn't had one in that time frame since 2002.

--Rookie KR Chris Carr, since breaking a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was called back in preseason, has been rather average with a 22.1 average but the Raiders, oddly enough, rank third in the NFL in average starting point following kickoffs (the 30.8 yard line).

--K Sebastian Janikowski has five touchbacks on kickoffs and only three teams have done better, however the Raiders' starting point is the 28.5 yard line (ranking them 25th in the league)

--Only Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook (22), has more receptions from the running back position than LaMont Jordan (20).

--WR Randy Moss is on pace for 1,864 yards, which would break Jerry Rice's league record of 1,848 by 16 yards.

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