QB still a question

Jason Cole
Yahoo! Sports

More Raiders: Shell puts emphasis on respect

NAPA, Calif. – The biggest questions in Raider Nation revolve around the quarterback position.

Will Aaron Brooks rekindle his once-promising career? Or will second-year man Andrew Walter be ready some time this season?

If you're a betting man, neither option is particularly appealing, which might be why Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell has resisted all efforts by the media to make him divulge who his starter is right now.

However, if push comes to shove, Brooks appears to have a better shot to rekindle his one-time Pro Bowl talent. Although Brooks has been inconsistent at times in the preseason, he has vastly improved one thing from his days in New Orleans.

Brooks is no longer retreating when he feels pressure in front of him via the pass rush. Since becoming a starter in 2001, Brooks has been sacked 194 times. That's the second most of any quarterback who's started that long, behind only the statuesque Drew Bledsoe.

While some of those sacks can be attributed to playing with New Orleans and constantly playing from behind, Brooks' total belies his obvious athletic ability. Brooks has excellent mobility and can be an explosive runner when he's decisive.

His problem? Brooks tries to do too much. He has a penchant for retreating when rushed instead of simply getting the yards he can by running. There was never better evidence of that than last season against Miami, when Brooks was sacked six times for 68 yards in losses and even was thrown for a safety.

This season, coach Art Shell said he has talked to all the quarterbacks about what he expects, which is more decisive movement either in or out of the pocket. Brooks seems to have followed that in games, either standing in the pocket or moving quickly to either run or get rid of the ball.

"I don't feel like I have to do so much now," Brooks said. "Just let the other guys around me execute the plays and do it the way it's drawn up."

Walter remains a work in progress. The third-round pick in 2005 has the prototype size and arm strength necessary to succeed at this level. But if he is going to survive, he needs to get rid of the ball faster (a lot faster), improve his footwork within the pocket and overcome his residual fear of hurting his shoulder again.

Walter was hurt in his final college game in the 2004 season when he was sandwiched against rival Arizona. Walter still ices the shoulder after every practice or game.

• It would be ludicrous to say that wide receiver Randy Moss is out of shape. However, he's clearly beefing up from the earlier days of his career, no longer striking the whippet pose of his youth.

While that's not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that Moss' ability is also changing. Coaches and scouts who have watched him over the past three years say that Moss has lost some of his initial burst of speed. He is no longer the ridiculous burner who could simply run through a zone coverage. Moss can still get to top speed (although last year was a problem after he suffered a groin injury). It just takes longer for Moss to get to that speed.

Thus, the question is whether Moss will be able to make the transition to more of a possession-type receiver. At 6-foot-4, Moss certainly has the size and the hands to do it. However, Moss has never been known for his work on the technical parts of the game.

• Defensive tackle Warren Sapp has completely changed his MO this year, making himself constantly available to any reporter with a notebook or microphone. In the past, Sapp often growled at reporters and even refused to shake hands with them.

Why the change? It's pretty obvious that Sapp, whose footwork has obviously slowed, is looking ahead to a career in media. Parrying favor with reporters at this point appears to be part of his plan.

Stunning stat: In five of the past six years, the Raiders have selected a defensive back in the first round. That includes Michael Huff this year with the No. 7 overall pick. In the year (2004) that the Raiders didn't take one in the first round, they still took one in the third round, making it six consecutive years they have taken a defensive back on the first day of the draft.

Stunningly, that hasn't meant very much from a statistical standpoint. Last year, for example, the Raiders had a league-low five interceptions.

However, there is hope. Huff, who has started every exhibition game despite being listed behind Derrick Gibson on the depth chart, looks like a serious talent. He could team with fellow safety Stuart Schweigert to form one of the better duos in the league. In addition, 2005 first-round pick Fabian Washington showed excellent signs last year as a rookie.

If the Raiders can just get some consistent pass rush (and not just from Derrick Burgess), the interception number could go up.

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