Atkinson is high on Raiders | NevadaAppeal.com

Atkinson is high on Raiders

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

He came to fire up the crowd – as if the Carson City Boosters Club needed any encouragement – and one of the Oakland Raiders’ all-time greats accomplished his mission.

Former Raider great George Atkinson came to town on Tuesday to talk to the Carson City booster club as part of a tour in which Atkinson had traveled to meet with many Raider booster clubs. Atkinson wasn’t paid a dime for his time.

Contrast that to Leon of the Budweiser commercial who asks for $5 for an autograph which sadly isn’t that much of a parody of today’s professional athlete.

Atkinson is a host of the Raiders’ show “Behind the Shield” and all the booster clubs, including Carson City’s, will be featured during a three-part series on the show beginning the weekend of Sept. 11. The shows are scheduled to be aired by Reno’s KAME.

Obviously, Atkinson came to talk up the upcoming season for the Raiders. Even though the Raiders are coming off a 4-12 season from a year ago, Atkinson gave every indication that he was sincere and truly believed that the Raiders will again make a trip to the Super Bowl this season as they did after the 2002 season when they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Last year we fell by the wayside,” said Atkinson, who’s been part of the Raider organization since 1968 when he was a 20-year-old rookie safety.

Atkinson said Raider owner Al Davis made sure to upgrade his team at every position. “This year he’s made a commitment on the field that will give us an opportunity to get back to the Super Bowl,” he said.

“We were in the penthouse,” said Atkinson about 2002. “Last year well fell into the outhouse. This year, we’re going back to the penthouse.”

Atkinson noted how the Raiders have upgraded their defensive line with the addition of Warren Sapp and Ted Washington. Among other notable additions on defense is safety Ray Buchanan.

The Raiders weren’t able to stop the run last year, which led to doom, considering that Oakland is in a division in the AFC West that features the always strong running team, the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Priest Holmes and the San Diego Chargers’ Ladanian Tomlinson.

While the linebackers may be an area of concern, Atkinson said not to worry. “We can stop the run up front,” he said. “They’ll never get to the linebackers, don’t worry about it.”

Obviously the most attention will be placed on the quarterback situation where the Raiders still have Rich Gannon, but also added Kerry Collins. While the quarterback situation will be characterized as a controversy, Atkinson said, “Don’t buy into that.

“Every team in the league would love to be in the position the Raiders are in at quarterback. Both of these guys can start anywhere in the league.”

There will also be plenty of competition at running back with the additions of Amos Zereoue and Troy Hambrick to compete with players such as Tyrone Wheatley and Justin Fargas.

The ageless Tim Brown and 41-year-old Jerry Rice return at receiver. Atkinson said whatever Rice’s drinking, “I want some of it, maybe I can make a comeback.”

New coach Norv Turner favors receivers like Brown and Rice in a West Coast-type offense. But a lot of the Raiders success will likely depend on the speed of Jerry Porter, who could determine how Oakland will be able to go up the field.

Contact Charles Whisnand at cwhisnand@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1214.