Former Raiders call Moss ‘a steal’ for Niners

OAKLAND, Calif. – The last time Randy Moss called the Bay Area home, things did not end well.
Moss sat out the last three games of the 2006 season with an ankle injury before being shipped to the New England Patriots for a fourth-round draft pick.
When he went on to catch 98 passes for 1,493 yards and an NFL record 23 touchdowns in 2007, it served as confirmation that Moss’ disappointing stay in Oakland was about indifference and lack of effort. It was an easy assertion, given a pattern of such perceived attitude issues throughout his often-spectacular career.
But it was an assertion not shared by most players in the Raiders locker room, where Moss appeared to be a popular and generous if sometimes enigmatic teammate. According to a number of those players contacted last week, the 49ers’ signing of Moss on March 12 was a coup.
“I think if you asked 10 players about Randy Moss, nine of them would tell you they loved the guy,” said Buffalo linebacker Kirk Morrison, a Raiders rookie during Moss’ first season in Oakland.
Morrison remembers Moss as the humble superstar who brought his own turkey bacon every morning rather than insist on having the nutritional staff furnish it for him.
Former Raiders wide receiver Alvis Whitted, now the wide receivers coach at Colorado State, was startled when Moss approached him during an offseason workout at the facility not long after being traded to the Raiders from the Minnesota Vikings.
“He walked up to me out of the blue and said, ‘Let’s go grab a bite to eat. I want to know you as a person,’ ” Whitted said. “He really wants to know the guys he goes to battle with, what their makeup is.”
When Moss was traded from the Vikings to the Tennessee Titans in 2010, former Raiders quarterback Kerry Collins told the Tennesseean, “The year I spent with Randy, I never had a problem with the guy. He was respectful. He was a team guy.”
Aaron Brooks, the Raiders starting quarterback for eight games in 2006, had the misfortune of directing a dysfunctional offense that included Moss wearing his disenchantment on his sleeve.
Now a partner in a development firm, Brooks says there are no hard feelings over a season where Moss caught 42 passes for 553 yards and three touchdowns.
“There are a lot of things I can say about Moss, but there were no problems in the locker room,” Brooks said. “He was a great guy and a pretty good teammate.”
Moss was traded to Oakland for the No. 7 pick in the draft and linebacker Napoleon Harris on March 2, 2005. Owner Al Davis thought him a perfect fit for coach Norv Turner’s deep-strike passing game.
During his first training camp, as well as the first four games of the 2005 season, Moss was everything the Raiders hoped. He was spectacular in Napa, routinely making incredible catches that left teammates and media slack-jawed.
“It was electric,” Morrison said. “You’d get to watch him go against Charles Woodson, and then go back and get the luxury of watching it again on tape.”
Said Whitted: “He’d be going against Nnamdi (Asomugha) or Wood, it would look like he wouldn’t make a play, then he’d just snatch the ball out of the air at the last instant.”
Through the first four games of the 2005 season, Moss caught 19 passes for 466 yards with touchdown receptions of 73 and 64 yards plus a 79-yard catch.
In Oakland’s fifth game, Moss went up for an underthrown Collins pass and went down in a heap along with San Diego safety Terrence Kiel and cornerback Sammy Davis. He missed the rest of the game with injuries to his ribs, groin and pelvis.
Although Moss didn’t miss a game the rest of the season, his numbers were pedestrian, with 41 pass receptions for 539 yards. He averaged 24.5 yards before he got hurt and 13.1 afterward.
“He was never the same,” Morrison said.
Moss, who kept his distance from the Bay Area media, never discussed the injuries.
After the 2005 season, Davis fired Turner and hired Art Shell. Shell’s choice as offensive coordinator was Tom Walsh, who coached on his staff during his first stint with the Raiders but hadn’t been in the NFL since 1994.
In contrast to the training camp under Turner, there were fewer fireworks. In a syndicated radio interview with Chris Myers before the season opener, Moss said things were “fishy” and that he was concerned about the direction of the team.
The Raiders went 2-14, and Moss had his worst season in the NFL. Moss has often taken the occasionally leisurely pass route – and often capitalized by lulling a cornerback to sleep and bursting into the clear. But the lazy routes became more frequent, without the big plays in between.
He became a lightning rod for all that was wrong with the Raiders.
“I did an interview with Tony Kornheiser on ‘Monday Night Football’ and all he wanted to talk about was Randy, Randy, Randy,” Brooks said. “The amount of attention he gets, because of his talent and skills, it gets to a point where it leads people to judge him unfairly.”
Walsh, in a 2007 interview with the Boston Globe, said Moss was losing his skills.
Moss, meanwhile, questioned Walsh and offensive coaches about the scheme.
“Because of all he’s accomplished, he has a voice. He’s able to speak out and talk back to coaches _ and not in a demeaning way,” Morrison said. “He’ll say, ‘C’mon now, this isn’t going to work, we’ll need another option.’ ”
As for the perception that Moss gave up and underachieved, he wasn’t alone in the tank.
“It was no one’s fault in particular that year,” Whitted said. “Everyone was frustrated. The next year, when he went to New England, you could tell by his numbers what kind of competitor he is.”
Moss, 35, played with New England, Minnesota and Tennessee in 2010 and sat out last season for what he called “personal reasons.” Whether he can be a reasonable facsimile of what he was remains to be seen.
“Even if he’s not a 4.3 guy (in the 40-yard dash) any more, a lot of times the things Randy did were on balls in the air,” Morrison said. “You can’t teach athleticism, and that’s what he still brings.”
Whitted invoked the name of another former teammate.
“Jerry Rice played until he was (42) years old,” Whitted said. “They’re of the same caliber. Jim Harbaugh’s offense is a perfect fit for him. He’ll be a steal, man. He’s in the right situation on a team going in the right direction.”

Leave your comments