Oakland Raiders: Lyle Alzado

No question the NFL scheduling gods did coach Dennis Allen in particular, and the Raiders in general, no favors with their early slate of games. Oakland's issues in the Eastern time zone are well documented -- the Raiders have lost 13 straight games three time zones away by a combined score of 416-225 -- and guess where they play two of their first three games? At the New York Jets to open and at the New England Patriots in Week 3 before going across the pond for a "home" game in London against the Miami Dolphins. That's three out of four games away from Oakland to start the season and then comes the bye.

Complete Raiders season preview.
Howie Long may have spent only one of his 13 Hall of Fame seasons in Oakland -- the other 12 years were when the Raiders called Los Angeles home -- but he still keeps tabs on the East Bay goings-on by his old team, and likes what he’s seen thus far this offseason.

I caught up with Long on the phone Wednesday for my upcoming book, “100 Things Raiders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die,” and I also got the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman’s take on current issues surrounding Oakland.

His eldest son, Chris, was the No. 2 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft and is a standout defensive end with the St. Louis Rams, while his middle son, Kyle, was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie right guard last season with the Chicago Bears. His youngest, Howie Jr., works in football operations for the Oakland Raiders.

So, yeah, Long feels a certain kinship with Raiders owner Mark Davis.

“I’m really happy for Mark,” said Long, who is a longtime NFL host on Fox. “Having sons that are following a famous dad, I understand some of the pressures that we are under and he is under. He’s smart enough to understand the history [of the franchise], but he’s also smart enough to know what he doesn’t know. He wants to put the team in the best position to succeed. We had dug ourselves a big hole.”

Yes, Long said “we” and was referring to the salary-cap hell faced by his former teammate, general manager Reggie McKenzie, as well as a dearth of draft picks. Long said the Raiders had to take “four steps back just to get even” over the past few years.

And with Oakland going out and signing a cast of veterans who may have already seen their best days but still seemingly have something left in the tank, Long sees a certain similarity to the Raiders’ halcyon days when they found the likes of Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak, Jim Plunkett and Lyle Alzado.

“At a good price,” Long said of the current Raiders’ relatively cheap signings of Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith and James Jones.

“But you build through the draft. Would they have liked to have gotten that big receiver? Sure. But I don’t think they could have scripted it any better. To get [Khalil] Mack and then the quarterback [Derek Carr] in the second round? Wow, that kid throws a good ball.”

And after saying the Raiders’ offensive line and quarterback situations were “all over the place” last season, Long added, “now, it’s stable.

“I really like the direction we’re heading. We’ve got to get a stadium, though. That’s paramount. That’s paramount to success. Playing half your games on a baseball field? That was fine in 1981, when a number of teams were doing it.”

Long laughed. Oakland is the lone team in the 32-team NFL to share a stadium with a Major League Baseball team. In Long’s rookie season of 1981, 15 of the NFL’s then-28 teams shared a stadium with an MLB franchise.

Long, whose 84 sacks rank second in franchise history to Greg Townsend’s 107.5, even as the sack did not become an official statistic until Long’s second season, also had a challenge for current Raiders players.

“You want to be rich? You want to be famous? Win in that uniform,” he said. “That brand is as good as it gets.

“I’m a Raider for life, and I don’t apologize for it. That may be hard for some people to understand. But that’s how it is.”

Our countdown of the worst Oakland Raiders draft picks since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger continues with defensive end Bob Buczkowski checking in at No. 4…

DE Bob Buczkowski (Pittsburgh, first round, No. 24 overall in 1986)

Who else was available? RB Neal Anderson, LB Pepper Johnson, LB Pat Swilling

Fresh off a 12-4 season, a division title, the No. 1 seed in the AFC and an upset loss to the New England Patriots in the playoffs, the Raiders were getting old. Quick.

With Lyle Alzado retiring, what better position to address than the defensive line? The 6-feet-5, 260-pound Buczkowski was supposed to be a beast on an end, rotating in with the Raiders’ future all-time sack leader in Greg Townsend and future Hall of Famer Howie Long.

Instead, Buczkowski was more of a burden.

He did not appear in a game as a rookie and only played in two the following season, recording the only career sack of his Raiders tenure in the final strike-replacement player game of the 1987 season, getting the San Diego Chargers’ Rick Neuheisel in the first quarter.

Buczkowski resurfaced in 1989 with the then-Phoenix Cardinals, appearing in four games, before playing with the Cleveland Browns in 1990, for whom he had half of one sack in 15 games, three starts.

Years later, he was arrested for running a prostitution ring. And that was it.

Bottom 5 Raiders draft picks since 1970 merger

Dishonorable mentions

No. 5: Darrius Heyward-Bey

No. 4: Bob Buczkowski

No. 3: ?

No. 2: ?

No. 1: ?
Richie Incognito as a member of the Oakland Raiders is so, well, last regime. Or have you not noticed the trend and type of player general manager Reggie McKenzie has been signing thus far this offseason?

They are guys not only with championship pedigrees but also locker room leaders. Guys like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and James Jones, and yes, the re-signed Charles Woodson.

Incognito exhibits none of those traits.

Sure, the left guard is a mauler on the offensive line who would have fit in nicely on the old-school Raiders’ island of misfit toys (imagine him and Lyle Alzado going at it in practice), but McKenzie is veering away from those types of players.

Asked at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Monday if he had seen the NFL.com report in which Incognito said he was “100 percent into” the prospect of playing for the Raiders, McKenzie smiled.

“I’ve heard about it,” McKenzie said, per the Bay Area News Group.

Asked what he thought about it, McKenzie smiled and said nothing.

Asked if he was interested in Incognito, McKenzie again smiled and was mute.

From a pure playing standpoint, Incognito does have relationships with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

“I’m a loyal guy,” Incognito told NFL.com, “and I’d love to play for them again. And, of course, the Raiders have that aura.”

But again, that aura is from a different generation. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is.

Because the notion of Incognito -- who may still face league discipline for his role in the bullying episode in Miami involving Jonathan Martin -- joining the Raiders gave pause to even the progeny of Al Davis.

“I’d have to think about that,” Mark Davis told reporters.

He’d probably be wise to check in with recently signed defensive end Antonio Smith, who has a longstanding feud with Incognito going back to their college days in the Big 12, a bad blood grudge that’s included kicks to the head, helmets being ripped off and more-than-salty threats.

Yeah, Incognito would be a great fit for the old Raiders ... just not McKenzie’s Raiders, who have already added offensive linemen Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe and Austin Howard, to go along with center Stefen Wisniewski, the re-signed Khalif Barnes, second-year tackle Menelik Watson, veteran right guard Mike Brisiel, Matt McCants, Lamar Mady and McKenzie's first-ever draft pick, Tony Bergstrom.

As one anonymous Raiders player told me last season when I asked which player, Incognito or Martin, he would rather have as a teammate, “Neither,” was the reply.
The anonymous survey, in which every ESPN NFL Nation reporter asked 10 players on their respective beats, included the following question: Who is the most feared player in the NFL?

The winner, with 19 percent of the vote, was Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who finished just ahead of his teammate, receiver Calvin Johnson.

No Oakland Raiders players finished in the top seven of balloting, in which 48 players received votes.

In speaking to Raiders players, none voted for Suh while two went with Johnson and two others picked Houston Texans defensive end and reigning NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt, who finished third in the poll with 7.5 percent of the vote.

The rest of the top seven: San Francisco 49ers LB Patrick Willis (7.2 percent), Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (6.6), Cincinnati Bengals LB James Harrison (5.6) and Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (5.0).

Truly, with the paradigm shift underway in Oakland, it’s hard to envision a Raiders player making this list anytime soon. Lamarr Houston, perhaps? It’s a far cry from the days of Bill Romanowski to the likes of Lyle Alzado to Jack Tatum and Ben Davidson, for example.