Can the Raiders save their reputation with black players?

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Few football families manage to be as dysfunctional and compelling as the NFL’s Oakland Raiders.

Under the steadfast direction of owner Al Davis for the last 50-plus years, the Silver and Black have never shied away from attention, controversy or talent that comes with a little baggage.

The autumn wind of this new season has blown maligned Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor into the Raiders midst, under the team’s sometimes shaky hand, as they made him the only selection in Monday’s NFL supplemental draft.

The supplemental draft exists to accommodate players who did not enter the annual draft in April usually because the player missed the filing deadline or faced NCAA eligibility issues.

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Now the oft-controversial franchise and the currently controversial player are joined at the hip in what commentators seem to think is a simple scenario of boom or bust with the franchise. If things go well for Pryor, he’ll be in line to be the natural successor of current quarterback Jason Campbell. The real intrigue seems to be if things go awry, a la the JaMarcus Russell era with the Raiders, which included a plummet to the NFL’s cellar for a franchise that had just been in a Super Bowl five years before.

Once known as your last stop, better put, last chance for players on their way out of the league, for all of Oakland’s recent turmoil, the franchise’s history is sterling. Behind the once-trailblazing mind of Davis. His innovative ideas about the vertical passing game and how to manage a mixed bag of personalities are still on display.

All that is fodder for loyalists. The truth is the Raiders have made splash after splash in free agency on aging but talented players none of whom seemed to successfully adjust to the Raiders particular brand of football. Whether it was Randy Moss who went from dynamic, once-a-generation talent in Minnesota, to forgotten star in Oakland, to career-highs with New England after managing to get out. Or Warren Sapp, who was one of the most dominant defensive tackles of his era. His arrival in Oakland was highlighted by his claim that Davis would change the defensive scheme before game days to an archaic model destined for defeat by modern standards.

Still, the franchise has never been unafraid of something different. The Raiders have been one of the most racially progressive franchises in professional football. They hired the first black head coach since the 1920s in Hall of Famer Art Shell in 1989. They hired Tom Flores, who had been the first Hispanic quarterback in league history for the Raiders, as the NFL’s first Hispanic head coach as well in 1979.The stigma of the black quarterback has never seemed to trickle down to Oakland. Especially now when you see dominant black signal-callers that are more than just mobile, the Raiders have been led under center by black quarterbacks like Aaron Brooks, Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell and Jason Campbell in just the last 10 years.

To make a sweeping generalization, the bulk of black quarterbacks possess the raw physical tools and attitude Davis relies so heavily upon when evaluating talent. Those same tools are the reason that Pryor landed in the Bay area.

Once Pryor ran a 4.36 40-yard dash and flashed a 31-inch vertical in front of 17 teams on hand for his pro day workout, there was no doubt Oakland was instantly the frontrunner for his services.

Had this been 2009, this might not have been a great fit but if last season tells us anything, it’s that the Raiders suddenly have things clicking on the offensive side of the ball. New head coach Hue Jackson resurrected the offense last season as offensive coordinator and the team should expect some continued success despite the departures of offensive guard Robert Gallery and tight end Zach Miller.

Pryor will also get some one-on-one schooling from offensive guru Al Saunders and teammates Jason Campbell, Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards, all of whom have had the opportunity to be NFL starters in the past.

Avoiding the pitfalls that plagued 2007 No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell should be first on his agenda. Distancing himself from the stench of Russell’s failed career is a must, especially when critics only see the raw athleticism and size wearing the same colors. It’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Pryor’s fast track may also be faster than expected. Current starter Jason Campbell is in the final year of his contract with the team and a glimpse at the depth chart and seeing Boller then Edwards doesn’t exactly inspire a team or fan base. Pryor’s potential could change all of that.

Some pundits see the team using Pryor in a Kordell Stewart-type scenario while he waits for his opportunity. In Pittsburgh, Stewart earned the moniker ‘Slash’ by playing quarterback, running back and receiver for the Steelers until he was deemed the every down signal-caller. But nothing about Oakland’s decision to take a chance on him screams ‘he’s one hell of a tight end.’

At the end of the day, if Terrelle Pryor can follow two simple-to-digest, albeit difficult-to-accomplish Raider creeds­ — a commitment to excellence and ‘just win, baby’ — this debate or his route into the NFL won’t begin to matter and those wondering how he fits into this strange scenario will be crystal clear.