There's plenty of statistical evidence pointing to the fact that the Oakland Raiders, as a team, improved under head coach Lane Kiffin in 2007.
The offense averaged nearly 50 more yards each game compared to 2006; the team improved its turnover differential by 12; and points per game increased by just over a touchdown.
Most illuminating: Robert Gallery allowed one sack in 16 starts on the offensive line.
Yes, just one.
Under ex-head coach Art Shell two years ago, Gallery surrendered 10½ sacks at left tackle, netting a total loss of 68 yards. Keep in mind, those 10½ slip-ups came in only 10 games. That means he averaged just over one sack allowed each contest. This year, the entire Patriots team allowed just 1.3 per game.
In the two years prior to that, the 325-pound lineman gave up 6½ sacks with Norv Turner calling the shots. In that two-year span, Gallery started 31 games at right tackle, protecting veteran passers Rich Gannon and Kerry Collins along the way.
A second overall pick of the Raiders in 2004, the ex-Iowa standout was touted as one of the surest picks—if not the surest pick—of the entire draft class that offseason. Gallery was a unanimous first team All-American in his last year with the Hawkeyes, and he was awarded the Outland Trophy for being the nation's best interior lineman on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball.
So when the 6-foot-7 lineman came out as a rookie and sophomore but didn't look like the dominant, overpowering competitor he was pegged to be, the pundits came out in full force, and so did the fans. Gallery quickly became the center of much attention—and criticism—in his first two years in the NFL. As a self-proclaimed "farm kid," it had to be a new experience.
So Shell came in and did conceivably the worst thing possible. He moved Gallery to perhaps the hardest position in football, left tackle. All said and done, with sacks and penalties pooled together, No. 76 lost the Raider offense 131 yards in '06.
Last season, Kiffin quickly repaired the damage that was done under Shell.
Gallery was repositioned by the 32-year-old head coach to left guard. The resulting product was a lineman that allowed just one sack for a loss of 5 yards. The Raiders' line, as a whole, allowed 31 fewer sacks under Kiffin than it did under Shell. Also, the '07 Raiders rushed for 35.5 more yards each outing than the '06 team. Attribute much of that success to the guy Kiffin hired to direct the O-line, former Falcons assistant Tom Cable.
"[The coaching staff] is just trying to find the best five guys and get all those guys at some position," Gallery said back in May. "We were told they're going to try different things. Obviously they're trying to make their minds up. All I'm worried about is being the best pro player I can be."
Gallery indeed looked like a much better player in '07 than he has since entering the NFL four years ago. Granted, his role on the line was reduced, but the resulting product was much better than anyone could have expected.
Of all of Oakland's starting O-linemen—Barry Sims, Gallery, Jeremy Newberry, Cooper Carlisle and Cornell Green/Paul McQuistan—only Carlisle posted equally as impressive numbers in the sacks yielded department, also letting in just one.
"I know I'm going to play a long time and, in the right system, I know I can be great," Gallery said last October. "I always have wanted to be the best there is and prove [to] everybody that the potential has always been there. I've just got to be in the right situation."
After four years, three different head coaches, three attempted positions and countless critics calling for his head, Robert Gallery may finally feel comfortable in Oakland.
Just throwing this out there, but he played some tight end in high school and college.
Anthony Carroll can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org