No one is getting their hopes up regarding the 2006 Oakland Raiders, except for the rest of the AFC West. Inside Bay Area’s Bill Soliday, however, grasps at the optimism straws.

The Oakland Raiders have an instant advantage going into this season. Hardly anybody expects much from them.

That contrasts to last year when nobody was sure what might happen if Kerry Collins was tossed in with Randy Moss and LaMont Jordan. At least potentially the team looked scary.

It turned scary all right ” a 4-12 finish after a 4-6 start, Moss injured, Collins booed out of town and Jordan making do with subpar blocking.

Jump to today as the team reports to Napa for a month-long training camp. There’s a new coach, a new quarterback and assorted other trinkets but no wholesale change.

What would pass as achievable improvement? There are even optimistic fans who say 8-8. To Art Shell (above), that is minimalist thinking.

“We have some good football players on our team, we really do,” Shell said. “But we have to have more than just talent. We have to develop it, get them to the point where they know how to win and understand what it takes.”

Benched in New Orleans for erratic play, QB Aaron Brooks is getting a fresh start in a new system. The key is not to place the entire burden on him. If the Raiders run effectively as planned, Brooks needn’t pass often. And when teams learn to respect the run, Moss and Jerry Porter should be open deep.
Some of the best Raider football in Shell’s playing days came with the quarterback throwing 15-18 passes a game. If Brooks has to throw 30-35 times a game, watch out.

Pro Bowl fixture Ty Law (above) is jumping from the Jets to Herm Edwards’ Chiefs, signing a 5 year deal pending the results of a physical exam. The Boston Herald’s John Tomase reports that having been rebuffed in their attempts to bring Law back to Foxboro, the Patriots will see some competition at the corner this preseason.

Now entering his 12th season, the 32-year-old Law was the top remaining free agent on the market and a target of the Patriots, who endured secondary troubles last season. With Law out of the picture, the competition at corner now boils down to Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel, free agent signee Eric Warfield, whom Law replaces in Kansas City, Randall Gay and Chad Scott.

Musing that “most of us were convinced that the Wild would become the first sports franchise to call a news conference for the sole purpose of announcing the dates of future news conferences,”, the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Tom Powers congratulates Vikings owner Zygi Wilf (above) on “holding a news conference last week to announce that there was no news.”

If it were in my power, I would grant the Vikings a new stadium if they promise to stop talking about one until January. In fact, I’d grant them two.

Zygi is a beauty. First he meets with the Minneapolis mayor, with whom talk turns toward a downtown stadium ” as if that’s going to happen in a million years. Then virtually hours later, he meets with Blaine and Anoka County officials to announce that he remains committed to them, even though he won’t rule out Minneapolis.

That flurry of activity got the words “Vikings” and “stadium” in the paper quite a few times, just in case anyone had forgotten how critical the situation is. That’s a real public relations bonanza.