Fri, May 23: Raiders Perk up George

Fri, May 23: Raiders Perk up George

   CHAMPAIGN  Back in the mid-1980s, Jeff George took a pass on playing quarterback for Ray Perkins.

   Now, the former University of Illinois QB no longer has to wonder what their collaboration might have been like.

   When George reported to an Oakland Raiders'' minicamp for the first time a couple of weeks ago, the coach he worked most closely with was offensive coordinator Perkins.

   "He''s a great guy," George said Thursday during a visit here for the Ace Leukemia VI fund-raiser put on by his cousin Matt. "I''m excited to be playing for guys like that."

   George, a free agent who played for Atlanta since 1994, signed a five-year, $27.5 million deal with Oakland in February.

   Like George, Perkins is a newcomer to the Raiders. He''s also the guy who, as a head coach at Alabama, tried and failed to get George to sign on the dotted line out of high school in Indiana.

   "He did remember," George said with a smile, recalling one topic of conversation between the two at minicamp.

   A former National Football League head coach with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay, Perkins comes to the Raiders directly from a stint as offensive coordinator for the AFC champion New England Patriots.

   "His track record speaks for itself," George said.

   And George comes to the Raiders after a turbulent season in Atlanta, where he was suspended in October after a sideline tirade directed at coach June Jones. George didn''t play another game in 1996.

   "Obviously, it was tough," George said of the banishment. "I wanted to be out there helping the guys win. But I''m a firm believer things happen for a reason, and it was meant for me to not play last year and to wind up in Oakland."

   That he did, George said, fit his preference. When the Raiders expressed an interest in him, George said he made it clear to agent Leigh Steinberg the feeling was mutual.

   "He asked me what team I wanted to play for, and I said, ''Leigh, look, just strike adeal with Oakland,'' " George said. "I''ve wanted to be a Raider for some time. It just took me seven years to do it."

   He is there, the Raiders hope, to help get them over the playoff hump for the first time since 1993. And who better than George, whose arm ranks among the two or three strongest in the NFL, to throw the secondary-stretching passes Raiders owner Al Davis loves.

   "Everybody knows that we''re going to throw the ball downfield," said George, the NFL''s No. 1 pick in 1990 by his hometown Indianapolis Colts. "And that''s good. That''s what I do best is throw the ball downfield, and I''m excited about it."

   For George, it will be different from the Falcons'' run-and-shoot offense.

   "That was more of a ball-control, dink, dink, 5-, 10-yard passes," George said. "Now I''m in a situation where we''re going to throw the ball 20, 25 yards downfield on every pass play."

   The pressure is on the offense, George said, because Oakland''s defense always seems to hold up its part of the bargain.

   "Every year, they put up some great defenses," he said. "They just really haven''t had an offense to support the defense. So hopefully now we can change that."

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports