After a fantastic 11-day flight to nowhere, the runaway imaginations within the Raider Nation have circled back home, to a house that looks very much as it did before.

It's an unreformed and depressing mess, with mostly the same sputtering offense, precisely the same underwhelming quarterbacks and the same doubts about their ability to overcome an annual case of three-and-out disease.

Donovan McNabb, the quarterback seen in so many Silver-and-Black dreams, isn't coming to Oakland, as if he ever were, to deliver these Raiders to the playoffs, as if he ever could.

The task of dragging Oakland's offense back to respectability, not to mention prosperity, is too big for one man in uniform, including Peyton Manning or Drew Brees or Brett Favre, the NFL's most effective quarterbacks/leaders.

Though longtime Raiders nemesis Mike Shanahan stole the dreams of many Raiders fans by luring McNabb to Washington, reliable information suggests the veteran Philadelphia star had no desire to come to Oakland and, moreover, that the Raiders and Eagles never were close to a deal.

So it's back, at least for now, to the previously scheduled Raiders quarterbacking.

Presented for your rooting options and viewing pleasure are JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye, who last season combined for five wins in 16 games, leading the offense to 12 points and 266 yards per game, both statistics ranking 31st among the 32 NFL teams.

With coach Tom Cable preparing for his second full season and veteran running back Justin Fargas shaved from the roster, the only appreciable adjustment to the offense is the addition of Hue Jackson as coordinator.

Highly qualified and roundly praised, Jackson rolls in with 23 years experience to confront a chore that last season devoured coaching fogies Ted Tollner and Paul Hackett. There is a reason Cable faced an almost weekly quarterback dilemma, and it's the same reason he tried all three. None was particularly proficient at moving the team.

Gradkowski was most effective. In four starts, he completed 54.7 percent of his passes, with an 80.6 rating. There was new energy. The Raiders won two of his four starts; his fourth ended with torn medial collateral ligaments in both knees.

Frye started the final three games and did not distinguish himself. Though he completed 60.9 percent of his passes, he threw four interceptions to one touchdown and finished with a 65.3 rating.

Which brings us to Russell, who started the first nine games, was the least impressive and — this can't be ignored — the most openly detested. He completed only 48.8 percent of his passes, threw 11 interceptions to three touchdowns and posted an atrocious 50.0 rating, all of which contributed to his being on the butt end of fans' disgust.

Yet Russell is the youngest and clearly possesses the most pure talent. Yes, his performance has been dreadful. Yes, his intangibles have been nonexistent. And, yes, he is the only one of the three with the physical goods to be exceptional.

Jackson's project is to determine whether Russell can put it together, if he's better off with another team or if he's destined for a brief and lamented NFL career.

When Cable says Jackson was hired not to mentor Russell but to fix the offense, that means Jackson was brought in to mentor Russell in hopes of Russell earning his impressive paychecks.

For it's Russell that Al Davis wants leading the team, commanding the huddle, flicking spirals downfield and vindicating the boss for drafting him No. 1 overall in 2007.

Yet Cable insists the starter will be determined by competition between Gradkowski and Russell. That would be fair for each man and, more important, to the rest of the team. Let's face it, Russell's credibility with his teammates last season fell to near zero.

That's why the thought of McNabb was so tantalizing. He is a winner with a strong resume. But with his legs going and the injuries mounting, credibility might be McNabb's greatest asset.

With McNabb, it would have taken an incredible amount of work and luck for the Raiders to reach .500, just as is the case without him.

Fantasies often are more attractive in concept than reality. And the reality is that Oakland is not appreciably worse than it would be if it had acquired McNabb.

And if you believe, even for a minute, the answer is Marc Bulger, the 33-year-old quarterback recently released by the lowly St. Louis Rams, it's time to find some friends willing to help search for your lost sanity.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.