The Oakland Raiders have continued their annual attempt to emerge from the doldrums.
Is this finally the year that it will work?
The following is a look at some possible solutions and continued issues for Oakland as it enters the season with the odor of an NFL-record seven straight years with at least 11 losses. Oakland is a stunning 29-83 during that time.
Reasons for hope
Quarterback play: Oakland surely will be better at the most important position on the field. The Raiders, who considered several quarterback options throughout the offseason, added Jason Campbell in a trade with Washington on draft weekend.
The Raiders then cut JaMarcus Russell. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007 will go down as one of the greatest busts in NFL history.
Russell was 7-18 as the Raiders’ starter and regressed in 2009. The Raiders were rarely competitive with him on the field and were much spunkier with journeyman Bruce Gradkowski at the helm.
Campbell is far from a great player. He quarterbacked a 4-12 team last year and was cast aside this offseason by new Redskins coach and noted quarterback guru Mike Shanahan. But in Oakland, the hard-working Campbell should be an upgrade. He has a good arm and he fits Oakland’s vertical scheme. He is also a solid game manager. Campbell may not win games by himself, but he won’t lose many either.
With a decent running game, an excellent tight end in Zach Miller and promising young receivers Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey, Campbell should have a positive impact on the offense.
“Campbell is not fancy, but he’ll make Oakland better,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “The Raiders will be competent at the position and you couldn’t say that in the past.”
A young stud at linebacker: The Raiders were pretty quiet in the offseason until the draft. Other than Campbell, Oakland’s only major acquisition of 2010 who could make an immediate impact was middle linebacker Rolando McClain. The Raiders took McClain with the No. 8 overall pick.
The Raiders have earned a reputation for whiffing in the first round in recent years. I don’t think this will be an issue with McClain. Expect him to be an instant impact player. He was a key to Alabama’s national championship team and was known as one of the most instinctive and brightest players in college football. He called defensive audibles himself, a rarity in the college game.
The Raiders’ run defense needs plenty of help, and McClain should be a huge addition. He will be a big upgrade over Kirk Morrison, who was traded to Jacksonville two days after McClain was drafted.
New offensive coaching juice: The Raiders are excited about new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. He already has been lauded by several players for his zeal and attention to detail. Jackson has spent the early offseason showing that he is a demanding, vocal force on the practice field.
The Raiders had a meek offensive persona in recent years and it translated to a lot of flat play. The team is hoping Jackson will inspire tougher, more explosive play on the field.
Jackson believes in a smashmouth approach, so expect Oakland to be aggressive. He will call the plays and probably will have a bigger impact than head coach Tom Cable on the offensive side of the ball. If the Raiders stumble early and Cable is fired, Jackson would be a leading contender to take over as head coach.
Reasons for concern in 2010
The offensive line: The Raiders have had a terrible offensive line for the past several years. It’s been neglected from a personnel standpoint and Cable has been unable to get consistent play from this undermanned unit.
The Raiders did address the line by drafting prospects Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. Veldheer will play tackle and Campbell, a tackle in college, will play guard. Both have a chance to start as rookies, but it’s asking a lot for them to make an immediate positive impact.
“Those guys look good for the future, but I think the line is still a problem spot for this season,” Williamson said. “I’d say that is still a big weak spot.”
Overall defense: The Raiders have some good players on defense. Left cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha is widely considered one of the best cornerbacks in the league and defensive end Richard Seymour, who’ll turn 31 this season, still has to be considered a top player. Third-year safety Tyvon Branch had 124 tackles last season and he looks like he could be a future star. Linebackers Kamerion Wimbley (acquired in a trade from Cleveland in March) and Trevor Scott (who is making the full-time move from defensive end) are promising players, especially as pass-rushers.
Nonetheless, it’s not clear if the defense has improved enough to make a big difference, especially against the run. Other than McClain, every new addition may be a role player, though second-round pick Lamarr Houston is an intriguing player to watch on the defensive line.
Oakland has a huge gap to make up after allowing 29 or more points four times last season; it lost by 17 or more points six times. The Raiders were ranked 29th in the NFL against the run and allowed 155.5 yards per game on the ground.
McClain is a nice start to help the run defense, but will he be enough?
Can high hopes turn into reality? It has become a yearly tradition before the Raiders go on to lose 11 or more games: The offseason is full of high expectations. Analysts seem to think each year will finally be the one the Raiders show improvement. ESPN’s Mark Schlereth and John Clayton are already on the record saying the Raiders will be improved in 2010. I understand. The past two years, I’ve predicted that Oakland would finish second in the AFC West.
Whether it was the hiring of Norv Turner and Art Shell as coach, the drafting of Russell and Darren McFadden or the big-money pickups of Randy Moss, DeAngelo Hall, Gibril Wilson and Javon Walker, there have been high expectations every offseason in Oakland.
The additions of Campbell and McClain are the reasons for hope this time around. However, Williamson warns that Oakland needs to actually demonstrate improvement.
“I think we’ve learned with this team that it stinks until proven otherwise,” Williamson said. “It has improved in some areas, but so has every team. I still think it is a five- or six-win team until it can show it is really ready to make dramatic improvements.”