NAPA, Calif. -- For too long, it seemed the Oakland Raiders would never get here. But here they are, finally, in Year 3 of the Great Reconstruction. And the architect of the project, general manager Reggie McKenzie, says they’re right on schedule.
“From the standpoint of who we have and going to training camp feeling good about being competitive and winning some games -- you ask yourself can you go into games knowing you’ve got a defense that can pressure the quarterback, cover receivers and stop the run?” he said. "On offense, you ask do you have guys who can protect, run the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball? The answers are, yes. Now, we’ve got a lot of new guys who have to adapt to each other, but I feel like we’re right where I thought we’d be.”
The first two years of the rebuild were painful, with back-to-back 4-12 seasons. McKenzie had to get a bloated salary cap under control, overcome the absence of draft picks in Year 1 and listen to the frustration of a fan base that hasn’t seen a winning season in Oakland since 2002.
The key to this season will be good health, he said. Some of the free agents being counted on the most arrived with a recent history of injuries that caused them to miss games or negatively impacted their performances on the field. Among them, defensive end LaMarr Woodley hasn’t played a full season since 2010; cornerback Carlos Rogers ended last season with a hamstring strain that limited his play; and running back Maurice Jones-Drew was sidelined for 10 games in 2012 with a bad foot and was slowed by an assortment of injuries last year.
McKenzie says he’s not concerned by the lack of a true No. 1 receiver.
“Do we have a Larry Fitzgerald, a Calvin Johnson, a top-five guy that everybody knows the ball is going to go to him? No,” he said. “We have a spread-it-around type receiving group, and it’s a group with a lot of good receivers. Do we have that bona fide guy? No one has established himself as that, but we have some guys who are stepping up. We have proven, good football players who we are going to go to.”
He’s also not anxious about his situation at cornerback, with 2013 first-round pick D.J. Hayden out indefinitely with a foot injury.
“That fact that it’s a foot, it’s a bone, the bone is going to heal,” McKenzie said. “When it does, he has to get comfortable planting and rolling the foot. How long is that going to take? How long is it going to take for him to, not get comfortable, but get to that level he was at before he hurt it? We don’t know. But I can say this: We have some competitive guys at that group. I feel better about that position than I did last year, even with the injury. We have some other guys who are competing.”
The addition of Rogers and Tarell Brown from San Francisco were major, and the team is high on draft picks T.J. Carrie, who has looked good in workouts and the first few days of camp, and Keith McGill. Plus, a defensive back’s best friend is a good pass rush, and the Raiders have upgraded in that area with the drafting of Khalil Mack and the free-agent signings of Justin Tuck and Woodley.
Whether the moves translate into better than 4-12 remains to be seen, but for now McKenzie believes the Raiders are right where they’re supposed to be.