Welcome to the show, rookie
Yes, mini-camp attendance has the tag of being mandatory as veterans joined the rookies and free agents in Alameda today. But the fact that there is no talk of holdouts or contract disputes has to be music to the ears of new head coach Dennis Allen. As the new way of doing things slowly takes hold, here are a few things to take note of as spring comes to an end for the Oakland Raiders.
Raiders need "The Truth" to get healthy
There is no doubt that injuries can happen at any time to any football player. But that said, with all of the schemes and structures being implemented, it is vital for Raider cohesion to keep everyone healthy. So seeing Denarius Moore go down we can only hope is an aberration. The Raiders had so many players afflicted with various leg injuries (quad, hamstring and ankle especially), it is imperative that the projected starters get as many reps together as possible.
Other players that hopefully are ready to roll when training camp comes around are Stefan Wisniewski, Dave Tollefson, Mike Mitchell, and Manase Tonga. Here is where one can hope that Al Miller earns his check keeping guys as close to 100 percent and strong in the weight room as possible.
It has been a refrain most Raiders fans have heard since they have been Raiders fans: the team needs to cut down on penalties. Well, after the dam finally burst to the tune of a record 162, it appears to be a legitimate mandate as opposed to something merely given lip service to. The Raiders have talent, but they can no longer win big games while committing large numbers of penalties.
The key will be what the coaching staff does to address the penalties caused by mental breakdowns. To the point, the pre-snap penalties and personal fouls have got to be reduced. At some point, the talk will either translate to the field, or the Raiders will continue to straddle the mediocrity line. In this new NFL, you simply can not do both.
In my opinion, the key player on the Raider defensive line is Matt Shaughnessy. He may not be the most important player on the defense (I still think that's Rolando McClain, good or bad), but his presence was definitely missed in many moments last year.
Beyond being the Raiders best edge rusher at defensive lineman, Shaughnessy is a better than average run stopper. Simply increasing the depth along with Lamarr Houston, Dave Tollefson, and being able to let Desmond Bryant slide back inside is key.
On the other side, the engine to the whole team appears to be getting back in form. Of course, I'm referring to Darren McFadden. McFadden was having a top-5 MVP start to the year before a Lisfranc injury ended his season and effectively changed the course of the year.
Now, he returns with Carson Palmer under center and they can potentially form one of the best QB/RB combos in the NFL. A healthy McFadden goes a long way towards the Raiders re-establishing themselves as a dynamic offense, even in a completely different system. He is that good. And it is high time it is acknowledged as such.
Juron Criner could see the field much sooner than expected
Barring injury, many of the starting spots are pretty secure for the 2012 Raiders. But that does not mean there are not some potentially intriguing battles to watch for moving forward.
Let's start at tight end. I believe Brandon Myers will be the pseudo-incumbent and start as the first team tight end. He has the experience with the ball club and that does go a long way. That said, there is nothing in his game that is done phenomenally and as such, he is susceptible to a battle.
It will surely come from second year converted WR David Ausberry. Much has been made of Ausberry's added muscle and the high praise he received from Carson Palmer. But spring workouts do not a starter make. It will be curious to see how he adapts to the new scheme and what Greg Knapp and Al Saunders do to utilize a potential weapon like him.
Another potential battle will be at guard. Mike Brisiel will be penciled in at the left spot. The question becomes does Tony Bergstrom have the goods to beat out Cooper Carlisle at the other spot? I think Bergstrom's development goes a long way in determining how good the new run game is going to be. The left side is going to be really good. But a solid guard on the other side helps to alleviate the pressure on probable starter Khalif Barnes in this new, bootleg happy system.
The final intriguing battle is less about starters, but about who sticks. Right now, the Raiders have five probable spots for wide receivers. They have Denarious Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, and Louis Murphy returning. The star of camp to this point has been Juron Criner, but another intriguing rookie is Rod Streater out of Temple University.
The way it is shaking out, it will be Murphy against Streater for the final spot on the team. Sorry, I just can't see Eddie McGee making the 53 man roster. How Murphy responds will help determine if he stays a member of the Raiders.
The Raiders have always been more about measurables than intangibles. That was Al Davis' way, that's how it was. But now, things are different. The only way to know whether or not things get better is how quickly the players and coaches get on the same page. The NFL or any team sport for that matter has no formula for the right mix to produce a winning team.
But for the first time in more than 45 years, the Oakland Raiders will be run not as a force of one, but as a collection of many. A head coach that has autonomy over all things, a defensive coordinator allowed his own individual freedoms. And a general manager that does not value size and speed above all things.
Will it produce a winner immediately? No one can honestly say yes or no. But what these sessions can do is help move the Raiders a long way towards something that has honestly been lacking for a long time in Alameda: Stability.
The formula was already shown on the other side of the Bay Area in 2011. The 49ers parlayed a strong young presence at head coach and it filtered down to his team. The result was narrowly missing the organization's sixth Super Bowl. For the Raiders, having everyone accountable to the coaches without question, no secret forces pulling people, basically running a smoother ship, that intangible alone could be worth a victory going forward.
So far, everything is optimistic for the Silver and Black
Going forward, it will be interesting to see who stands out from the younger crop. Miles Burris, Christo Bilukidi, and Nathan Stupar will all have a chance to contribute. It is a new day in Oakland and things are just getting started. Getting acclimated with the new and slowly purging the old should be the order of business for this 'new' Oakland Raiders football team. Let's just see if old habits die hard as time goes by.