Oakland Raiders: 4 Questions on the Minds of Fans Heading into 2012

Ryan Heidrich@@Ryan_HeidrichCorrespondent IIJuly 23, 2012

Oakland Raiders: 4 Questions on the Minds of Fans Heading into 2012

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    The Oakland Raiders begin camp on July 29th, when both rookies and veterans report for duty. Anticipation is high for Raiders fans who hope that having a functioning general manager in Reggie McKenzie will help turn the team into a playoff contender. The Raiders also have a new head coach in Dennis Allen, who comes to Oakland from the Denver Broncos.

    Many are writing off the Oakland Raiders, for example NBC Pro Football Talk recently ranked the Raiders No. 23 in their Preseason Power Rankings. Raider faithful are hoping that their squad will come out and prove everyone wrong by making a run at the AFC West crown.

    Like all teams heading into training camp, fans having questions about their favorite team. Here is a list of questions that all Raider fans should be pondering as they inch closer to camp.

Can Darren McFadden Stay Healthy?

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    If the Oakland Raiders want a chance at winning the AFC West they will need Darren McFadden to play in every game. In his short four-year career, D-Mac has yet to play in a full season. When he is on the field, McFadden is one of the best running backs in the entire league. He is a constant home-run threat every time he touches the ball.

    When Darren McFadden is on the field the Raiders are a much better team. He gives them help in every aspect of the game. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and is an above-average blocking back. He helps Carson Palmer in every way that a quarterback needs. As reported by NBC Sports, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp plans to use a run-first philosophy that will rely heavily on McFadden.

    Raider fans should be extremely worried about the durability of McFadden. To make matters worse, Michael Bush is no longer on the roster. This means there is not a lot of talent behind McFadden, should he get hurt.  Most of the Raiders success will depend on the status of McFadden. If he can stay healthy, which I believe that he can, the Raiders will be dangerous in the AFC West. If he is injured, the Raiders will struggle immensely this year.

How Will Carson Palmer Perform?

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    Carson Palmer appeared in 10 games last year for the Oakland Raiders. In some games he looked great, such as his 299-yard, two-touchdown performance in a victory against the San Diego Chargers. In other weeks he played terribly, like his four-interception game in a blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers.

    Last season Palmer threw for more interceptions than he did touchdowns. This is something that he will have to change if the Raiders want to contend in the AFC West.  He does not have to play at an elite level every game but he needs to limit his turnovers and make sure he puts the Raiders in a place where they have the chance to win.

    A full offseason with the Raiders allows Palmer to get the timing down with his teammates. Because of this extra time with his teammates, Palmer should see an improvement over last year’s numbers.  If Palmer can improve and play at a consistent level, the Raiders will be able to put up a fight in the AFC West. 

How Will the Defense Fare?

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    The Oakland Raiders defense has been terrible the past couple of years. Their secondary has played horribly, and this year will be under the microscope as Peyton Manning lands in the division.  

    With both Manning and Philip Rivers in the division, the Raiders will need to figure out how to boost their secondary play right away. They cannot afford to struggle against the pass because Manning and Rivers both have the ability to put up monster numbers on a lackluster pass defense.

    The Raiders lost their main pass-rusher in Kamerion Wimbley in the offseason. Wimbley is a beast, and with his help the Raiders finished 27th in both passing yards allowed and rushing yards. Without Wimbley, it is uncertain how the Raiders defense will fair.

    The Raiders will need to improve on the defensive side of the ball if they want to contend for a playoff spot. Raider fans should be extremely concerned about how their defensive unit will look when the 2012 season opens.

Who Will Emerge as the Number One Receiver?

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    To go along with Carson Palmer's inconsistent play, the Oakland Raiders’ receivers were also extremely inconsistent. It seemed that every week a new receiver would put up fantastic numbers, only to disappear the next week. If the Raiders want to be successful, they need to have one of their receivers step up and play well, week in and week out.

    The battle will likely come down to Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. Heyward-Bey is more likely to be the No. 1 guy, but the one thing holding him back is drops. One week he can catch anything that is thrown his way, but other weeks it’s like he ate a stick of butter before games. I am not sure if it is an ability issue or a confidence issue.

    However, his hands have improved every year he has been in the league, so if he can continue to improve he will fit into the No. 1 receiver role nicely.

    If the Raiders can turn one of these guys into a consistent No. 1 receiver, the problems with the passing game might begin to diminish.  Having one guy that you can rely on performing well every week is something all successful teams have. If the Raiders want to be successful, they'd better hope that one of these receivers steps up and takes control.