Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen.
New coaches, new system, new expectations. The Oakland Raiders enter the 2012 season with a lot of unknowns.
How will they adapt to a new West Coast offense? Will the defense improve? Can they protect the ball in the air?
With a competitive division and the potential for improvement, let's take a look at three key players that need to take that next step in 2012 to help this Raiders team succeed.
Rolando McClain needs to improve on reading and stuffing the run, pass coverage and staying out of trouble.
The 2009 Butkus Award winner, McClain comes into the 2012 season off an underachieving rookie season and an offseason of legal troubles.
That’s not good enough for an Oakland Raiders defense that ranked also 29th and gave up 387.6 total yards a game (Yahoo! Sports).
McClain has been poor on stuffing the run and has had difficulty in coverage. Bill Williamson of ESPN described him as “a very average starting inside linebacker” and “is more or less just a downhill two-down player.”
2012 is a make-or-brake season for Rolando McClain. If he doesn’t improve in 2012, look for Raiders backup linebacker Travis Goethel to get some looks at the starting middle linebacker position.
Carson Palmer needs to adapt to the West Coast offense, decrease his interceptions and build chemistry with wide receivers.
Palmer has no where to go but up in 2012. After a quick signing and start in Week 7 of the 2011 season, Palmer adapted quickly but still turned the ball over frequently (16 interceptions).
For 2012, Palmer becomes a West Coast quarterback with young and talented wide receivers. Leading the charge will be a much-improved Darrius Heyward-Bey, a now-healthy Denarius Moore and rookie Juron Criner.
Palmer now has an entire offseason with the Raiders' new playbook. If he can pick that up quickly, protect the football and continue to grow with the wide receivers, I expect a very good year out of Carson Palmer. If not, Matt Leinart is waiting in the wings.
Stefan Wisniewski needs to improve his leadership next season.
Coming off of a solid rookie season at left guard, and with former center Samson Satele now with the Colts, 23-year-old Wisniewski makes the move to center in 2012. This should be a natural transition for him.
After moving from guard to center in 2009 at Penn State, Wisniewski was selected as first-team All-Big Ten and was named a third-team All-American by Collegefootballnews.com for his outstanding play (via gopsusports.com).
As the anchor of Oakland’s new zone-blocking offensive line, Wisniewski will lead the offensive line calls for zone reads, zone-level blocking and blitz pickup.
With Cooper Carlisle (who should greatly benefit with the new zone-blocking offense) and Mike Brisiel (who, when healthy, is one of best zone guards in the NFL) beside him at the guard positions, the Oakland Raiders could have one of the best interior offensive lines in the conference.
If he meets the expectations of him in 2012, Wisniewski has the potential to become the most talented center the Raiders have had in recent years.