After averaging just over four wins a season from 2003-2010, the Oakland Raiders have notched back-to-back 8-8 seasons in the last two years. While eight wins was met with excitement in 2010, expectations are on the rise as the black hole expects another trip to the playoffs to be in the near future.
While many teams have the fortune of consistency, however, the Raiders have become foreign to the idea.
Aside from unveiling their third head coach in three seasons this year, the roster has also been largely overhauled. In the 1990s and into the early 2000s, the Raiders had the fortune of developing star players who remained in silver and black for extended periods of time such as Tim Brown, Rich Gannon and Charles Woodson.
This 2012 team, however, has yet to forge their own identity. While many names have become familiar in recent years such as Rolando McClain, Michael Huff and Richard Seymour, none have blossomed into the face of the franchise as star players in years past.
Is 2012 the season that someone emerges to lead the charge? Is this the year the Raiders return to prominence and thrust themselves back into the spotlight?
We delve into their latest roster moves and offer you a position-by-position breakdown to get you geared up for this season.
While the Raiders aren't quite done cutting down their roster, the bulk of the work was done on Friday night as the Raiders waited until the last possible second to announce their 17 cuts and subsequent roster moves.
As other teams around the league announced their cuts as well, however, some of the guys who are believed to be safe at the moment could find themselves without a job shortly.
So here are the 17 players who didn't make the final roster:
LB Kaelin Burnett — Burnett, an undrafted rookie from Nevada-Reno came into the right camp for a shot to make the roster as a linebacker, but with just seven total tackles in three games, this cut didn't come as a surprise to anyone.
K Eddy Carmona — With Sebastian Janikowski slowly recovering from an injury, Carmona got the chance to audition for a roster spot elsewhere throughout the preseason, going 3/4 on attempted field goals including a perfect 2/2 on kicks longer than 50 yards. Unfortunately for Carmona, Jano should be healthy by next Monday night, so his best chance is to catch onto the team's practice squad.
WR Derek Carrier — Carrier, an undrafted rookie from Beloit, struggled in the preseason behind more notable rookies like Juron Criner and Rod Streater. Unfortunately, as an undrafted rookie from Beloit who logged just one preseason catch, this could be the end of the road.
WR Brandon Carswell — While from a slightly more notable school than Beloit (USC), Carswell fell into the same predicament in a crowded wide receiver competition. Carswell recorded just three catches for 36 yards in his last three games.
DE Hall Davis — Amongst one of the most talented groups in camp, Hall Davis struggled to stand out this preseason, logging just five tackles and no sacks. Not a surprising move from the Raiders.
TE Kyle Efaw —Efaw was the beneficiary of a wide-open tight end battle, but he failed to assert himself this preseason, failing to catch a single ball. I wouldn't be surprised if tight end is one of the positions the Raiders make a play for in free agency.
DT Dominique Hamilton — Like Davis, Hamilton was in the unfortunate situation of competing against a star-studded group of veterans and draft picks. Hamilton played pretty well in limited time, logging five tackles, a sack and a fumble, but it just wasn't enough to earn him a roster spot.
G Kevin Haslam —Oakand's offensive line performed well throughout parts of the preseason, but with the backups getting embarrassed in the Seattle game, players like Haslam were sure to take the brunt of the punishment.
T Nick Howell — Howell's situation was the same as Haslam's, as players attempting to earn the final roster spots just didn't do enough Thursday night to prove they were worthy.
LB Chad Kilgore — Kilgore, an undrafted rookie from Northwest Missouri State, played decently in three games with Oakland, recording 11 tackles. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough for the coaching staff to reward him with a roster spot.
T Dan Knapp — Knapp's story is much like the rest of the offensive lineman cut: they just didn't earn it against Seattle.
WR Eddie McGee — Hard to say this cut was a surprise, but it was a bit disappointing given how well McGee had played in recent weeks. After logging just two catches in the first three games, McGee hauled in three balls for 36 yards against Seattle and seemed to be one of Oakland's lone bright spots.
C Colin Miller — Caught behind Wisniewski and Parsons, Miller just didn't do enough to warrant keeping a third center.
RB Lonyae Miller —Not necessarily a surprising cut, however, some believed Miller really did have a chance to make the roster given the poor play of Mike Goodson. Unfortunately, Miller didn't do enough to leap Goodson on the depth chart, and given the presence of some proven running backs on the free agent market already, I wouldn't be surprised if Goodson joins this list shortly.
Roscoe Parrish — Despite being signed just three days earlier, Parrish struggled mightily in his short stint with the Raiders, coughing up the ball on kick returns twice in his only game. Many believed Parrish to be a lock to make the roster given Oakland's need for a return man and wide receiver depth, however Parrish failed to impress enough people to keep his job.
WR Tray Session — In a crowded wide receiver battle, Session failed to make a name for himself in any of the preseason games or camps, making this an easy decision.
LB Nathan Stupar — Stupar probably earns the distinction of the toughest cut the Raiders had to make on Thursday, especially after recording 11 tackles Thursday night. Oakland's 7th round pick this season was less than impressive through most of camp before his breakout game against Seattle, but hopefully Oakland can keep him around on the practice squad for a year of development.
SS Curtis Taylor — Taylor, the second-year man from LSU, has a story similar to Stupar in that he had one breakout game that clearly wasn't enough to earn him a roster spot. In Oakland's final preseason game, Taylor logged nine tackles, but was part of an Oakland defense that struggled to stop Seattle's offense most of the game.
In addition to these cuts, the Raiders also placed Aaron Curry on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and place Tory Humphrey, Marquette King and Brandon Underwood on injured reserve.
As teams approach the beginning of the season, the rosters will begin to slim down towards the 53-man limit. So far, here are the guys who didn't make the cut:
FB Manase Tonga — Among the toughest cuts this week had to be Manase Tonga, who played in 11 games last season, including three as a starter. Unfortunately for Tonga, the depth in the backfield this year left him the odd man out as Owen Schmitt must have impressed the coaches thus far.
LB Korey Bosworth — Brought into camp late, Bosworth was always an outside shot to make a roster, so this wasn't a surprise by any stretch of the imagination. While Oakland needs help at linebacker, it was clear that Bosworth wasn't the answer.
DE Mason Brodine — After coming into a hotly contested defensive line battle, Brodine and Wayne Dorsey faced a tough challenge in beating out rookies Jack Crawford and Christo Bilukidi along with the strong play from second-year man Jamie Cumbie. In the end, neither was able to overcome that challenge.
DE Wayne Dorsey — (see DE Mason Brodine)
DB Aaron Henry — If you came into camp as a defensive back for the Raiders, your shot at making the team was as good as anyone's. After Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer and second-year guys Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa, the field was wide open. Henry, Chaz Powell and Terrail Lambert, however, failed to impress the coaches during their limited playing time, leaving them on the outside looking in after the first round of cuts.
DB Terrail Lambert — (see DB Wayne Dorsey)
WR Thomas Mayo — Rod Streater and Juron Criner pretty much made any wide receiver's life impossible this preseason. While the wide receiver position seemed wide open to begin camp, Criner and Streater have blown their competition out of the water and pretty much sealed the deal on which wideouts will make the roster.
WR Dre Muhammad — (see WR Thomas Mayo)
QB Kyle Newhall-Caballero — Of all the guys coming into camp, Newhall-Caballero had to know his spot on the roster was the most unlikely. With Terrelle Pryor and Matt Leinart having already locked up the two backup positions, Newhall-Caballero was simply there to hold a clipboard.
DB Chaz Powell — (see DB Wayne Dorsey)
RB Rashawn Jackson — While it's easy to say that Jackson's injury is what led to his cut, the fact that he was already behind at least four running backs on the depth chart definitely didn't hurt his case. The strong play of Lonyae Miller made Jackson expendable.
T Ed Wang — Like Jackson, Wang was cut due to injury, which, in a crowded lineman competition, makes for an easy coaching decision.
OL Zach Hurd — Hurd's story is the same as Wang's: injured amongst a ton of competition.
QB (4): Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Terrelle Pryor
RB (6): Darren McFadden, Taiwan Jones, Mike Goodson, Owen Schmitt
FB (2): Marcel Reece,
WR (12): Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Juron Criner, Rod Streater
TE (5): Brandon Myers, David Ausberry, Richard Gordon
LT (4): Jared Veldheer, Zach Hurd
LG (2): Cooper Carlisle, Tony Bergstrom
C (4): Stefen Wisniewski, Alex Parsons
RG (2): Mike Brisiel, Lucas Nix
RT (3): Khalif Barnes, Joe Barksdale
LE (4): Lamarr Houston, Dave Tollefson, Jack Crawford
RE (4): Matt Shaughnessy, Carl Ihenacho
DT (7): Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant, Chriso Bilukidi, Jamie Cumbie
LOLB (3): Aaron Curry, Miles Burris, Mario Kurn
MLB (3): Rolando McClain, Travis Goethel
ROLB (3): Phillip Wheeler
CB: Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Chimdi Chekwa, Pat Lee, Conroy Black, Francies Coye
FS (3): Michael Huff, Matt Giordano
SS (3): Tyvon Branch, Mike Mitchell
K (2): Sebastian Janikowski
P (2): Shane Lechler
LS (1): Jon Condo
KR (2): Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford
PR (1): Denarius Moore
QBs on roster: Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Terrelle Pryor
Projected starters: Carson Palmer
Offseason additions: Matt Leinart
Roster cuts: Kyle Newhall-Caballero
If there's one position you can point to as the one that will have the most impact on the 2012 season, it has to be the quarterback position. While many fans might say that it's the case for every team, the Raiders are unique in that the instability under center is what likely cost them a spot in the 2011 playoffs.
Heading into this season, Carson Palmer is the clear-cut starter, especially now that he's had an offseason to adjust to life in Oakland. While the new coaching staff will likely bring in an entirely new playbook, the veteran Palmer should have no trouble picking things up quickly.
Behind Palmer is Matt Leinart, now in his seventh season and first with the Raiders. While Leinart carries the stigma of a "bust" everywhere he goes, he might actually be the most qualified backup the Raiders have had in a while.
In one start before getting hurt in 2011, Leinart was 10-of-13 from the field with one touchdown and no interceptions. Oakland's new offensive coordinator, Greg Knapp, was Leinart's quarterback coach in Houston last season.
Rounding out the quarterbacking trio is Terrelle Pryor, the Raiders' third-round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft. While still raw, Pryor will have a full season to develop and learn from the two veterans in front of him in hopes that his development can pick up.
RBs on roster: Darren McFadden, Mike Goodson, Taiwan Jones, Owen Schmitt, Marcel Reece (FB)
Projected starters: Darren McFadden, Marcel Reece (FB)
Offseason additions: Mike Goodson, Owen Schmitt, Rashawn Jackson, Lonyae Miller
Roster cuts: Rashawn Jackson, Mansae Tonga (FB), Lonyae Miller
Projected final roster: Darren McFadden, Mike Goodson, Taiwan Jones, Owen Schmitt, Marcel Reece
Behind Carson Palmer this season is a backfield stocked with weapons, led by one of the league's best running backs (when healthy) in Darren McFadden.
McFadden was on his way to a career year last season before getting injured, rushing for 610 yards through the first six weeks of the season. Obviously, however, the "getting injured" part has become common place for the former top-five pick, and is something that needs to be left behind if the Raiders are going to take a step forward this season.
With the loss of Michael Bush behind McFadden, the Raiders added former Carolina backup Mike Goodson as an insurance policy. With no carries last season, Goodson's breakout stretch came in 2010 when he averaged 4.4 yards per carry and nearly eight yards a catch, totaling over 760 total yards as a third-string back.
Third on the depth chart is second-year speedster Taiwan Jones, someone I'm projecting to have a breakout season this year. While too small for much between-the-tackles running, Jones had flashes of brilliance as a rookie last season despite limited playing time. With more familiarity alongside Carson Palmer, expect Jones to hopefully emerge into a Darren Sproles-type back for Oakland.
Blocking for all of these running backs will be fullback Marcel Reece, who has become one of the most dangerous fullbacks in football. While most fullbacks are relied on simply for blocking, Reece, the former college wide receiver, is a dynamic receiver that creates serious mismatches for opposing defenses.
If this group can remain relatively healthy, Palmer will have plenty of people to spread the ball to, and they could develop into one of the top units in the league.
WRs on roster: Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford, Juron Criner, Rod Streater
Projected starters: Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jacoby Ford
Offseason additions: Juron Criner, Rod Streater, Eddie McGee, Duke Calhoun, Thomas Mayo, Brandon Carswell, Derek Carrier, DeAundre Muhammad, Travionte Session, Roscoe Parrish
Roster cuts: Thomas Mayo, DeAundre Muhammad, Eddie McGee, Duke Calhoun, Brandon Carswell, Derek Carrier, Travionte Session
As the final group rounding out the explosive offense Oakland hopes to present this season, the wide receiving corps has a chance to be special despite lacking one go-to guy.
In his rookie season, Denarius Moore established himself as one of the league's best deep threats as he reeled in a few highlight-worthy catches in traffic deep down the field. Alongside Moore was Heyward-Bey, who had a breakout season of his own, hauling in 64 catches for 975 yards last season.
What's nice about this group is that while all have the speed to beat their man deep, the three also have relatively defined roles as well. While Moore is the deep threat, Heyward-Bey developed into a fairly reliable possession receiver last season and Ford showed glimpses of becoming a legitimate slot receiver in his rookie season two years ago.
Behind those three guys, however, remains a fairly large question mark.
Last season this unit relied on veterans like Chaz Schillens and Louis Murphy, but both of those guys have gone elsewhere, leaving the final few spots on the roster to rookies.
In minicamp this spring, Juron Criner from Arizona established himself as the guy most likely to follow in Moore's footsteps as an immediate contributor. Right on his heels, however, are Streater and McGee, making this position battle one of the most interesting to watch this preseason.
TEs on roster: Brandon Myers, David Ausberry, Richard Gordon
Projected starters: Brandon Myers
Offseason additions: Richard Gordon, Tory Humphrey, Kyle Efaw
Roster cuts: Tory Humphrey, Kyle Efaw
While "explosive" is one of the words used to describe most of the Raiders offense, "uncertainty" is the word that best describes this unit.
While Raiders fans have become accustomed to solid tight end play from the likes of Zach Miller and Kevin Boss, this year's group isn't exactly one that will instill fear in opponents.
On top of the heap is Brandon Myers, the fourth-year man out of Iowa who played in all 16 games last season, recording 16 catches for 151 yards. Obviously, if named the starter in 2012, his targets should increase—however, one thing Myers does lack is the ability to be a solid blocker.
Behind Myers is David Ausberry, the former USC wideout who has struggled in his conversion to tight end. Last season as a rookie, Ausberry recorded just two catches for 14 yards and, like Myers, is less than ideal as a blocker.
That brings us to Richard Gordon, a guy who specializes in blocking. I think Gordon sneaks onto the roster simply because he provides the Raiders with a bona fide blocker at the tight end position. That said, the battle with Humphrey and Efaw will be fun to watch as the Raiders hope one of these guys can establish himself as a must-have tight end.
OTs on roster: Jared Veldheer, Zach Hurd, Khalif Barnes, Joe Barksdale
Projected starters: Jared Veldheer, Khalif Barnes
Offseason additions: Zach Hurd, Kevin Haslam, Dan Knapp, Joe Barksdale, Ed Wang
Roster cuts: Ed Wang, Kevin Haslam, Dan Knapp
With plenty of question marks along the offensive line, one position free of worry for the Raiders is left tackle, where third-year man Jared Veldheer has emerged as an elite talent. The 6'8" tackle from Division II Hillsdale College had plenty of concerns as a rookie, but midway through the season he had earned the starting position.
Last season, his first as a full-time starter, was a breakout year for Veldheer, as he notched a number of signature performances including a stifling of all-pro Jared Allen in Week 11.
Opposite of Veldheer is another returner from 2011, Khalif Barnes. Unfortunately, however, Barnes isn't quite as much of a sure thing.
In 2011, Barnes led the offensive line in penalties committed and struggled at times while making the switch from the left side to the right side.
In what might be the most interesting competition along the line this season, Barnes will be trying to fend off rookie Joe Barksdale from LSU. With an impressive camp thus far, Barksdale is waiting in the wings to capitalize on any misstep from the veteran Barnes.
OGs on roster: Cooper Carlisle, Tony Bergstrom, Mike Brisiel, Lucas Nix
Projected starters: Cooper Carlisle, Mike Brisiel
Offseason additions: Mike Brisiel, Tony Bergstrom, Lucas Nix
Roster cuts: (none)
With the Raiders since 2007, Cooper Carlisle was released by the Raiders this offseason only to be re-signed just five days later. Since 2007, Carlisle has missed just one start at right guard for the Raiders.
Opposite of Carlisle on the starting offensive line is a new face, Mike Brisiel, who signed with the Raiders as a free agent after starting 13 games for the Houston Texans last season. Part of the appeal of Brisiel is that he is very familiar with new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack, who he played beneath in Houston.
While this position probably won't net the team any Pro Bowlers, these two guys should provide some stability along the line and do a quality job protecting the quarterback.
One guy to watch this year in camp is Tony Bergstrom, who was the team's third-round pick this season and just signed four days ago. While seemingly blocked from becoming a starter this season, Bergstrom should provide excellent depth and could get some meaningful snaps as the season goes on.
Cs on roster: Stefen Wisniewski, Alex Parsons
Projected starters: Stefen Wisniewski
Offseason additions: Colin Miller, Nick Howell
Roster cuts: Colin Miller, Nick Howell
Few rookies make the type of impact that Stefen Wisniewski did last season as a second-round pick from Penn State, but after starting every game in 2011, the Raiders are hoping more big things are in store this year.
One big transition will be Wisniewski's move back to center (the position he played in college), after he started at left guard last season. While battling through injuries at the moment, Wisniewski is expected to be ready to go come Week 1.
Behind Wisniewski is a battle of undrafted free agents and one in which Alex Parsons seems to have the inside track on. Parsons has been a member of the practice squad in the past and was filling in for Wisniewski while he was injured in minicamp.
With the departure of Samson Satele this offseason, many thought this position might be a major question mark heading into the season—however, by moving Wisniewski over, the team has built a pretty solid offensive line.
DEs on roster: Lamarr Houston, Dave Tollefson, Jack Crawford, Matt Shaughnessy, Carl Ihenacho
Projected starters: Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy
Offseason additions: Dave Tollefson, Jack Crawford, Carl Ihenacho, Hall Davis, Wayne Dorsey
Roster cuts: Mason Brodine, Wayne Dorsey, Hall Davis
As in years past, the defensive line will once again be the strength of the Oakland defense.
Starting on either side of the line are Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy, two guys who have shown the ability to be special...but only rarely. If the new coaching staff can get these two guys to play to their potential on a regular basis, things could get scary.
Behind Houston and Shaughnessy is newly acquired Dave Tollefson, a member of both New York Giants Super Bowl teams. While stuck behind Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora in New York, Tollefson should get plenty of snaps to prove himself in Oakland. He recorded five sacks last season.
Competing for the final spot or two in this rotation are Jack Crawford and Mason Brodine. Crawford was the Raiders' fifth-round pick out of Penn State this year, giving him a slight edge on the competition heading into camp.
Brodine, however, was a practice squad player for the Raiders last season who showed enough in practice to eventually make his way onto the roster and into two games.
Last year the Raiders held onto five defensive ends—with the versatility that Houston and Shaughnessy offer, I think both Crawford and Brodine will make the final roster.
DTs on roster: Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant, Travis Ivey, Chriso Bilukidi, Jamie Cumbie
Projected starters: Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly
Offseason additions: Travis Ivey, Chriso Bilukidi, Jamie Cumbie, Dominique Hamilton
Roster cuts: Travis Ivey, Dominique Hamilton
While expensive to acquire, Richard Seymour certainly seems to have justified the trade the Raiders made for him in 2009 by anchoring one of the league's best defensive lines. Now 32, it will be interesting to see how much Seymour has left in the tank—but if new head coach Dennis Allen can maximize production from Seymour, the Raiders defense should continue to improve.
Alongside Seymour is another veteran, Tommy Kelly. As one of the most imposing and intimidating figures in the NFL (6'6", 325), Kelly is all sorts of mean and has developed into a quality run-stopper.
Just behind Kelly and Seymour is Desmond Bryant, the Harvard grad entering his fourth season with the Raiders. While he has been unable to secure a starting spot in Oakland, Bryant provides excellent depth and stability, having missed just one game in the last three seasons.
With five defensive ends projected to be on the roster, the Raiders probably wouldn't hold more than four defensive tackles, meaning Travis Ivey could grab the fourth and final spot. Ivey is in his second year in the league, having played for the Cleveland Browns in 2010.
OLBs on roster: Aaron Curry (PUP), Miles Burris, Mario Kurn, Phillip Wheeler
Projected starters: Aaron Curry, Phillip Wheeler
Offseason additions: Miles Burris, Mario Kurn, Phillip Wheeler, Nathan Stupar, Kaelin Burnett
Roster cuts: Nathan Stupar, Kaelin Burnett
In what might be the team's weakest position defensively, the Raiders are hoping for some major improvement this season.
Highlighting the group is Aaron Curry, the once highly touted linebacker who was traded to Oakland from Seattle for a late-round pick last year but still struggled to produce consistently. This year, with a full offseason as a Raider behind him, the Raiders are relying on Curry to mature into the player many scouts thought he would be out of college.
On the other side of the formation is Phillip Wheeler, the fourth year man from Georgia Tech who spent the last three seasons in Indianapolis. While replacing Kamerion Wimbley won't be easy for Wheeler, he proved during his time in Indy that he's capable of producing at the NFL level, notching 80 tackles last season.
Behind Curry and Wheeler sit a pair of rookies who could make big impacts this season if they're up for the challenge.
Miles Burris was Oakland's fourth-round draft pick this year out of San Diego State and was lauded by many draft experts as a great value that late in the draft. In the seventh round, the Raiders drafted yet another outside linebacker, Nathan Stupar, out of Penn State.
MLBs on roster: Rolando McClain, Travis Goethel
Projected starters: Rolando McClain
Offseason additions: Chad Kilgore
Roster cuts: Chad Kilgore
While still hoping for Rolando McClain to turn into an all-pro-caliber player, the Oakland Raiders are most concerned about McClain's off-the-field legal troubles at the moment. The NFL has still yet to take action on McClain's case regarding the incident in which he fired a handgun next to a man's face.
In the scenario in which McClain is forced to miss some games, the Raiders will rely on backup Travis Goethel, the third-year man out of Arizona State. While Goethel did play in eight games last season, he registered just nine tackles.
With a defensive-minded coach coming to Oakland for the first time in years, middle linebacker might be the one position Raiders fans hope Dennis Allen has the biggest impact on. If McClain can develop into an elite middle linebacker, he'll serve to shore up the defense immensely and will take some pressure off of the secondary.
Chad Kilgore is currently listed in our "last five out" section simply because of a lack of roster space. That said, there's a decent chance he does make the roster should McClain be suspended at some point.
CBs on roster: Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Chimdi Chekwa, Pat Lee, Bryan McCann, Coye Francies
Projected starters: Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer
Offseason additions: Ronald Bartell, Shawntae Spencer, Pat Lee, Brandon Underwood, Chaz Powell, Terrail Lambert, Conroy Black, Coye Francies
Roster cuts: Chaz Powell, Terrail Lambert, Conroy Black, Brandon Underwood
No position was more devastated by injuries last season than cornerback. Likewise, no position was ravaged by free agency as much either.
With both starters from last season gone (Chris Johnson, Stanford Routt), the Raiders went to the bargain bin looking for help and actually did surprisingly well.
From the Rams, the Raiders poached Ronald Bartell, an underrated cover corner in his eighth year in the league. The downside to Bartell is that he missed all but one game last season with an injury—however, in the previous five seasons he missed just two games combined.
Opposite Bartell will be Shawntae Spencer, the former 49er who lost his starting job last season after getting injured during the preseason. Like Bartell, Spencer has plenty of good years in front of him, and with doubters all around them, both guys have something to prove.
While depth was a major issue in this unit last season, second-year players Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa should solve that problem this year if they can remain healthy.
Van Dyke has been one of the stars of training camp thus far, combing his well-known speed with the new-found ability to stay with his man.
Chekwa, on the other hand, was impressive as a rookie last season before getting injured after just four games. If he and Van Dyke can be pleasant surprises this season, then this unit could go from a major question mark to a major bright spot.
Safeties on roster: Michael Huff, Matt Giordano, Tyvon Branch, Mike Mitchell
Projected starters: Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff
Offseason additions: Curtis Taylor, Aaron Henry
Roster cuts: Aaron Henry, Curtis Taylor
As one of the few units expected to remain the same as a year ago, the safety position will be an interesting one to watch under new head coach Dennis Allen.
To begin with, the unit is loaded with two high draft picks who have grossly under-performed in Michael Huff and Mike Mitchell. For Huff, progress has been present, just slow, while Mitchell has been nearly cut on numerous occasions.
On the bright side, the group is highlighted by newly re-signed Tyvon Branch, who has emerged into one of the most underrated players in the league. While it's never ideal to have a safety making a ton of tackles, Branch has averaged over 112 tackles a year for the past three seasons.
While Huff is still penciled in as the starter this season, backup Matt Giordano made some big plays for Oakland last season and could challenge Huff throughout the year for regular playing time. If this unit can live up to once high expectations, the silver and black will be in great shape.
Ks and Ps on roster: Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler
Projected starters: Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler
Offseason additions: Eddy Carmona, Marquette King
Roster cuts: Eddy Carmona, Marquette King
For the 13th straight season, the Oakland Raiders will pencil in Janikowski and Lechler as their special teams guys, and there isn't a team in the league much happier than Oakland.
Coming off arguably his best and most consistent season yet, Janikowski is tied for the record for longest field goal and remains a threat to break the record at any moment. In 2011, Janikowski scored the second most points in a season in his career despite missing one game due to injury.
On the punting side, the Raiders boast the greatest who ever lived. Already possessing the league record for average punt, Lechler continues to improve, notching an average over 50 yards for just the second time in his career last season.
Unfortunately for Carmona and King, all they can do is hope for an injury.
Returners on roster: Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, Bryan McCann
Projected starters: Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore
Offseason additions: (none)
Roster cuts: (none)
With a number of dynamic speedsters to choose from, the position of returner might be one of the most competitive this summer.
In the absence of Ford and Moore at various points last season, McCann took a number of kicks for the Raiders, but was met with limited success. With both receivers back and healthy to begin the season, I think McCann could be on the outside looking in come Week 1.
As a rookie, Ford established himself as one of the best return men in the league, returning three kicks all the way for touchdowns. While injured most of 2011, Ford added his fourth career return touchdown.