Are the Oakland Raiders Back?
It has been another interesting offseason for the Oakland Raiders. So far Tom Cable has removed the interim tag, Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lecher were both resigned to the highest paying contracts at their respective positions, and Al Davis has done things his way again by drafting a track team. The scary thing is, it might actually get results this year.
Tom Cable and his new staff seem experienced and confident in their abilities as well as their team's. They're going to need that if they want to build on what the team did last year.
When you consider that the Raiders had two different head coaches and three different offensive play callers with a very young team, a 5-11 record seems pretty good. It seems even better when you consider that they won their last two games, including a season ending win at Tampa Bay to knock the Buccaneers out of the playoffs.
Aside from instability in the coaching staff, the Raiders had a few more problems on the field last season. As the Raider Nation has come to expect over the past few years, the team could not stop the run again. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell struggled to consistently hit his targets.
The injury plagued receiving corp forced young receivers, Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schillens, into the starting lineup. It also didn't help that free agent acquisitions, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and offensive tackle Kwame Harris, played horribly and are now no longer with the team.
Last year was a disaster that made Raider fans sick. However, it's in the past and there is reason to look forward to this upcoming season.
Tom Cable was able to muster up a 4-8 record after taking over the team four games into the season and leading a coaching staff that was put together by his predecessor. He can only do better now that he has his own staff and an entire offseason to install his system.
The team resigned Asomugha and Lechler, retaining arguably the best cornerback and punter in the league. Free agency in Oakland was quiet but productive, signing offensive tackles Khalif Barnes and Erik Pears to create a competition on the offensive line.
They also signed veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia to push Russell and help him develop into the franchise quarterback the Raiders expect him to be.
Al Davis and company surprised many in the NFL Draft, selecting Maryland's speedy receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey, with the seventh overall pick as well as taking little known Ohio safety Mike Mitchell in the second round. In a classic Al Davis move, the team chose size, speed, and potential above all else.
With all of the moves made in the offseason, the they are looking much improved over the team of 2008. Expect this team to not only improve, but to compete for the AFC West title.
Asomugha and Chris Johnson paired up to make quite possibly the best corner duo in the league last year. They will lead a young and athletic unit under new defensive coordinator, John Marshall.
Expect all quarterbacks to have a bad day when they play the Raiders. The only glaring weakness on the defensive side of the ball is the run game but Marshall was brought in to fix that with a new scheme.
JaMarcus Russell is beginning his second full season at the helm of the offense. With the recently signed Lorenzo Neal lead blocking for the three-headed monster of Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas, expect the team to rely on a heavy rushing attack.
The passing game should be helped by a heated competition across the offensive line and the receiving corp, as well as guidance from experienced assistant coaches, Ted Tollner and Paul Hackett.
While the Raiders have improved, it seems the AFC West has gotten worse. Both the Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs will be switching to a 3-4 defensive scheme this year. Neither team has the personnel to pull this off quite yet so expect them both to struggle defensively.
The division can also thank new Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels for sending Jay Cutler to Chicago, rendering their offense a complete uncertainty going into this season.
That leaves only the San Diego Chargers, a once intimidating force on the field that played relatively weak last season. LaDanian Tomlinson showed the signs of wear and tear that slow down all running backs' careers.
That means Philip Rivers and his aging weapons have to pick up the slack, which is a lot when you consider what Tomlinson has been to that offense.
Unless the Charger defense and the returning Shawne Merriman can shut down the Raiders, don't be surprised to see Oakland sitting on top of the AFC West. Sadly enough, the division may be won with an 8-8 record for the second consecutive season...and the Oakland Raiders can do just that.
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