For the first time since Rich Gannon, the Raiders actually have the personnel to have an identity. For as much as their drafts have been scrutinized, they have put together a team to look forward to.
To win in the NFL, teams must have a niche. For example, the Patriots throw when everyone knows they're throwing. The Steelers run when everyone knows they're running. The Ravens protect the football and play for field position. That's generally all their defense needs.
The Raiders have made a commitment to smash-mouth football. They have one of the best backfields in the game. Fargas, Bush, and McFadden are all very different and can be used in a variety of roles, but look for them to all do what they do best—pound the ball between the tackles.
Their offensive line is an underrated run-blocking unit and actually made huge strides in protecting JaMarcus Russell.
Teams will spend their week preparing to stop the Oakland running game. I believe the Raiders will run on running downs and run on passing downs. My guess is that Darrius Heyward-Bey will not run every route in the playbook.
His role is to stretch the field at this point in his career, but he certainly has the size and skills to develop into an underneath threat as well. Remember, Tom Cable loves to use play action and role out JaMarcus Russell. Heyward-Bey will have plenty of opportunities to turn on the jets.
What the Raiders lack at the other wide receiver spots they gain in Zach Miller at tight end. But remember, these guys are all lining up against Nnamdi Asomugha every day in practice. They will not see another corner outside of Denver who should be mentioned in the same breath as Nnamdi.
A lot has been made of the pressure on JaMarcus Russell this season and I agree there is going to be times he has to convert first downs on his own. But it will be the Raider defense that needs to make its mark this season.
I'm not sure they have their identity right now.
They have speed and talent all over the field, but are very young in the secondary and their D-line has underachieved—particularly against the run. It's time for guys like Tommy Kelly, Terdell Sands, and Gerard Warren to make their mark. Make the commitment to stop the run and I believe Raiders secondary will be up to the task.
I hope to see a new attitude on defense with John Marshall at coordinator. If he can bring this unit together the Raiders can accomplish big things.