Burning Questions for the Oakland Raiders' 2013 Season

Dan Wilkins@@DanWilkinsNFLCorrespondent IIAugust 30, 2013

Burning Questions for the Oakland Raiders' 2013 Season

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    With training camp and the preseason now concluded, the Oakland Raiders are set to get underway what will be a very important year in their rebuilding process. 

    While plenty of additions were made on both sides of the ball, as well as on the coaching staff, it is entirely possible that this Raiders team could be in for a second straight difficult season.

    If they are going to surprise people around the league, as they will no doubt look to do, there are a number of questions that need to be answered in the process.

    Here are the 10 burning questions for the Oakland Raiders’ 2013 season.

Who Will Start at Quarterback?

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    After Matt Flynn struggled at times in the first three games of the preseason, Terrelle Pryor got the start on Thursday night against the Seahawks

    Although he did not have the greatest of performances, it remains clear just how significant of an impact his athletic ability can have on the game.

    With Pryor at quarterback, there is always the potential for a broken play to be kept alive, and that will be extremely important with the problems the team may be facing on the offensive line. 

    Despite the fact that Flynn is still the more polished passer at this point, Pryor’s overall playmaking ability makes him the better option for the Raiders in 2013.

Can the Offensive Line Hold Up?

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    The offensive line could represent the biggest question mark for the Raiders’ 2013 season altogether.

    If they can play well in the gap-blocking scheme, Darren McFadden should have plenty of success on the ground, opening up the pass as well.

    If not, as we saw for all too much of the preseason, this offense will struggle throughout the course of the year.

    Menelik Watson played well in his start at left tackle in Thursday’s game against the Seahawks, and he could provide a huge boost at the spot with Jared Veldheer to miss at least the first half of the season. 

    Either way, this offensive line will have to come together fast or the Raiders could be in for another very long season.

Can the Young Receivers Produce?

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    Throughout the preseason, the Raiders have been looking for one of their young wideouts to step up as a No. 1 target.

    That has yet to happen, instead leaving the door open for contributions from a number of players.

    Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are still the expected starters, and Jacoby Ford should see plenty of snaps in the slot.

    Flashes of impressive playmaking ability last season will give Juron Criner his opportunity, and Brice Butler’s preseason production this year will put him in the mix as well.

    While there are no set roles for this group at this point, that may turn out to be a good thing. With a number of young talents, the Raiders can go with the hot hand and rotate their receivers accordingly.

Will Offensive Scheme Make the Difference?

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    After the Raiders’ offensive struggles in 2012, much has been made of their switch to a more fitting offensive scheme. 

    The hope is that offensive coordinator Greg Olson can make use of what are some talented players, designing his system to best suit their skills.

    While the changes will include a gap-blocking scheme to better suit Darren McFadden’s running style, and some read-option plays with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, it will come down to the offensive line’s performance.

    Regardless of scheme, the backs and quarterbacks will not be able to get anything going if they are constantly getting hit behind the line of scrimmage. 

    On paper, the offensive scheme change should make a huge difference, but that needs to translate to the field as well.

Can the Defense Continue Improvement?

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    Toward the end of the 2012 season, the Raiders’ defense saw quite a bit of progress. In a way, it seemed as though Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver’s defensive scheme was finally coming together over the last four games. 

    Of course, this year’s defensive personnel is very different, but the talent has improved with a number of additions through both the draft and free agency. 

    Depth will be an issue, and especially so on the defensive line, but if this unit can remain healthy, odds are that we see them build on the improvement shown toward the end of last season.

    With the struggles that the offense could be in for early on, that continued improvement from the defense will become all the more important.

Where Will the Pass Rush Come From?

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    For the Raiders to have success on defense in 2013, they will need to find a pass rush.

    Doing so with a base four-man rush may still be difficult, but upgrades made in the secondary will allow for more exotic blitz packages.

    In addition, third-round rookie Sio Moore should be used extensively as a nickel pass-rusher, allowing for Lamarr Houston to see snaps inside in such situations as well.

    Whichever way the Raiders do it, some kind of pass rush has to be generated. If opposing quarterbacks have too much time in the pocket, they will pick apart the defense with relative ease.

How Much Will the Secondary Improve?

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    The Raiders made some significant upgrades in the secondary this past offseason, adding the likes of Charles Woodson, D.J. Hayden, Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and Usama Young. 

    Looking to improve upon what was the weakest part of the team in 2012, these additions have the potential to pay off in a big way.

    Each of these players has something to prove, and doing so together as a unit could make for quite the story throughout this season.

    Having said that, like anything else, improvements on paper don’t always translate to the same thing on the field. For success, the secondary will need help from the pass rush up front, just like the pass rush will need help from them.

What Can Bobby April Do for the Special Teams?

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    While the Raiders have long had a strong kicking game, the coverage and return units have had their fair share of problems in recent seasons.

    In hopes of addressing the issue this offseason, the Raiders hired one of the league’s most respected special teams coaches, Bobby April. 

    Whether or not adding April to the coaching staff has an instant and noticeable impact remains to be seen, and it likely cannot be evaluated until at least a few weeks into the regular season. 

    Either way, this is one of the more important areas for the Raiders to improve upon heading into this season, as special teams is and always will be a third of the game.

Does Ownership Lose Patience with Tough Season?

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    Being realistic, it is very possible that this year’s Raiders team finishes the season with a record as bad, or even worse than the 4-12 posted in 2012. 

    Should that prove to be the case, questions will undoubtedly rise about whether or not Dennis Allen, and even Reggie McKenzie, will be with the team much longer. 

    Given the Raiders’ complete organizational overhaul, both Allen and McKenzie should be given at least one more year regardless of how this upcoming season turns out. 

    That extra season would allow for a much more fair evaluation, as this regime would finally have some salary cap space to work with as well as a second full draft.

    Of course, another frustrating season in 2013 would make for a lot of debate, but it is important for the Raiders’ ownership to remain patient throughout.

Can Raiders Re-Sign Key Free Agents?

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    As they continue to rebuild this franchise, the significant amount of salary cap space to come next offseason is something the Raiders’ front office is undoubtedly looking forward to.

    While much of that flexibility will be used to bring in some free-agent talent from other teams, it is even more imperative for the Raiders to re-sign some of their own key players first. 

    Players heading into a contract year include Jared Veldheer, Lamarr Houston, Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford to name a few. 

    These players will be important pieces to the Raiders’ ongoing rebuild, and the team would be wise to start the contract negotiation process with all of them well before they become unrestricted free agents.