Does a lack of talent make for a bad football team? No, but few would argue talent is a prerequisite for success, though each person has a different idea about the components.
It is not just the raw physical ability. Talent is more complex, like a Molotov cocktail of unknown and sometimes unseen qualities.
So talent is something else, but what? How would a personnel man go about evaluating his team if talent isn’t something clear? If you watched even ten minutes of the NFL draft, you heard an analyst say Al Davis loves speed. Most die-hard Raider fans would probably rather choke on an arrowhead than to hear another expert analyst spew the obvious.
Of course Davis loves speed; it is a prerequisite the iconic owner has identified as a must have. Do these analysts think that speed is the only quality Davis cares about? That is absurd.
OK, so maybe Davis is caught up with physical abilities more than others, but you might be able to argue some General Managers are a little too caught up with intangibles.
Davis’ belief is that it is up to the coaches to make the players he drafts play well. Instead, egotistical coaches have been more often concerned with fighting Davis for power. If this offseason is any indicator, Tom Cable may seek to change all that.
After all, the difference is not how good a team does at identifying the players in the draft, but how good the team does at putting the players that do pan out into a position to succeed.
A relatively easy argument: Davis has drafted better than Bill Belichick over the past five years. Obviously better drafting hasn’t translated to more wins. The difference seems to be signing impact free agents and putting players in a position to thrive.
The Raiders recent track record reads like an obituary. Impact free agents have been few and far between and players have been put in precisely the wrong position to succeed.
The key to success will be to ensure the Raiders don’t continue to make the mistakes they have in the past several seasons.
There are a few simple roster changes the Raiders can make to improve. Certain players will need to elevate their level of play because there are also areas of the roster where weaknesses exist that cannot be corrected.
Captain Kirk Morrison is a good example. For the past several years he has proven to be an adequately unspectacular middle linebacker. He doesn’t shed blockers very well and he doesn’t appear to have the kind of Ray Lewis leadership qualities the leader of your defense should possess.
It isn’t that Morrison is bad, but that his skills would be better suited at outside linebacker and the Raiders should have found a true middle linebacker to put Morrison in the position to thrive. The strong side linebacker continues to be a problem and without a surprise players showing up in Alameda in the next few weeks, don’t hold your breath on any change whatsoever.
Opposing offenses are going to make the fan favorite prove he can shed blockers and make a play. Expect teams to run the ball down the gut with increasing frequency unless Morrison elevates his game.
The defensive line could certainly elevate their game to help him out, but don’t read too much into Derrick Burgess boosting his sack total this season. He is in a contract year. While Burgess has a reputation as one of the better defensive ends in the league, he is probably the most overrated player on the Raiders defense.
Not only have his sack numbers dwindled the last few years, but Burgess insists on lining up at left defensive end opposing the right tackle. This enables Burgess to use his speed to beat the less mobile lineman.
The Raiders should have insisted Burgess play the more demanding right end position long ago. This change is now impossible to make without upsetting the veteran. Unless Jay Richardson or a rookie steps up, the right defensive end will continue to be neutralized by the opposition’s left tackle.
The blindside is so pivotal to any team’s passing success and the Raiders addressed it this past offseason, but so far have failed to bring in a veteran wide receiver with sure hands.
Marvin Harrison, Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress come to mind as possible candidates. There isn’t such a thing as a receiver coming in to be a mentor, but there is such a thing as making sure the team has a couple receivers who can get the job done.
Javon Walker isn’t healthy and might not make the roster and the rest of the unit remains relatively untested. Free agent acquisition Sammie Parker isn’t exactly the type of veteran that can step in and produce if a young player struggles.
The Raiders saving grace might just have to be the running game. Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush are fighting for carries in the crowded Raiders backfield.
Fargas still runs hard, but injuries are beginning to catch up to him. He just isn’t the work horse he was just a couple seasons ago.
There is of course the speedy McFadden and the bruiser Bush. With so much depth, you wouldn’t expect this to be one of the positions where the Raiders could really use a change, but it is.
Conventional wisdom says McFadden should be the starter because of the large contract he signed last season. The football decision would be to start Michael Bush. We know about Fargas’ work ethic and McFadden’s speed, but Bush has youth on his side and is built to be a starting running back.
At this point Bush is just better than Fargas at getting the tough yards and McFadden will continue to be utilized as the change of pace back and as a receiver in the slot.
This is a simple change that could pay huge dividends for the Raiders rushing attack. The Raiders running back situation has remained fluid this offseason with each player receiving an even number of reps during last weekend’s mini-camp.
Improving on the Raiders 5-11 record should come easy, but improving drastically will depend on key players elevating their play and the front office pulling some strings between now and Sept. 14.