This will be the season to see if nearly 80-year-old Al Davis still has what it takes to get in the ring. And if you know anything about Al, it’s that the man won't give up.
The Raiders fell again in the ESPN Power Rankings May 2009 edition, nearly hitting bottom at No. 30. The team went 5-for-11 last year and Davis’ glory days seem to be a distant memory. Fans became even more frustrated at this year’s NFL Draft, when Davis chose wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey over the more glorified players, Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin.
But that’s Al’s M.O. Despite changes to how the game is played, Al sticks to old-school strategy; something that could make or break the Raiders 2009 season.
Football changed years ago when defenses began trickling back from the scrimmage line to protect against deep passes. You still see a successful long-ball but it is much more difficult to pull off. Heyward-Bey ran a 4.30 at the combine. He’s exactly the type of player Al likes to commission: someone who can go long and put points on the board with the sort of finesse you saw in players like Tim Brown in the 90's.
But, if the Raiders are going to make a successful season out of 2009, Heyward-Bey will have to do something most rookies can’t: change the way the sport is played.
The Raiders also named Tom Cable, former Raiders offensive line coach, head coach in February. The decision is another no-brainer if you know the inner workings of the Raiders. The organization is nearly incestuous in its loyalty to one another. John Madden still talks about the old days with Al, how Al would be his first phone call if things went sour. Promoting from within the organization will yield smooth tranistions and a more tight-knit club.
So where does that leave us? A demoralized team being dragged along by an old-timer’s memories of glory? A team about to win back their fans with a rocket-fast kid from Maryland?
My estimation is that the Raiders will show significant progress but fall short of making it to the playoffs. New QB Jeff Garcia will need to show strength in an arm that has failed him in the past in order to make best use of Heyward-Bey’s abilities. And Cable will need to step up his game to set up a workable formation with the table Al has set for him.
But, in the miraculous case in which these two things play out perfectly, the Raiders have a chance to, at the very least, appease the woes of their devoted fans.