Going into the 2007 NFL draft, JaMarcus Russell was faced with the prospect of going No. 1 overall to the Oakland Raiders.
These Raiders gave up an appalling 72 sacks and finished last or close to the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category. That could hardly have been something to look forward to for Russell.
But change was already well underway in Alameda; new head coach Lane Kiffin and his staff were rebuilding the team to give Russell the tools he would need to lead his new team to greatness.
The 2007 season proved a trying one for the Raiders and JaMarcus Russell in particular. Russell had very little playing time until the end of the season, where he played for a set amount of time in two games.
Russell started the finale against the division rival Chargers, gaining valuable playing time. Despite the win-loss record, the Raiders established many things in 2007 that should play an important role next year in Russell's development.
The first is the running game. No team can be successful if they can't run the ball. Offensive line coach Tom Cable's zone-blocking system is a relatively cheap and highly effective way of run blocking, virtually ensuring that R will have a strong running game to rely on next season.
The wild-card here is Michael Bush. Justin Fargas had a breakout season last year, breaking 1,000 yards for the first time in his career while starting nine games. Fargas' performance postponed rookie Michael Bush's debut.
However, the former Louisville standout, who was projected to be a first-round pick before his leg injury in 2007, is ready to make his debut for the Silver and Black in 2008.
His hard, bruising running style, deceptive speed, and pass catching abilities will make him a valuable weapon in Russell's growth. With the speedy Fargas potentially splitting carries with the powerful Bush and Dominic Rhodes also on the roster, the Raiders.
The second factor is continuity in the coaching staff and personnel. Although the offseason has been rocky to say the least for Lane Kiffin, he appears ready to return to the Raiders' sidelines in 2008.
The same holds true for the rest of the staff Kiffin assembled in 2007. This could be the biggest factor in aiding Russell's development The same offensive system and the same coaches go a long way in the growth of a young quarterback.
For evidence, look no further than San Francisco across the bay. Alex Smith, 2005's No. 1 pick, looked as most rookies are expected to look in 2005.
He made huge strides in 2006 under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and regressed badly in 2007 under a different coordinator. A quarterback trusting his coach and vice-versa usually spells success (Madden-Stabler; Dungy-Manning, anyone?).
Lastly, let's look at tight end Zach Miller. The team's second round pick in 2007 proved to be invaluable towards the end of the season as both a blocker and receiver.
Miller was on the receiving end of JaMarcus Russell's first NFL touchdown pass in Jacksonville, and he was Russell's favorite target against San Diego, catching eight of Russell's passes.
In the San Diego finale, it seemed Russell could always count on Miller to be open when the play fell apart.
If this continues in 2008, and there's no reason to think it won't, the Raiders may have a makings a of a very formidable offense. Now, for the first time in many years, the Raiders have another of their trademark receiving threats at tight end.
Raiders owner Al Davis is notorious for being relentless in his pursuit of a player he covets, and Chad Johnson's name has been linked to trade rumors with the Raiders.
If this is true, expect Al to push for Ocho Cinco on draft day, and if he manages to land the malcontent but highly talented wide receiver, the Raiders' offense, led by Russell, will terrorize opposing defenses once again.
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