Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit that the Oakland Raiders are long overdue to get back on top. Historically one of the best franchises ever in any sport or league, we all want to see Al Davis' team make one more run before he passes on.
I have never seen a team more loved by its fans and hated by every other team's fans, no matter how down and out they may be.
People despise them to this day despite the fact that they have been stinking up the league for six straight seasons.
With that being said, it is my honest opinion that this is the year they turn that corner and get back to being the Raiders we remember from all those years ago.
This team may be the closest thing to the '70s-style gritty, dirty, nasty, physical, and just plain mean Raiders we may ever see again.
Great coaches are in place. Six years of "early-in-round" picks have this team booming with talent, and head coach Tom Cable has them believing in what he is preaching.
What is he preaching?
Don't worry about tomorrow, and forget about yesterday: "just win today."
It's sheer brilliance if I've ever heard it, and it's a recipe for success.
I'm going to give you a few reasons that the Raiders could turn some heads in the NFL this year and maybe make a run at the division.
This is certainly an overlooked aspect of the Raiders team, aside from Nnamdi Asomugha, who has gotten all the attention in the world this offseason after a long-deserved and earned Pro Bowl nod last season.
Kirk Morrison and the gang will be ready to fly in September in John Marshall's new scheme, which will allow for some blitzes and zone coverages for the first time in a while.
Half the defense's battle is being in the right place at the right time. Marshall was very successful doing this with the Seahawks for several seasons, and you can bet he's hungry to impress after their last season.
Morrison, Thomas Howard, Asomugha, Tommy Kelly, Derrick Burgess, Greg Ellis, Trevor Scott, Chris Johnson, Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, and Michael Mitchell are just a few of the talents on this side that should definitely peak your interest.
The coaches have a history of putting these players in the right place at the right time. Here's a quick look:
Defensive Coordinator: John Marshall
Defensive Line: Dwaine Board
Defensive Backs/Squad Development: Former Raider great Willie Brown
Defensive Assistant: Randy Hanson
Defensive Quality Control: Bert Leone
Defensive LB coach: Mike Haluchak
Defensive Backs: Former Raiders great Lionel Washington
This may be the best set of tailbacks/fullbacks in the entire league. This is a squad you could put nine in the box against, and they would still run all over you.
The addition of LZ Neal will be a great asset to a young stable of backs, including fourth overall pick of 2008 Darren McFadden, former projected first round pick Michael Bush, and a guy who has won Oakland's commitment to excellence award for two straight years, Justin Fargas, aka Shake, Rattle, and Roll.
If used properly, these players could end up breaking a record for combined rushing yards in a season. I don't know what the record is, but I'd bet they come close behind a solid starting offensive line.
Expect them to accumulate at least 15 rushing TDs in the stat book as well—and that's a low estimate.
Tom Cable has been nothing short of impressive to all the Raiders staff, players, and fans this year.
From coaching the Senior Bowl, to assembling his staff, to getting his guys in the draft despite popular belief.
From calling out quarterback JaMarcus Russell to be a leader, to achieving his OTA and mini-camp goals, to truly believing that he is the best man for the job and proving it.
Now, he has former Raider greats like Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Jack Tatum, and the Snake coming into the facilities at Alameda and telling this young team what it takes to succeed, what it means to believe, and what you have to do to win in this league.
In addition to that, he's got these greats out on the practice field showing the players the ropes and also dipping their hands in the media, telling the fans to keep the faith and the press to back off.
This is a guy who believes in what he is doing, and that should never go unrecognized.
All I keep hearing this off season is Chaz Schilens and Johnnie Lee Higgins...Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens.
While Higgins has made a name for himself these past few seasons as one of the most dangerous punt returners in football, Schilens is far from a household name.
That is what is expected this year. The second-year man has impressive intangibles and is a major threat anytime the rock comes his way. He has sure hands and an amazing combination of size and speed.
JaMarcus Russell has the offensive line in front of him this year and the running game behind him to really develop these two guys into the wide receiver stars that they can surely be.
However, their jobs are not guaranteed this season with Louis Murphy proving this offseason that he is better than a 4th round pick, DHB waiting in the wings, and Javon Walker trying to return to his former elite status.
This is not the passing game of yesteryear. This is a new animal, and it could prove to be a major asset when teams start to stack the box against the stellar ground game.
One of the most under-appreciated and overlooked units in the game, it is absolutely essential to a team regardless of the attached stigma.
However, it is not under-appreciated in Oakland. The Raiders had one of the best units in the league at the start of last season. They proved it all year, and then they signed Justin Miller.
Now, it is the best, hands down. The re-signing of Shane Lechler, Miller, Isaiah Ekejiuba, and Sam Williams shows that Al Davis and his staff understand the squad's importance in a game, the difference between winning and losing.
JLH had an impressive showing last year, and Miller added to the excitement. Expect them to at least duplicate that experience.
Look for the coverage units to be excellent as well. The kicking game will be locked up for sure. Sebastian Janikowski could break some records this year, as in longest field goal ever. He and Lechler are on top of their games and in the prime years of their careers.
This unit will impress once again.
To be continued.