As the '53 Silver and Black Warriors set foot on to the field this year, Raider fans across the globe will have high hopes for their beloved team.
But whether you love or hate them, you cannot forget one simple fact—the Raiders are built for the future.
Of course, we look at the potential this year: we expect this to be Jamarcus Russell's "make or break" season.
We expect great things out of our draft picks, despite what ESPN thinks. We expect our running game to burst into a top-5 rushing attack.
We expect John Marshall to stop the run, sans Rob Ryan's vanilla defensive schemes.
We expect our team to become comfortable with returning head coach Tom Cable.
We expect to win.
Al Davis has always gone by the "reload, not rebuild" philosophy; however, it seems the past three seasons, we have entered the mythical rebuilding stage other teams are famous for.
As Raider fans, we expect to win every season. Year after year, we get out hopes up, we see the potential, and we always find an answer to this offseason's questions, but then we're disappointed by our team during the season.
This year is no different. Going into training camp, we see the positives, envision stealing away the division, and making an unexpected playoff berth.
Chances are that's not going to happen.
Don't get me wrong—I'm not dooming the franchise. The Raiders are going to significantly improve this year, develop into a more stable team, and prove many haters that this isn't just the seventh year of mediocrity.
But I challenge you, Raiders fans and Raider haters alike to look at this team's future.
Raider fans are clamoring about the 'Cable Man', and how he will finally bring stability to the Raiders franchise at the head coach position. If coming back after one season is going to bring familiarity of the system to the team, then future years will be golden.
Tom Cable is what should be classified as a "Yes-man with a twist".
He drafted Al Davis' prototype players. He has regular meetings with the boss.
Yet, every move he's made feels like a change from the expected. Every pick has been by Al Davis' standards, yet Cable gets players with good character, who are also hard-working men who take their craft seriously.
Cable has changed the feel of the locker room, and with any improvement at all this year, we will see a significant jump at the start of the next decade.
Entering his second full season, there are a lot of questions surrounding JaMarcus Russell.
Some are unsure if he will even keep his starting job. I assure you, though—he will play, and he will progress.
During his first year at LSU, Russell completed only 50.7 percent of his passes. In his sophomore campaign, he showed improvement and bumped his percentage up to 60.5 percent, an increase of nearly 10 percent. Finally, entering his third year at LSU was when he turned the corner, completing 67.8 percent of his passes en route to a 7:2 TD:INT ratio.
Russell is expected to turn the corner this year, but I see this as his sophomore year at LSU. Much improved, but the next season is where he will show he is the real deal.
Even with the questions surrounding Russell, the Raiders don't even need him to be anything more than a game manager. With RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush shaping up to become the future of the Raiders running game, Russell has next to nothing to worry about.
Even though they were injured and running behind a mediocre offensive line, the Raiders' tailbacks finished the season tenth overall in rushing. As these backs develop alongside a relatively young (and improved) offensive line, the Raiders have something to smile about in their future.
Finally—the wide receivers.
The Raiders biggest question mark this past season was the play of their wideouts. Chaz Schillens has been placed with high expectations for this season, but what we fail to see is that wide receivers usually come into their own during their third season. Chaz is entering his second, and while I feel he will have a solid year, next season and beyond is where he will truly shine.
Furthermore, we have the rookie wideouts drafted this season, whom have done nothing but impress, and a Pro-Bowl WR/PR in Johnnie Lee Higgins.
Despite the Raiders down seasons, they have kept up one of the better defenses in the league. The Raiders only have one problem: they can't stop the run.
Now, with the addition of John Marshall and his blitz-happy schemes, the Raiders should improve in their run stopping abilities.
But don't look for their woes to completely go away—next season, look for them to draft defensive players, now that the offensive side of the ball is slowly shoring up.
On the bright side however, why don't we take a look at what the Raiders already have.
With the addition of DE Greg Ellis form the Cowboys, the Raiders make run deficient DE Derrick Burgess a little more expendable.
Add in the league leading rookie in sacks Trevor Scott, along with numerous d-line draft picks, and the Raiders' d-line is the best it has been in a while.
The Raiders linebacking corps is no joke, either. If they can manage to retain Oakland native Kirk Morrison, the Raiders will have a solid combination of LBs that can only benefit from John Marshall's scheme.
And we already know the Raiders can defend the pass. Pro Bowl CB Nnamdi Asomugha shuts down half the field. He even held league—leading WR Andre Johnson to two receptions for 19 yards,by far his season low. Oh wait I'm sorry, both those passes were thrown towards CB Chris Johnson.
Add in late—budding CB Chris Johnson, and the Raiders have arguably the best CB tandem in the league that is locked up for at least the next three years.
The Raiders have an up—and—coming team with a lot of potential.
But hold off your excitement, Raiders fans, the best is yet to come.