Through two preseason games the Raiders have been a mixed bag. The first game against Dallas highlighted the potential of the Silver and Black while the Battle of the Bay saw the team seemingly revert to past years’ form. Still, the preseason revealed some surprises, giving the Raider Nation alternating hope and pessimism.
Nothing has given the Raiders more hope than the emergence of Chaz Schilens as a number one wideout. Throughout training camp and in the game against Dallas, Schilens proved he can play the game.
Drafted in the seventh round in 2008, Schilens has quietly developed into a consistent pass catcher with a nose for yards after the catch. This was never more apparent than in the second quarter of the preseason game against Dallas in which Schilens made a sliding catch, quickly hopped up without being touched, and added another nine yards to the play.
Unfortunately, Schilens’ development was cut short when he broke his foot running a route in a non-contact drill on August 18th. He is predicted to be out at least eight weeks, preventing him from playing in the all-important opening games against the division. This is also bad news for JaMarcus Russell who, as a third-year quarterback, needs to improve and for whom Schilens was an increasingly reliable target.
Hopefully, Schilens will be back in his old form when he returns to the field. If he is, the Raiders passing game will be much more effective than it has been in recent years and will help open up the ground attack.
Javon Walker also is on the mend and claims he finally feels 100% again. He took a cut in salary to remain with the team and underwent a "revolutionary" new knee surgery that he says has returned him to elite form.
Reports from training camp indicate that Walker is indeed demonstrating the agility and speed he once had. If these abilities carry over into the regular season the Raiders could have a formidable vertical game.
Walker is the only true veteran wide receiver on the roster and his experience will help the development of all the wideouts on the team. He can be a leader on the field and has the chance to be the comeback player of the year after a truly forgettable 2008 season.
In the run game, the development of three reliable running backs continues the efforts of last season. Ranked 10th in the league in rushing last year, the Raiders look to improve with Darren McFadden healthy, Justin Fargas beastly, and Michael Bush emerging. Bush’s 177 yards and two touchdowns against the Bucs last season was a pleasant surprise and his performance elevated him in the coaching staff's eyes.
Watch for all three backs to improve this season, especially if the passing game continues to get better.
During the second preseason game against San Francisco, the Raider Nation witnessed the emergence of rookie tight end Brandon Myers. Already an accomplished blocker from Iowa, he developed into a receiving threat during training camp.
If his knack for finding the soft spots of the zone continues into the regular season expect to see more and more two tight end sets, allowing Russell to utilize both Meyers and breakout star Zach Miller. These sets would also allow for a better run game, given the two tight ends provide better blocking than the current wide receivers.
The Cable vs. Hanson title bout has been the draw of much criticism from the mainstream media. Rumors have been circling that Cable punched Hanson during a meeting, breaking his jaw. Although nothing is official, the Napa Police Department has opened up an investigation into the matter and even if there are no legal ramifications, the evidence gathered could be used by the NFL to punish Cable.
This is just another controversy in many years of controversy and fortunately is not a distraction for the players. Until something official occurs, the Raiders will ignore it even if the mainstream media continues to use it as a hot button issue.
Ricky Brown has also been a pleasant surprise during training camp and the two preseason games. An undrafted free agent out of Boston College in 2006, Brown played in the Raiders organization but missed most of the 2008 season with injuries.
However, during training camp, Brown continues to challenge Kirk Morrison for the middle linebacker position. With Morrison hurt, Brown should continue to improve. His ability to make plays on the ball, evidenced by his interception and 46-yard return against San Francisco, should bump him into a starting position at some point during the season.
He is playing better than Morrison in practice but it is highly doubtful the Raiders will bench Morrison. Most likely Brown will take over outside linebacker from Jon Alston, who has played rather forgettable football during training camp and the preseason.
The run defense, which seemed to be forming as a unit against the Cowboys, was completely hammered by the 'Niners to the tune of 275 yards. The only high point to this destruction is that San Francisco ran the same play to the right side nearly every time and other run plays were relatively ineffective. Hopefully they can improve upon their dreadful 159.7 YPG allowed in the 2008 season but it may be too early to tell. Preseason can only show so much.
The 2009 preseason has shown much to be excited about. With the regular season about to start, Raider Nation is chomping at the bit and I, for one, have great optimism about the fate of the Silver and Black.