Judging the Oakland Raiders So Far: Better or Worse?
The dawning of a new era...in which lion and hyena...oh sorry. Too many Disney movies.
Sometimes the Raiders resemble a movie script, and it's not always a good one.
The catchphrase: "The dawning of a new era in which the Raiders team returns to significance, to say nothing of potential dominance." The question: Should we believe it this time?
Given the offseason changes in the AFC West and the Chargers' ongoing ability to blow their opportunities, there is a very real possibility that this could be the year for the Raiders.
The preseason has a couple weeks left, and here's a rundown of what some of the ups and downs of camp look like, both on and off the field.
On the Field
Darrius Heyward-Bey has been "the" story of the draft: whether the Raiders reached for him, is he just speed, why not Michael Crabtree or Jeremy Maclin, and so on.
Despite the press, DHB has had a pretty good camp. His initial case of the dropsies (and hammies) has faded, and he's gradually coming up to the speed of the NFL game.
Hopefully the next couple of preseason games will give us a better chance to judge what he's learned.
He tore things up at the end of last season and doesn't appear to be slowing down. Even though the Raiders look like a running-back-by-committee team, within four weeks of this season they will have their lead runner.
The easy money is betting on Darren McFadden, but Bush could surprise some opponents, and even a few teammates! He's run well and strong thus far. He's my sleeper pick to have a significant impact on the Raiders' season.
Thus far, Michael Huff appears to be a changed man. After Tom Cable's benching of him midseason last year and the write-off of that season, Huff was facing his last chance.
He appears to have been "hitting the books," and the pick against Dallas showed a side of him we've rarely seen. If he shows this much improvement during the season, he could be the most improved player for the year.
Chase was clearly in position to be the No. 1 receiver prior to his broken foot. He has a great rapport with JaMarcus Russell and will potentially start to draw defensive attention. Some stated that he was the reason we didn't take Crabtree, and it appears their faith may be rewarded.
The injury was definitely a setback for the 2009 Raider squad. His recovery from the injury will show us whether he's ready to join the array of Raiders receivers.
His absence may create an opportunity for the "other" rookie wideout, Louis Murphy, to sneak into the rotation.
Rumors of Javon Walker's demise appear to be greatly exaggerated. After a couple good years with a couple of teams, followed by last year's debacle, Walker remains a questionable commodity—great talent, but it's not always clear where his head is.
If this week's full speed practices are to be believed, he may be back.
As far as anyone knows, he's not deaf or blind, so he's probably aware of the criticism and may very well have a large chip on his shoulder this year. He could be the comeback player of the year—for not just the Raiders, but the league as well.
Off the Field
The Randy Hanson incident
So far we know there was a police report, and that Hanson was injured. We don't officially know how or what transpired.
What we do know is that Hanson ticked off Lane Kiffin enough to get suspended, and that the subsequent year, he ticked off another head coach. I'm not blaming Hanson necessarily, but where there's smoke, there's typically fire.
How the Raiders respond to the incident and, more importantly, how the police handle the incident will have an impact on the Raiders. Any kind of a charge or issue for Cable will be a significant distraction.
Despite years of having distractions, the Raiders have not actually become any more adept at handling them.
They used to be a team with a rock-solid focus on what was important, and nothing distracted them. They are trying to return to being that team—this season will prove whether they've made any actual progress.
Calling the team an off-the-field item may seem like an oxymoron, but how the team functions off the field will be key.
It doesn't mean a return to the Jon Gruden golf outings and BBQs, but it will be important for the team to be unified as they face any adversity. Distractions, as well as losses, have proven fatal in past years to the Raiders.
With the above player highlights, as well as the potential distractions, this year will be a proving ground for the Oakland Raiders.
Are they the team of the past six years, non-competitive and divided? Or will they actually become a team—unified and competitive?
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