Tom Cable was not yet embroiled in controversy, and Chaz Schilens still had two healthy dancing shoes. It was time for optimism in Raider Nation.
Things since then have deteriorated rapidly. Although there are still some positives to take from the preseason, things do not look as promising as they once had.
JaMarcus Russell's development seems to be coming along nicely. Although he is still taking a bit too long to go through his progressions and he's holding the ball too long (products of each other), his accuracy and command of the huddle have improved. His pocket presence, with the considerable help of Hackett and Tollner, will improve with experience.
There has been much talk about Russell's work ethic, but he has spent his entire offseason at the Raiders' facilities. I'm sure he's still not the film junkie we'd all like to see, but in his words and deeds he has shown growth, maturity, and leadership that were a major concern as recently as July.
Despite our poor effort against the Seahawks, Russell was the first one to congratulate or encourage his teammates from the sideline when they made a good play. There were times you also saw him take receivers like Jonathan Holland and Todd Watkins aside.
In the fourth preseason game, which is meaningless for most starters throughout the league, it is very encouraging to see your leader not only paying attention and caring about the game, but getting involved with his teammates and instilling confidence despite some poor play. Sure, we'd like to see him get heated and get in someone's grill, but he seems more the positive reinforcement type of leader. I've liked what I've seen from him this offseason.
An undrafted free agent out of Harvard, and a bit undersized as a defensive tackle, Bryant has shown that working hard, wanting it, and having football knowledge are sometimes more important than raw talent.
The kid has played his heart out, and shown a burst as a pass rusher that is a pleasant surprise. The only real worry I have with him is his size. We do not need another pass-rusher. We need someone who can hold at the point of attack and help against the run. It remains to be seen if Bryant is that guy.
Although he's been playing mostly against second and third team defenses, this guy just does not want to go down. I love his running style and his talent. I think we should keep him and cut Russell, even if Russell can play fullback. Our backfield is so loaded with McFadden, Bush, and Fargas that it's tough to call. But I'd hate to see him cut and picked up somewhere else. He's a talent that, given a chance, could do some good things. I don't want to see it done in another uniform like so many others of recent history.
More of the Same
Wasn't our problem on defense supposed to solely be Rob Ryan? Wasn't getting rid of him supposed to magically fix all of our problems? Oh wait. That's completely unrealistic.
And we're seeing the evidence.
We do not have a run stopper on this team at any position. Tommy Kelly would rather rush the QB all day long than hold his gaps, Gerard Warren has played fairly well but still lacks gap discipline, and our LBs and backfield can't tackle to save their lives.
I'm seriously doubting the coaching job that is going on regarding this side of the ball. I know that Marshall is an experienced D-Coordinator and has had success in the past. So maybe it's time for me, and everyone else including the organization itself, to admit that maybe Rob Ryan wasn't the problem. Maybe the problem is we're lacking talent on defense. We're certainly lacking depth. And, from the looks of our last three games, heart.
How do you get to the NFL and not know how to tackle properly? It baffles me that this is an issue every single season. No matter the players, no matter the coaches, we simply can't wrap up. It's our single biggest issue and needs to be addressed very soon, or else LT and Sproles, both elusive backs that are tough to bring down, are going to run wild in the opener.
We Lack Discipline
Still...even though it was a focus of training camp, to the point where we shut down contact for the first eight practices to focus on fundamentals and footwork. We should be on the same page. We should know our assignments. We should stick with our gaps and do our jobs.
But we don't. And I'm sick of it. Enough is enough.
While I like Cable's idea of team-first ideals, strong discipline, and accountability, where is it? The players are all talking a good game to the media, but they haven't brought any fire or passion to the field. They simply haven't cared enough, and it's shown. So obviously they aren't buying into Cable as much as they'd let on, or we'd see a crisp team out there who knows how to execute plays and wants to win the game.
Still not seeing it. And I'm sick of it. Enough is enough.
Although it's been downplayed by Cable, Al Davis, and the rest of the organization, if Cable did in fact break Hanson's jaw, and if he is in fact criminally charged, then this is a major issue.
We need coaching continuity for once. Cable is doing and saying all the right things despite the fact that the product on the field is looking eerily similar to the ones that have struggled the better part of this decade. I like Cable; he's personable and he's fairly honest.
But this is an unwanted distraction and a potential suspension that could seriously damage the growth of a young team with some talent. This needs to be resolved, and soon.
Chaz was the best player on the field in the Cowboys game, for either side. I will stand by that statement no matter what anyone else wants to say. He worked his tail off to add reliability to his considerable physical attributes, and was looking as if he was the answer to our No. 1 receiver prayers.
Russell was loving him, hitting him five times in the first half of that game alone. It was looking like a wonderful marriage that may have helped us succeed.
Then, he hurt himself, and may be out longer than originally expected. The metatarsal injury is a sticky wicket for an athlete that very much relies on their feet, and we can only hope that it gets better quickly.
I touched on this above but cannot overemphasize its importance. We have not had a good attitude, especially the last two games. Players have been hanging their heads, not even trying to wrap up when tackling, lallygagging to the end of the play, and the list goes on.
This is very disappointing from a fan perspective, because we know this team has talent. But if you don't care, then what good is talent anyway? The coaching staff is culpable for this. They are responsible for getting the team ready to play.
In the third preseason game, generally the best barometer for how a team is going to play during the regular season, we put forth our worst effort. It made me almost sick to my stomach to watch our guys during that game.
We need leadership, and we need it fast. Russell is growing on the field, and I know he's a laid back guy, which means if he got pissed off and called the team out for a lack of heart it would carry that much more weight. We have no vocal leaders; our most vocal players, guys like Warren and Javon Walker, don't have the clout in the locker room to pull this kind of stunt.
It can only come from the coaching staff, or Russell himself. It needs to be done soon, because I and the rest of the Nation cannot suffer through another season of double-digit losses simply because the team doesn't care enough or take enough pride in themselves to bring it every single second of every single game.
I was originally very optimistic about the upcoming season, but after seeing our old selves the last two games, I'm honestly left to wonder if anything has really changed in and around this team. Are we cursed? I don't know. One thing I do know: we'd better smarten up, toughen up, and man up, or we're in for another long, long season.