First point: Goodbye, Kirk. We will miss you. You exemplified what a Raider should be, you always gave your all, you wore your heart on your sleeve, and you were relentlessly optimistic. We all wish you well in Jacksonville.
What a long, strange trip it's been with JaMarcus Russell. As of right now, he's still on the roster, for what it's worth. But rampant speculation has him being cut any time now, and it's hard to see any valid reason to keep him around any longer.
The end of the Russell era has occurred in the hearts and minds of Raider Nation already. We moved on long ago and now enter our first mini-camp with more reasons for optimism than we've had in a long time.
The draft this year was excellent. Rather than reaching for guys with raw talent and athletic ability early in the draft, the Raiders chose to go with excellent football players that should be able to jump in and contribute heavily to a resurgence right away.
The Raiders then snagged their raw, talented, and athletic players like Jacoby Ford and Bruce Campbell further down the line, at appropriate junctures in the draft.
But the thing that has Raider Nation so stoked: picking up starting QB Jason Campbell from the Washington Redskins for a conditional fourth round pick in 2012. Little-to-no risk involved in the trade, with the potential for a huge return.
Coach Tom Cable was vocal in his belief that if the Raiders had solid QB play from jump last season, they would have had a great shot at playoff contention. While that may have been overstating the case a little, we all saw how the Raiders responded to the fiery passion and leadership of Bruce Gradkowski when he was handed the reins. That alone was enough to elicit some "what ifs."
Now the Raiders have a quarterback that has struggled at times, but has been far more consistent and explosive than anyone behind center for the Silver & Black since Rich Gannon (and Kerry Collins, to a lesser extent).
The moves this offseason have shown that the Raiders are once again committed to putting an excellent team on the field and not just looking good with their shirts off.
I'm not fully convinced that Russell will be cut, but if he is, it will be a case of addition by subtraction. This team may like Russell personally (I don't know one way or the other), but their mood and demeanour in the locker room and on the field when Russell plays or is discussed is palpable disgust.
Getting rid of a kid who has the respect of nobody in the building, yet is paid more than most of them put together, can only help boost morale on this team.
But, morale is at an all-time high, and it should be. The Raiders finally paid attention to team needs in the offseason and got some very solid players on board to help their biggest weakness—stopping the run. It only took seven years, but hey—better late than never. It's been a very, very long seven years, though.
By adding new Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson and Campbell, the Raiders passing game should easily eclipse the dismal state of recent affairs, and Jackson has the acumen to properly use multiple backs out of the backfield.
I truly believe this is the year Darren McFadden breaks out, either as a full time RB or as a hybrid RB/slot receiver. He has great hands and runs great routes, and Jackson will not hesitate to get creative, as we've seen in the past with the Ravens.
Exciting times in Oakland. With Jackson calling plays, Cable can concentrate on coaching the whole team fully and still be able to coddle his babies on the offensive line without worrying about the offense. That's one of the best possible options for this upcoming season with the new lineman needing seasoning.
Jackson allows Cable to coach, gives Campbell a mentor proven at helping QBs succeed, provides instant credibility to the running game through his accomplishments in Baltimore, and brings a winning attitude to Oakland.
McClain gives us the big, strong, run-stuffing MLB we've needed for a long time. We all love Kirk Morrison, but I won't miss seeing him easily blocked by guards and tight ends during running plays.
I'm very excited about Lamarr Houston. The kid talks nonstop about football, his energy level, and his excitement at playing for the Raiders. He's stout at the point of attack and could provide the run stopper at DE that we need.
Our pass rush should be phenomenal this year with Shaughnessy, Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Trevor Scott, Kamerion Wimbley (who I really like), and the speed out of our defensive backfield.
We've added a potential game-breaker on special teams in Jacoby Ford, and I'm very excited to see our talented, but raw, OTs Jared Veldheer and Campbell get their shot on the line.
Bottom line: Raider Nation is excited again, and I mean TRULY excited—not just paying lip service because we love our Silver & Black. And we have many reasons to be so.
Can't wait for camp to start. Usually I'm cringing, awaiting the next bit of ugly news. Not this time.