A win in the offseason doesn't automatically mean winning on the field!
As a long-time Oakland Raider fan, I too got caught up in the wave of positivity generated by the excellent offseason put together by Al Davis, Tom Cable, and the Raiders scouting team. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves; there's still a lot of work to do.
A great draft, good coaching hirings, and trades for great players are only pieces of the puzzle—there is more to it than just that. The new players and coaches have to be on the same page. If you were building a car, having the right parts means nothing without knowing how to put them together correctly.
Building a football team is no different. The parts have to be put in the right places in order for them to function properly.
Building chemistry is one of the keys.
One of the most difficult hurdles facing a team with a lot of new players is chemistry. Any time you put new talent, new personalities, and new egos together, growing pains are the result.
To overcome these pains, the coaching staff must fully understand the talent each player brings, how that talent fits the team, and who is going to have to move aside to allow the new player in.
Replacing a veteran player with a rookie or newly acquired player usually causes feelings to be hurt and animosity to arise. If you simply tell the incumbent player, "this guy has your job now," you're going to create an unnecessary rift. You have to know your players well enough to break this difficult news to them in a way that won't cause any more anger or division on your roster than is necessary.
If the coaching staff ignores chemistry, the team is destine to fail. However, if the staff understands the importance of this critical component, what motivates each player individually, and how to get them to play together and for one another, the whole will become more than the sum of its parts.
Building a scheme that suits the talent, rather than forcing the talent into your scheme is another key.
You can't expect an speed rusher to play defensive tackle, or a gifted outside runner to pound it up the gut all day. A coach must understand what each player's strengths and weaknesses are, and use them accordingly.
In my estimation, this is where the coaching staff failed the Raiders last season.
Running between the tackles is not Darren McFadden's strong suit. Seven step drops with long developing routes aren't in JaMarcus Russell's repertoire either.
McFadden averaged 11.7 yards per reception, but only had 21 catches. Why? Michael Bush gets better as the game goes along, but his carries were reduced with each and every game. Again, why? These are just two examples of this mistake by coach Cable.
Jason Campbell has come to the Raiders from an organization that is quite possibly more unstable than the Raiders have been over the last seven years. Campbell has endured four offensive coordinators in four years, two head coaches, only one legitimate wide receiver, and a horrible offensive line.
Okay, maybe it was only equally as bad as the Raiders!
It's time the Raider's coaching staff realizes the talent they have for what it is and use it properly. This goes for the rookies and newly acquired players as well. Campbell is not the "West Coast" quarterback the Redskins tried to turn him into. He is a play action, deep ball passer. This is what he did in college, and what he should do in the pros.
I'm fairly sure that Cable and new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson realize this, and I'm confident they will develop a system Campbell can be comfortable in and at which he can excel. If this actually happens, the Raiders offense will be better for it.
Leadership can make or break a team.
Drafting Rolando McClain to play middle linebacker was a stroke of genius. He is a great talent with an extremely high football I.Q., and is known as a "natural leader," but can he lead in the NFL?
No one knows...yet!
Let's be honest, leading a team of college kids is a whole lot different than leading a team of professional men .
Most men don't take kindly to a young person barking out orders or trying to be a "rah-rah" guy. Ray Lewis he is not! He might be that guy in the future, but for now he must remain humble, learn his job, and let the veterans like Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly be the vocal leaders of the defense.
That said, as middle linebacker McClain is going to be responsible for making the defensive calls and pre-snap adjustments. This means he is going to be counted on to have everyone in the right position for the play call to work. He did this in college, but again, this isn't college.
He must find away to "order" guys around without coming across like a know-it-all or making the veterans feel like he's taking over.
This is no easy task. It will take proving himself in practice, the film room, and on the field. If he can show the veterans that he is everything he's billed to be, that he's humble about it, and that he works as hard or harder than they do, this transition will be much easier.
If McClain, Lamarr Houston, and all the other defensive rookies can show the experienced players that they have the desire to be great, then prove it to them, this defense will not be ranked all the way down at No. 29 again!
In other words, "don't tell me, show me!"
Ultimately, the Raiders had the best, most productive off season they've put together in nearly a decade, but that doesn't automatically translate into wins. Chemistry must be built, the scheme must fit the talent, and most importantly, the leadership must be strong.
If any one of these aspects fail to fully develop, all the great players in the world will achieve nothing. However, if it all comes together, the Oakland Raiders will be a much improved team.
Can the coaching staff pull off this tricky task? No one will know until the Raiders hit the field, but now more than any time since 2002, all the right parts are in place.
Let me hear you Raider Nation!
Does Coach Cable have what it takes to put all the pieces together and restore the Raiders "Commitment to Excellence?"