The Oakland Raiders have been known to make a mistake or two in recent offseasons, so it should be no surprise that the coaching staff, players, organization, and fans in the Raider Nation are more excited than usual after this offseason brought a lot of positive and pretty much no negative thus far.
With many pundits and fans alike are questioning the decision making, acumen, and general sanity of Al Davis in recent years, he rose from the ashes this offseason like Lazurus with a game plan: to improve the Raiders with sound drafting, solid roster moves, and consistency in the coaching ranks. You know, the general blueprint for NFL success that he seemed to have misplaced for a few years there.
Things are not all puppy dogs and ice cream in Alameda, but they are certainly sunnier than they have been in recent offseasons. First there is the addition by addition of new players in positions of importance and a new offesnsive cooridnator that was sorely needed. Then, there is the addition by subtraction, the cutting of the dead weight of perennial underachievers and underperformers.
As I can get it out of the way fairly quickly, I'll look at the negative things that have happened thus far for the Raiders this offseason and what they could mean going into the season, before moving on to the myriad of positive vibes that are flowing around the team.
Chaz Schilens Can't Stay Healthy
Well, 'ol Chaz is in his customary position on the sidelines, observing in street clothes while his teammates play football. After breaking his foot during training camp last summer, Chaz missed the first eight games and never really got on track after he did come back. Obviously there were still issues with the foot, as he's since had offseason surgery and is now on the sidelines while he recovers.
People say he's our only proven wideout, but Murphy, in my eyes, has proven more than Chaz has on the actual playing field. Having said that, Chaz is our most polished route runner and has excellent hands, and we need him on the field desperately. Receiver depth has been lacking since Timmy Brown retired, and this season is no exception.
At this point it would appear the team is simply being cautious, which is prudent when dealing with an injury of this nature to a player who is seemingly more fragile than most. But a foot injury to a player who needs to be able to plant and cut quickly is a red flag, and if it remains an issue, our passing game could struggle again by fielding inexperienced and unreliable receivers on the field.
Randy Hanson Civil Suit
Though it's flown quietly under the radar, and though weasel face isn't with the team any longer, the Randy Hanson story isn't quite over. There is still a pending civil suit, although in April Tom Cable filed a request that the case be decided by Commissioner Roger Goodell via NFL arbitration, as spelled out in the NFL's constitution and bylaws. As the incident took place between coaches in a team setting, it is a feasable request. A hearing was scheduled for May 13, 2010, but I have been unable to find results of the hearing.
If it does go to arbitration then that's a positive thing, as it will be handled "in-house" so to speak and a lengthy legal battle will be avoided. However, it is still a black cloud hanging over this team and will be until it's all decided. Cable can play it off all he wants, but we saw the effect that the distraction had on him last fall when he was making mental errors all over the place. Until it is settled completely, there is a sense, no matter how small, of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Okay, well that's about it, and the Hanson thing was really a reach. Now, onto the goodness.
Hiring Hue Jackson as O-Coordinator
The guy is exactly what this team needed, and his presence is a multi-pronged positive with what he brings to the table. His hiring means that Cable can concentrate on being a head coach without worrying about calling plays, which helps the team immensely. This means Cable can devote the full attention needed to any problem areas that may arise throughout the season; it also means he can spend more time working with the young talent we've acquired on the offensive line.
Jackson has shown that he's a creative playcaller, that he can succeed with a thin wideout corps, and that he knows how to use a multi-headed running back attack with great effectiveness, all problem areas for the Raiders in recent years.
Jackson has also brought an attitude of accountability, motivation, and winning with him from Baltimore. He's very vocal and animated and gets on his players with conviction, but he's also quick to praise them and encourage them when they do well.
Trading for Jason Campbell
Though I don't think he'll set the world on fire in Oakland, I do feel Jason Campbell is a better player than many think. It's well documented how many different offenses and coaches he's had to deal with since his early days at Auburn, and this season represents yet another learning process from scratch.
However, the Campbell I've observed since he was at Auburn is athletic, intelligent, and makes good decisions. He's more mobile than people give him credit for, he's got a strong arm, and he's accurate. He also works very hard, is humble, and is a great teammate and leader in the locker room. I truly believe that if our wideouts can perform, then Campbell will exceed any realistic expectations that are out there. If you're expecting 4,000+ yards and 30 TDs, well, maybe not. But if you're expecting 3,500+ yds with 20+ TDs and more wins and less yelling at the television, I think that's possible.
The Draft....Yes, that's right, I said the Draft
For the first decade of the 2000s, the Raiders were the draft whipping boys of hair and mouthpieces like Todd McShay, Mel Kiper, Tom Jackson, and pretty much anyone else with an opinion. People would point to Robert Gallery as an example, even though he was considered the safest pick in the draft. People point to JaMarcus Russell, despite the fact that experts were drooling over him and Cleveland would've picked him if we didn't. But this isn't a manifesto on defending our earlier draft decisions. This is a happy fan discussing a solid draft that addressed needs and brought in football players instead of athletes that look good getting off the bus.
First, we took a run-stuffing machine of a MLB in Rolando McClain. This meant jettisoning fan favourite (and personal favourite) Kirk Morrison, but no matter how much we love Kirk, we know it was for the best.
Then, in the second round we continued to address our lack of run defense and took DT Lamarr Houston from Texas. Everything I've read about this kid and quotes from this kid make him instantly one of my favorite players. He plays with an edge, is a bit mean and nasty, and is athletic enough that he was a successful running back in high school despite his massive size. We need these two to be stout up the middle.
Then, the next two rounds brought offensive lineman that are both raw but very, very promising. Jared Veldheer played in Division II and some question his ability to play against NFL-caliber competition, but his size, speed, strength, and athleticism, coupled with his significant intelligence say that he has all the tools to succeed.
Experts widely expected the Raiders to reach with their No. 8 overall pick for yet another exceptional athlete who had myriad questions about his playing ability. The Raiders, unlike in years past, waited until the fourth round to pick Bruce Campbell, the kid with the best combination of size and athletic measurables of any offensive line prospect. The bonus to drafting him in the fourth round is that by all accounts it somewhat deflated his massive ego, and Campbell is coming in here with a goal to prove he's more than just an athlete. A massive, strong, and athletic kid with a chip on his shoulder? Nice.
Cutting Dead Weight
Although I feel that Cable could discuss JaMarcus Russell a little when asked about him, it's pretty obvious the team wants to put the debacle of J-Rock's career in the rearview and move forward. Honestly, I was going to write a big article about Russell and the Raiders, but I kind of feel the same way. I like him as a kid, thought he was always polite, respectful, and even mostly humble, but I am very glad, for the morale of the team and the Raider Nation, that he is no longer on the roster.
The same can definitely be said for Cornell "Turnstile" Green. That guy was an eyesore every time he took a step forward, and I'm just glad I won't have to yell at him five times a game for a holding/false start/I'm an idiot who doesn't know how to play football penalty.
With our lack of depth at DT, I don't understand releasing Gerard Warren, and wouldn't mind re-signing him, but I think I'm alone in that boat. He's certainly not a run-stuffing DT, which is what we need.
Kirk Morrison is not dead weight, and I think he'll succeed in Jacksonville. But we couldn't keep him after we picked up Quentin Groves, Kamerion Wimbley, and then drafted McClain to shore up the run defense. We now have enough linebackers on roster to field an entire other NFL team, and there was simply no room for Kirk any longer. Jacksonville got good value for him though, and he'll play over a fifth round pick.
To keep our sanity, we Raider fans have remained positive and optimistic each and every offseason despite the feeling in our guts that things might not be great. This offseason, though, I think we all say without hyperbole or wishful thinking that the team has improved, and we're very excited for the season to start.