"I love it when a plan comes together!"
Not even the most adamant Raider-hater can deny the improvements made by the Oakland Raiders this offseason. Accounts describing the extent of this improvement vary depending upon who is doing the speaking.
As is always the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The road back to success and respectability is a long one for the Raiders. Improvement is needed at almost every position on both sides of the ball. A team that has given up more points that it has scored for seven consecutive years cannot be turned around in one offseason.
It takes much more than that.
The right steps are being made now, but there is still a lot of room to improve. It's a step by step process and the Raiders are on their way to completing them all.
Step One: Restore the Faith in the Head Coach
This step was taken by owner Al Davis when he said nothing about head coach Tom Cable benching starting quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Before the Cincinnati game, Russell was the unquestioned starter, due mostly to his high draft position and the fact that he was a "Davis guy."
Once Davis saw how the team rallied around Bruce Gradkowski's fiery personality and scrappy playing style, the writing was on the wall for Russell. Russell being listed as the third-stringer after that sealed the deal.
Cable now had the faith of Davis that is required for a coach to be successful.
Davis has bought in, the players have bought in, and the fans are buying into Cable's decisions and philosophy.
Step one: Complete!
Step Two: Unload Players That Aren't Carrying Their Own Weight
In 2009, the Raiders were ranked 31st in total offense and 26th in total defense. This was due, in part, to terrible play from the right side of the offensive line and uninspired play from half of the defensive line.
Having a receiver that made only 15 catches for 196 yards and only one touchdown in two seasons and a $61 million quarterback with a career passer rating of 65.2 didn't help the offense either!
This offseason, the Raiders cut offensive tackle Cornell Green, defensive tackle Gerard Warren, defensive end Greg Ellis, wide receiver Javon Walker, and arguably the biggest bust in NFL history, quarterback JaMarcus Russell. These are all great personnel decisions for the Raiders.
It's called "addition by subtraction."
The reason this is good for any team is that players now know that if you want to be on this team, you have to play up to a certain level and slackers will not be tolerated. It creates a "play for the guy lined up next to you" atmosphere.
When the dead weight was still on the team, players had no incentive to play hard because they knew the guy next to him wasn't going to either.
Every player now knows that he can rely on the player next to him to do his job to best of his ability, and the fans know that the 11 men on the field are trying hard to bring a victory for the team and for the fans!
Step two: Complete!
Step Three: Have a Solid Offseason
A typical NFL offseason is comprised of three major parts: the draft, free agent signings, and trades. The Raiders did a very nice job in all of these areas, getting good players at positions of need via all three of these avenues.
The biggest area of need for the Raiders was run defense.
Oakland used all three of the aforementioned processes to improve this aspect of the team. The draft yielded the best linebacker available and a top-five defensive lineman.
Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston coupled with free agent John Henderson and Kamerion Wimbley, acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, will all help drastically improve the Raiders ailing run defense.
The other big need for this team was on the offensive line.
Again, the Raiders made wise choices in the draft. Using a third-round pick for Jared Veldheer and a fourth-round pick for one of the most athletically gifted offensive tackles available in Bruce Campbell, were good choices for several reasons—not the least of which was that the Raiders didn't reach for either of them.
This is great considering the Raiders' track record over the last few drafts!
The big news-making acquisition for Oakland came via trade. The Raiders gave the Washington Redskins a 2012 fourth-round draft pick for solid starting quarterback Jason Campbell.
Campbell is not considered to be a franchise player by most, but he is an enormous improvement over JaMarcus Russell and will provide consistency to the most critical position on the field.
Davis and the Raiders weren't done there.
They added several more good players this offseason. Linebacker Quentin Groves and solid rookie cornerbacks Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware will provide depth and stability to the defense.
Explosive playmaker Jacoby Ford should improve the pedestrian kick returns and versatile rookies, linebacker Travis Goethel and safety Stevie Brown, should make impacts on special teams coverage as well.
If you add the undrafted signings of stud fullback Manase Tonga, guard/center Alex Parsons, and mammoth defensive tackle Kellen Heard, you have a recipe for competition that will improve every player on the field and in the locker room.
Step three: Complete!
Step Four: Put it All Together Into One Cohesive Unit
This is the step that is preventing me from declaring the Raiders rebuilding process complete. The truth is, all the talent in the world means nothing without the right coaches to bring it all together.
No one knows if the Raiders coaching staff can do this or not.
I believe they can, but without actually seeing it happen, we won't know for sure. Coach Cable and newly hired offensive coordinator Hue Jackson are outspoken, no-nonsense coaches that expect perfection and command the respect of the players.
Along with their history of being motivational men, all the traits required for success are in place. Therefore, the status of step four remains to be seen, but is very promising.
With everything I've stated, I think it's safe for Raider Nation to be optimistic, but we must be realistic at the same time. This is not the time for wagering your paycheck on the Super Bowl just yet.
However, it is time to remain positive, ignore the haters, and enjoy watching the Raiders return to glory!
Let me hear your thoughts Raider Nation!
Read more of my Raiders articles at RaiderNews.com.
Read my general NFL articles at RealSportsNet.com.