Remember when you were watching your favorite horror movie? At the end of the movie everyone thought that the subject that was creating all the fear was dead, but then, suddenly, a hand protrudes from the rubble paving the way for ten or so sequels?
In this years NFL off season it has been the bony hand of Al Davis that has made the NFL analysts leap in their seats. Written off for dead, ESPN and the NFL network danced and giggled at every move that Davis had made in the last 7 years.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was announced as the Raiders 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft, choosing to pass on Michael Crabtree. People like Tom Jackson, Mike Mayock and Trent Dilfer couldn’t help but mock the aging owner. When the Raiders chose hard hitting safety Mike Mitchell in the second round, they couldn’t contain their joy as they could once again demean the Raiders. They continued to insult and mock the legendary owner. The “Al bashing” became so bad that owners, players and fans of other teams began noting the unprofessional manner that the networks analysts were using when talking about the Hall Of Fame owner.
The 2009 season proved to be a roller coaster ride for the Black and Silver. Quarterback Jamarcus Russell quickly gained a reputation as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. His lackadaisical attitude toward the game became an embarrassment to not only the Raiders, but to every person associated with the NFL at a professional level.
He is quickly becoming the poster child for a rookie cap. The Raiders playbook was stripped of audibles and trick plays because of Russell's lack of skills in the huddle.
To add to an already woeful offense, the injury bug bit early. No. 1 receiver Chaz Schilens, Offensive Lineman Robert Gallery and Kick Returner Nick Miller missed most of the season.
Head Coach Tom Cable, who has proven himself as an offensive line guru also proved that he wasn’t very good at picking lineman from the free agent pool. He also proved that he wasn’t an offensive coordinator. However, the youth movement began to show as rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy, Mike Mitchell and Matt Shaughnessy immediately showed a bright future in the NFL.
On the other side of the bay in San Fransisco, the critics pick for the Raiders, Michael Crabtree, decided to hold out for the big payday that he thought he deserved. The situation became ugly in a hurry, and although Al Davis should have been vindicated for passing and choosing a team player, he wasn’t. Heyward-Bey had struggled mightily his first season, but even so teams respected his speed and double teamed him much of the time.
But in 2010 the bony hand of Al Davis burst out of the ground and grabbed the unsuspecting analyst by the… well, by the looks on their faces it wasn’t their ankle.
Al Davis began his assault by focusing on their run defense. He traded for linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, leaving the Browns fans wide eyed and feeling like they just got ambushed. Davis struck once again by snagging defensive Quentin Groves from the Jaguars.
The NFL analysts were all but certain that the Raiders would take offensive tackle and combine standout Bruce Campbell first overall in the 2010 draft. They were only half right, Davis’ snagged Campbell in the 4th round, after selecting offensive lineman Jared Veldheer. By the time the carnage was over, the Raiders walked away with not one, but two top ten offensive lineman.
They also grabbed, by far, the best Linebacker in Rolando McClain and a top three Defensive tackle in Lamar Houston. The Raiders, who have been criticized in the past for taking raw speed also nabbed the fastest man in the draft, Jacoby Ford, with their other fourth round pick.
If the critics weren’t stunned enough, Davis once again conjured up another surprise as they traded a throw away draft pick for Washington Redskins Quarterback, Jason Campbell. A week later Jamarcus Russell was jettisoned, ending any chance that he would take the field in Silver and Black again.
Al Davis continued to make bold moves as he sent Linebacker Kirk Morrison in a trade to Jacksonville. Morrison struggled against the run and never seem to fit in the Raiders "man" system. Davis, once again struck quickly as former defensive tackle John Henderson barely cleared waver wires before he autographed a Raider contract.
Suddenly, the Raiders became a completely different team. In a few short weeks, Davis turned a unit that had a lot of needs and question marks into a solid unit, ready to compete. The biggest glaring need on defense has been leadership. McClain, Houston, Henderson and Wimbley all have reputations as natural leaders. They will give accountability on the field and in the locker room.
On the other side of the ball, toughness has been the issue. Campbell answered that call with the skins, producing week after week even after it was apparent that owner Dan Snyder had no faith in him. Louis Murphy also has shown himself as someone who is willing to sacrifice himself on the field.
Last season, tight end Zach Miller ran 85 yards for a score, but the key was the two blocks that Murphy supplied. He had the first Block that sprung Miller and the last Block at the goal line. One of the biggest additions has been new Offensive Coordinator Hugh Jackson. His fiery attitude and demand for intensity has the offense on track to finding the rhythm that it previously lacked.
Already, stories of the “New Look Raiders” are flying out of Oakland. The word is that Heyward-Bey spent the off season training at the facility and has put on about fifteen pounds of muscle. During the OTA’s, he stood out as he rarely dropped passes and consistently separated from the defensive backs.
On his first day in camp, rookie Lamar Houston picked out the biggest guy on offense and started a fight with him. He was also reprimanded for levelling a running back in non-contact drills. Campbell started slow his first day, but by the second he looked like he had already started gelling with his new teammates.
In a few weeks, training camp will yield a new generation of Raider players. A promising group, that just a few weeks ago, did not exist. One that column writers and analysts did not see coming and could never predicted.
One thing is for certain….
The Rumors of Al Davis’ demise have been greatly exaggerated.