The past few seasons have been a string of lackluster performances for the Oakland Raiders.
Each year starts with little to hope for, and ends with a bottom of the barrel record.
So, what will this year bring?
Will they finally have a winning season and make a playoff push, or will the following games just act as a prelude to another Top Ten draft pick for the lowly Raiders?
Ever since their embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers way back in 2003, things have progressively gotten worse for Oakland.
They seemed to be getting worse each year, until the sense of pride that came with wearing silver and black all but vanished.
But there may be a chance for the Raiders this year.
Although their quality of play over the past few years would indicate otherwise, things are starting to improve for them. They have made the right moves this offseason and have a lot of young guys with a great deal of potential.
The first, and possibly the most significant reason why the Raiders while be better 2010 is the release of JaMarcus Russell. The former number one overall draft pick had not been living up to the expectations, and was on a short leash in 2009.
When it was made apparent that Russell was not fit to lead the team—though this was clear to most long before the move was made—he was benched in favor of Bruce Gradkowski.
Although the season was already deemed a failure, the Raiders showed signs of potential by winning three of their final six games despite their season being in shambles.
Although Gradkowski is an upgrade from Russell performance wise, the Raiders were negatively impacted by Russell’s presence.
Now that he is no longer a member of the team, things can only get better for Oakland.
The next reason why the Raiders will make strides in 2010 is the guy replacing Russell.
While Gradkowski was good, the newly-acquired Jason Campbell will further enhance a developing offense.
While Campbell was not exactly great in Washington, this is a fresh start for him, and being that he is a dedicated worker and a talented quarterback, he will help the offense progress. And besides, anything is better than Russell.
Then we have the Raider rushing attack.
With Justin Fargas out the door, the terrific trio has now been reduced to the dynamic duo. Well, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but when you examine their backfield, it’s really not that bad.
The remaining backs, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, are both valuable weapons who can do damage when they want to. But neither of them have much experience as a primary runner, so the situation is not ideal.
But both guys are inexperienced and are still very young, which means that they have room to improve.
Now that these two are forced to shoulder more of the load than ever, expect a breakout year from at least one of them.
At receiver, Oakland has another young pair in Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens.
Both guys are transitioning to starting roles, but proved their potential last year. They will be good assets for Jason Campbell, who will be adjusting to some changes himself.
Also expected to see the ball for the Raiders are the explosive Johnnie Lee Higgins, who will also be handling return duties, and Louis Murphy.
Also helping Campbell is the tight end Zach Miller, who is extremely reliable as a pass catcher. If it had not been for a lack of a quarterback, Miller would have been a Pro Bowl candidate each of the past two years.
The Raiders projected offensive line, moving from left tackle across to right tackle, looks like this: Mario Henderson, Robert Gallery, Samson Satele, Cooper Carlisle, and Khalif Barnes. Starting at fullback will be Luke Lawton.
On defense, the Raiders are strong up front with Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, John Henderson, and Matt Shaughnessy forming their defensive line.
Behind them is rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
McClain, who was a key member of last year’s National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide’s impenetrable defense, is expected to do great things as a first year player.
Their other two linebackers are Trevor Scott and Kamerion Wimbley.
At corner, they have three-time Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha.
Besides longsnapper Jon Condo and punter Shane Lechler, Asomugha was Oakland’s only Pro Bowler in 2009. He is a shutdown corner was coverage skills are paralleled by only a select few.
On the opposite side of the field they have Chris Johnson, a good corner, although not one of the caliber of a Nnamdi Asomugha. Still, he provides balance in a secondary that is actually not too bad.
Strong safety Tyvon Branch is another important component of the Raider’s defensive backfield.
Closing out the secondary is free safety Michael Huff, the talented young player from Texas. He can also play corner, so his versatility could come in handy in emergency situations.
Finally they’ve got Sebastian Janikowski penciled in as the kicker, and Shane Lechler set to handle the punts.
As you can see, Tom Cable and the rest of the Raiders’ coaching staff have a decent amount of talent to work with.
There is a lot of progress to be made and a great deal of growing to be done between now and the opening kickoff of the 2010 season, but there is still plenty of time.
I’m not suggesting that Oakland is going to make the playoffs. I won’t even guarantee that they wind up with a winning record. I will say that they will be better this year.
I’m predicting somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8, maybe 9-7 if they catch a break or two.
While this may not seem like enough of an improvement, it’s a step in the right direction. It puts them that much closer to achieving their goal of finally reaching the playoffs once again.
If the Raiders continue to head down this new path that they have set for themselves, you can expect great things in years to come.