Rise of the Raiders
Well, fellow members of Raider Nation, we have all been through some tough seasons for the past seven years. A winning record has managed to escape our team’s grasp for so long, but this year is different. And I’m here to tell you why like a phoenix the Raiders will rise from the ashes of mediocrity.
OK here we go. First the 2010 draft was extremely well executed and the Raiders took some of the best players on the boards. Contrary to popular belief that Bruce Campbell would be the first round pick, instead the Raiders wisely chose Rolando McClain, from Alabama to fill in the middle linebacker position recently vacated by Kirk Morrison. Now I know what Kirk Morrison meant to the Raiders and how he played hard every down, but in the end the NFL is a business and the Raiders decided to go separate ways and send Kirk Morrison to the Jaguars. He will always be remembered for his exploits as a Raider and what he brought to this team, but the winds of change are blowing through the Raider Organization. What this does for the Raiders is provide a defensive leader on the field and the work ethic he brings to this team is contagious, and he has everyone working hard and for the team, rather than for themselves. McClain, while he was in Alabama, was Nick Saban’s eyes on the field. Last season he recorded 105 total tackles, four sacks, and 2 interceptions. With this versatility on the defensive side of the ball he brings the Raiders a unique linebacker that can stop the run and pressure the quarterback.
Our next pick was Lamarr Houston the defensive tackle from Texas. Now even though he was drafted as defensive tackle his showing at OTA’s and mini-camps have shown coach Tom Cable that Houston has the ability to play defensive end just as well. Last season at Texas he recorded 57 total tackles and 7 sacks. This gives the Raiders a run stopping threat and quarterback’s worst nightmare. It allows Raiders an amazing amount of depth at defensive line. The versatility of Houston with: Richard Seymour, Matt Shaughnessy, Tommy Kelly, John Henderson, Jay Richardson, and Trevor Scott. He has a feisty attitude and has mixed it up on the practice field with veterans like Langston Walker. This fiery attitude and willingness to play hard every down until the whistle blows has the Raiders defense shaping up very nicely.
Now we can clearly see the theme of the Raider’s first two picks in the NFL draft, that being stopping the run. As a defense last year the Raider’s problems stemmed from not being able to stop the run and allowing teams to exploit the secondary with play action. This season though has emphasized stopping the run and making teams throw the ball to our ball-hawking secondary, which includes: Nnamdi Asomugha, Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, and Chris Johnson. This secondary was highly rated last season and with Nnamdi’s cover ability and Tyvon’s skill in closing quickly and making sure tackles has the Raider secondary looking very good for next year.
Now the Raider’s third round pick was Jared Veldheer offensive tackle from Hillsdale College, a Division II school. Veldheer was a dominant offensive tackle during his time in college and his competition stood no chance against his 6’ 8” 312 pound body. While at Hillsdale he blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher each of the three years he started, and was named first team All-American. Now the NFL is a faster moving game and the margin for error is far less than it is in college but Veldheer’s technique is good and his size helps in creating holes in the defense for the running backs as well as protecting his quarterback. Veldheer also has drive to do well and help his team out where he can. Fortunately for him he has a slew of offensive linemen to help him learn how to play in the NFL. Guys like: Robert Gallery, Khalif Barnes, Langston Walker, and Mario Henderson are capable of showing him the ropes.
Now the fourth round pick for the Raiders was the athletic freak Bruce Campbell. With a body that looks as though it’s chiseled from stone, at 6’6” and 315 pounds, arm size of 36¼ in, hand size of 10½, and a freakishly fast 40-yard dash time for an offensive lineman (registered at 4.85) this man is the quintessential athlete. While at Maryland he was an All-ACC nominee, started 27 games (17 at left tackle), and was part of the offensive line unit that allowed only one sack and sprang their running backs for 196 yards. Now Campbell is more of a raw talent and he has a few technique issues with his footwork. But with the right coaching he has the ability to start on the offensive line for years to come. Fortunately for him the Raider’s head coach, Tom Cable was originally an offensive line coach, so he can give Campbell pointers where he needs them.
So the next two picks of the Raider’s NFL draft focused on the theme of the offensive line and protecting the quarterback. Last season the Raider’s hopes of a turnaround season were dashed by an injury to Bruce Gradkowski (2-1 as a starter). This injury was dealt to him because of the porous nature of the Raider Offensive line. So with picks like Veldheer and Campbell solidifying the offensive line was a priority that was included in the draft day plans.
So the four most important picks of the Raider’s 2010 NFL draft are just a piece of the puzzle that will aid the Raiders in their ascendancy to the top of the NFL.
Another part of this offseason that has been positive for the Raiders has been free agency. The Raiders have signed some very unique and talented free agents to help their team out. Kamerion Wimbley, from the Cleveland Browns, was signed by the Oakland Raiders and is one of those versatile, hybrid DE/OLBs that can tackle incredibly well, and pressure the quarterback nicely. While in Cleveland he has had his ups and downs, but he has that veteran presence that can enhance any defense. His stats in Cleveland last year were: 69 total tackles, 6 ½ sacks, 2 safeties, and 1 forced fumble. This shows that Wimbley can rack up the tackles with great closing speed and pressure the quarterback when necessary.
Another free agent that the Raiders chose to sign was 6’ 7” 335 pound John Henderson. He was jettisoned from Jacksonville because they decided to draft Tyson Alualu and he landed in Oakland. Henderson’s big body will allow the gaps to close on running backs and will leave them little space to maneuver. While in Jacksonville Henderson totaled 3 sacks and 36 total tackles. Master of the unusual pregame ritual (has his trainer slap him in the face) this man not only brings an intensity that is unrivaled but ability with it.
Along with Henderson another Jaguar has made Oakland his home. His name is Quentin Groves. At 6’ 3” 264 pounds he is an imposing physical specimen indeed. His stats as of last season in Jacksonville were: 30 total tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 interception. This gives the Raiders a versatile linebacker to compliment Kamerion Wimbley. Stopping the run is his specialty and with the secondary of the Raiders the run defense should improve drastically forcing teams to throw the ball a great deal instead of exploiting holes in the run defense.
One of the biggest acquisitions made by the Raiders was Jason Campbell. During the draft they traded a 4th round pick for Campbell who was being replaced in Washington by Donovan Mcnabb. Campbell has to be one of the smartest quarterbacks in the NFL because he has been required to learn new offenses yearly since his days in Auburn. Last season in Washington he had a 64.5% completion percentage, threw for 20 touchdowns, and threw for 3,618 yards. His production has increased every year since he has started in the NFL and while in Washington he was in a system that did not fit him (West Coast offense). But in Oakland he will be in an offense that will suit him (a vertical offense, with a run first mentality, and a deep downfield passing attack.) His targets will be Chaz Schilens (the Raider’s best receiver), Louis Murphy (a young up and coming receiver who plays hard every down), and Darrius Hewyard-Bey (a young man who had a tough rookie year but has been working his tail off since before the SuperBowl to revamp his game and technique). Campbell is the opposite of the Raider’s last quarterback, Jamarcus Russell. Russell had all the physical attributes but none of the work ethic that was necessary for him to succeed in the NFL. Without Russell giving us Raider fans heart palpitations every time he drops back, and the offense in the sure hands of Jason Campbell this year already looks a lot better.
Lastly I would like to talk about the coaching that the Oakland Raiders now have and to me this is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for next season. Firstly the hiring of Hue Jackson (Baltimore’s quarterback coach) as the offensive coordinator was a huge step in the right direction. Jackson will focus on the offense and its inner workings, allowing Tom Cable to view the team as a whole. Last season coach cable wore far too many hats (the idea that he was micro managing pieces of the team rather than doing his job as head coach and working with the entire team.) Jackson’s tenure in the NFL has taken him to many teams including: Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, and now Oakland. His presence in Baltimore allowed Joe Flacco to develop his skills as a quarterback from his rookie year in the NFL and the Ravens made it to the playoffs two years in a row. So the man knows what he is doing and will help the Raiders utilize their highly talented roster to its optimum level. For example splitting McFadden out wide to confuse defenses would be a great idea. McFadden also has great hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield and is able to maneuver downfield as well. With other experienced coaches such as: Mike Waufle (defensive line coach), Ted Tollner (passing game coordinator), Paul Hackett (quarterbacks coach), and John Marshall (defensive coordinator) the Raiders are beginning to have a genuine melding of coaching staff and players.
So fellow members of Raider Nation this season signals the beginning of the end of seven years of losing seasons. With this offseason not only has our team put the rest of the AFC West on notice but the rest of the NFL. Given that San Diego has gotten rid of Ladanian Tomlinson, and Antonio Cromartie, and has the possibility of Vincent Jackson (their best receiver) and Marcus McNeil (a key component to the offensive line) holding out things are looking less than rosy for the Chargers. The hated Denver Broncos have a coach who has interesting methods for turning his team’s fortunes around. Josh McDaniels has jettisoned both Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall (franchise players) and has replaced them with unproven rookies in Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas. The Chiefs on the other hand have improved with the draft day selections of Eric Berry and the acquisitions of Romeo Crennel (defensive coordinator) and Charlie Weis (offensive coordinator) but still this team has a lot of work to do to see the playoffs any time soon.
But the Raiders have acquired proven veterans during free agency and have drafted rookies that were integral parts of their college teams. Now just as any other rookies are unproven so are the Raider’s. This being said McClain with his football I.Q. and on the field leadership has an amazing chance to succeed in the NFL. Houston with his never quit attitude and willingness to learn has him on a path to success in the NFL. Now Tebow may have won two national championships to McClain’s one, but draft experts and NFL analysts have commented on his need to improve his throwing technique. On the other hand these same analysts and experts have levied huge amounts of praise at McClain for not only his technique as a player and his athletic prowess but his ability to lead men on the field. The Chargers have drafted Ryan Matthews, a stellar prospect out of Fresno State. Now with Darren Sproles being the first back this presents a bit of a problem for San Diego. Sproles is not an every down back and regardless of how quick he is, he has a rookie backing him up, a rookie that could struggle to learn the offensive system presented to him.
No doubt San Diego is still the team to beat in the AFC West, but the next three positions are up for grabs. If the Raiders can win games consistently and bring the same intensity every day they can very possibly upset San Diego or even end up second in the division. Now all that being said the onus is on the players and coaches to provide the Raider Nation with a winning team.
Now I leave you with a quote from the Raiders Anthem, The Autumn Wind a poem written by Steve Sabol, praised by Al Davis himself as a poem that epitomizes everything about the Raiders. “The Autumn wind is a Raider Pillaging just for fun
He'll knock you round and upside down and laugh when he's conquered and won”. This mentality has arrived back in Oakland and all I have to say to anyone who doubts the Oakland Raiders: Don’t Look now but the Raiders are coming.