As training camp opened in Napa, CA for the Oakland Raiders this week, there are several uncertainties that when answered will prove to be the key to the 2010 season. Will the Raiders continue to wallow in mediocrity as they have for the last seven seasons? Or will they return to contention and recapture the swagger that the Silver and Black were previously known for?
Only time will tell, but these five areas will be the keys to the franchise's direction this season.
Will newly acquired QB Jason Campbell provide needed leadership and spark?
Early reports out of Raiders camp indicate Campbell looks "sleek, sharp, athletic" in workouts with the team. This is a major difference from his predecessor, JaMarcus Russell, who often looked like a ten pound baloney stuffed into a two pound bag. Campbell has to be an improvement over Russell simply because it's hard to believe anyone could be much worse.
Campbell has the physical ability, and as long as he doesn't completely quit on the team (as Russell appeared to do last season) the Raiders QB situation will be vastly improved.
Will Darren McFadden finally justify being the No. 4 overall pick by having a break out season?
McFadden has had two years to show he was worthy of the draft choice (and contract he signed soon after) and has produced very little. DMC will be on a short leash this year, as Michael Bush will continue challenging him for carries. If McFadden doesn't get off to a fast start, don't be surprised to see him bumped to No. 2 on the depth chart.
Can this offensive line protect Jason Campbell and run block?
Guard Robert Gallery is back at full strength this season after missing a large part of last year with a leg injury. Gallery's return is good news for the running game. But the remainder of the offensive line is a big question mark. The good news here is that the Raiders are projected to start all veterans with at least four years experience. The bad news? Well, there are some that could be labeled "journeymen." The key will be LT Mario Henderson, and how well he protects Cambell's blind side.
Can the Raiders avoid the ever-present injury bug?
Injuries effect all teams, so there's no way to completely avoid them. But one way to minimize them is to run a smart camp, getting your players in proper condition for the season. Last year, there were several Raiders who were clearly out of shape (Exhibit A: JaMarcus Russell). Hopefully, this year will be different.
Will there be stability in the coaching staff?
It's August 3. If the Raiders can make it to August 6 without Tom Cable allegedly caving in one of his assistant's faces, they're already ahead of last year's pace.
The alleged August 5, 2009 "altercation" (if you call allegedly braining your assistant with an inanimate object and breaking his jaw an altercation) between Cable and Assistant Coach Randy Hanson caused a massive distraction for the team that was only made worse by allegations reported by ESPN on November 1, 2009 that Cable had physically abused two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.
Needless to say, an NFL team does not need these types of issues. If the coaching staff can keep the focus on the field, the entire organization will be much better off.
These five questions represent the keys to the season for the Raiders. In an AFC West that has one team (San Diego) that appears to be the class of the Division, the Raiders can make a run if they solidify these areas of the organization. If not, it will be another miserable year in the Black Hole.