The Raiders have the day off today as they prepare to travel for their Thursday night game against the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas is one of two teams to have already played in the preseason, defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 16-7 in last Sunday Night's Hall of Fame game to kick off the season.
As to be expected from the first preseason game, Dallas looked fairly sloppy on offense and managed only three field goals. The Cowboys' lone touchdown was an INT return by a rookie linebacker on a gift-wrapped spiral from Jordan Palmer. Dallas is a Super Bowl contender this season (so "they" say) and its defense looked pretty fierce. We should be able to garner a few things from tomorrow night's game in regards to the progress the Raiders have made from last season.
Thus far in camp, there have been some very encouraging signs that the Raiders will improve upon their recent futility. There have been a few setbacks as well. Here are some thoughts on camp thus far.
Jason Campbell is no JaMarcus Russell
And that couldn't be a better thing for the Raiders. Campbell is a highly motivated, hard working son of a coach with innate leadership ability who loves football and demands and receives respect from his teammates.
Quietly, he has come in and changed the culture at the game's most important position. Teammates are effusive in their praise for his study habits, knowledge of the game, respect for the team concept, and his Herculean work ethic, not to mention his downfield accuracy and ability to move in the pocket.
Campbell has made believers not only out of a Raider Nation, who desperately needed a new quarterback, but a team and coaching staff that had to be somewhat skeptical based on the perception of Campbell as a failure in Washington. A new start for both parties is just what is needed to inject some life into their respective seasons.
Do you want to play fullback?
Because we need someone, anyone. When the Raiders are lining up coveted second round pick Lamarr Houston at fullback, you know there's some desperate straights back there. The incumbent, Luke Lawton, has been injured throughout camp and faces a two-game suspension to start the season. The next guy in line, Marcel Reece, has shown well but also been injured. Manase Tonga has shown excellent ability to block but no hands or burst, and he's injured as well. Chane Moline has been injured the majority of camp.
Enter Alex Daniels, a converted defensive end who speaks like a true football player. He's been quoted as saying he'd do anything to make the team, including fetching coffee. He's a gamer who wants to be on the field, and since switching over to the white jersey he's got in the grill and under the skin of some of his former defensive teammates.
At this point, it's looking like it'll be Reece by default because the rest are injured and Daniels is just learning the position. It's intriguing to think of Houston carrying the ball on the goal line, and he was a very successful RB and FB in high school. Risking injury to him on the offensive side of the ball when our run defense needs addressing is not wise, in my opinion.
Or wide receiver?
The one position this team could least afford to be beset by injuries is the wide receiver position. Chaz Schilens, Darius Heyward-Bey, and Louis Murphy are projected to be the starting wideouts, but they have a combined five years experience between them, so they need every single snap and every single drill they can participate in. Unfortunately injuries and soreness have limited all three to some extent.
Thus far, Murphy has missed most of camp. He first had a concussion, and kudos to the Raiders for not rushing him back too quickly and placing his health first. Since Murphy recovered, a foot issue that isn't overly serious has limited his reps.
Schilens has had two surgeries in the recent past to repair a broken metatarsal, and the Raiders appear to just be protecting their big wideout from further aggravating the foot. It's been tender in camp, but there is no damage or injury to the foot. With Schilens being the Raiders' most experienced wideout and most likely possession receiver, he's imperative to the offense and the team is right to limit his reps, even if it does limit the rapport he can build early on with Campbell.
Rookie WR Jacoby Ford was impressing in camp and turning some heads before he missed significant time with a quad injury, and will not suit up for the Dallas game. Once again, this is not a serious injury and the Raiders are just being cautious, but the WR corps is inexperienced and injuries are now making it very, very thin.
Raider fan-favourite Bruce "Grads" Gradkowski is a competitor, but his body is conspiring against him in recent history. After blowing out both knees during a game last season, then tearing a pectoral muscle prior to OTA's, Gradkowski was rehabbing vigorously and ready to rock in training camp. But he's hurt again, this time beset by a tweaked groin, and he's frustrated as hell about it. His competitive fire burns as brightly as ever, but his body is not allowing him to play. He's also out for the Dallas game.
As is Charlie Frye, the possible third stringer who has a hand issue. Frye is really more of a future coach than anything on this roster, and doesn't give the Raiders much when he's on the field. I like him as a player and a leader, but he's not the greatest QB.
As such, the Raiders recently signed Colt Brennan, the former Hawaii Warrior and Washington Redskin known for his weak arm and accuracy. He was a system QB in college, but a damned good one, and he looked good for 'Skins in preseason last year. Thus far, he's dispelled his weak-arm notion by throwing deep balls equal to Campbell's, and his accuracy has stood out. He'll be the No. 3 QB for the Dallas game, and could stick around in place of Frye.
At this time, the Raiders have five QB's on the roster in Campbell, Kyle Boller, Gradkowski, Frye, and Brennan. With Campbell the starter and Grads the likely backup, that leaves Boller, Frye, and Brennan battling for the No. 3 job. Boller thus far is in the lead by default, but I wouldn't be surprised if Brennan usurped him.
Failure To Launch
The new anti-launching rule prevents a player from leaving their feet to make a tackle. I, for one, say THANK YOU! The reason I'm happy about this is that the Raiders have struggled mightily in giving up huge plays over the last few seasons, and a huge, huge contributing factor to those big plays has been a lack of fundamental wrap tackling.
This team needs to tackle better, period, or all the Rolando McClain's and John Henderson's in the world won't improve the run defense. The Raiders last season were actually quite good against the run the majority of the time, but then would see missed tackles and missed assignments allow an opposing back to bust a 40+ yard run, and the numbers would then jump up significantly.
The emphasis on having to make a solid, wrap tackle can only help in the Raiders' goal to improve their run defense.
It's about TIME this team decided to let their best defensive player change things up and have more of a chance to be around the ball and make some plays. When people talk of the best corners in the NFL, Asomugha's name is mentioned, but always with the caveat that he doesn't get a lot of interceptions. That's because they don't throw the ball his way.
Now, he's been lining up all over the defensive backfield, and with the depth in the front seven as well as the improved talent, the defensive backs should have more opportunities to make plays on the ball. Asomugha has shown in the past that he's very adept at making plays on the ball; he just needs it to be thrown in his vicinity.
The defense is finally realizing that we have versatility all over the field, at virtually every position. It's time to take full advantage of that versatility.
Coach Cable's relentless optimism can at times be tedious, but you have to love a guy who truly believes in what he's doing and by extension has the team on board. Cable is not an experienced or overly effective in-game coach to this point, but he does bring the ability to motivate his players, challenge his players, and have them willing to go to war for him.
Cable has changed the culture from a me-first group collecting paychecks and laughing during losses to guys who are battling camp, getting after each other, and enjoying each other's company. The concept of team has taken hold strongly, and with veterans like Nnamdi and Richard Seymour, it will only solidify as the team makes improvements on the field.
The players, the coaches, the fans, even Al Davis in his recent interview, have all expressed realistic hope that things are changing for the better in Oakland.
A new quarterback, the growth of the young explosive players like DHB, bringing in Hue Jackson as a legitimate OC, giving John Marshall some freedom on defense to mix and match with the various parts we have, and just having the team excited to play football and excited about the changes and culture that is forming in Oakland gives us all a reason to hope.
Other than injuries to Schilens, D-Mac, and the occasional drop by a receiver, camp has been positive for the most part. The passing game is lightyears ahead of where it was this time last year (though it'd be impossible NOT to be), and the defense is showing a lot more fire, intensity, and stoutness at the point of attack.
I'm very excited to see what this team brings to the table tomorrow night. Although it's preseason, stopping the run and our offensive line play are going to be the two biggest things I look for. If they both look sloppy, that's not a good sign, but remember it's the first preseason game and sloppiness can be forgiven to a point. Still, this team needs to show marked improvement in both areas to appease the fans of the Nation.