Much of the credit for the Raiders' 2-1 start to the 2011 season should go to Hue Jackson and the coaching staff. Then of course you have the veterans like Richard Seymour to show this young Raider team the way.
With the losses of Nnamdi Asomugha, Zach Miller and Robert Gallery, there are only so many veterans there to produce. Therefore, the Raiders have had to lean heavily on youngsters to carry the day to get wins.
If you look at the way they're playing now, it's hard not to think that a dynasty can come out of this young team if they stay together. There are some youngsters on the team that have really helped the the 2011 Raiders become a different team from the years of the recent past.
Turn the page to see who they are.
Veteran Khalif Barnes has stopped false starting and he's playing very well right now. I have to give rookie Joseph Barksdale some of the credit for that because he looks real good when he gets in.
The Raiders don't miss a beat on offense when he rotates in and he really gives the Raiders what they need on the goal line. On a short touchdown run by Michael Bush in Buffalo, Barksdale pancaked first-round draft pick Marcel Dareus.
He's also done a good job pass blocking when he's in.
With Chris Johnson finally out after trying to play hurt the first two games, rookie Chimdi Chekwa made his debut against the Jets. He took his lumps early on but got better as the game went on and made some key pass deflections late in the game.
He was the difference between the Bills game and the Jets game!
The Bills picked on the gimpy Johnson to get themselves back into the game and on the final drive to win it. Chekwa showed that he can get it done and 50 percent of Johnson isn't better than 100 percent of him.
The Raiders should feel better about going into the Patriots game with Chekwa.
Second-year defensive end Lamarr Houston is another part of that dominant defensive line that can't be blocked. Houston doesn't have a sack yet but has put pressure on the quarterback and stuffs the run when it comes his way.
That's what you need from a base end.
Houston also uses his athletic ability to bat down passes, which will come in handy when Tom Brady comes to town. I fully expect his sack numbers to go up as the season goes along and he continues to pressure the quarterback.
He's big—he's strong—he's fast—he's a Raider!
Richard Seymour has constantly praised third-year defensive end Matt Shaughnessy since his arrival in Raider Nation. Shaughnessy has done nothing to disappoint him or Raider Nation since getting that early praise.
So far this year, it looks like he's going to be that star that we all thought he was going to be. He has one sack so far, has consistently put pressure on the quarterback and blows up running plays in his gap.
Another young player Raider Nation can be excited about.
Stefen Wisniewski was drafted to be the center for years to come for the Oakland Raiders. Samson Satele has somehow managed to hold onto that job so no problem—just plug him in at left guard and watch him excel.
Excel is exactly what he has done, opening up holes for the Raiders to run left at will. Not only is he a strong point-of-attack blocker, but he pulls well and gets to the second level.
Can he pass block?
Everyone on the Raiders' offensive line can!
Wisniewski was a nominee for Rookie of the Week for Week 3.
Rookie receiver Denarius Moore had a great camp and preseason but had to wait until Week 2 to get a shot. Moore was actually pressed into a starting role in Week 2 by an injury to Jacoby Ford, who isn't on this list yet because of injury.
In that game against the Buffalo Bills, Moore had five catches for 146 yards including a 50-yard touchdown that could have won the game. Moore followed that performance with four catches for only 34 yards but still made a key play in the game—scoring from 23 yards out on a reverse.
He is now tied for the league lead in catches over 40 yards and tied for fourth in catches over 20 yards.
The future is bright for this kid!
Wait until Moore and Ford can line up together!
Rolando McClain is starting to look like the beast he was supposed to be when the Raiders drafted him in 2010. He seemed to struggle against the run last year as he was often out of place while trying to learn the 4-3.
This year he seems to always be around the ball as the Raiders have only struggled in one game against the run. That was with nickel personnel in as the Bills ran the ball from the spread formation.
I expect the Raiders to figure that one out as McClain continues to have a good year. He is currently on pace to have 123 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 21 passes defensed for this season.
When the Raiders figure out how to stop the spread run, the game is over!
You don't just start winning without a man that you trust to protect the backside of the quarterback. The Raiders now have that in second-year left tackle Jared Veldheer in a big way.
He has yet to give up a sack despite facing the likes of Von Miller, Elvis Dumerville and Shawne Merriman. As a matter of fact, he's only given up a handful of pressures so far in this young season.
I had no idea this kid would end up being this good!
I know what you're thinking.
"Darren McFadden is a veteran in his fourth year!"
To that I say he's still a youngster at age 24.
He's actually a couple of months younger than Veldheer.
McFadden hadn't even turned 21 yet when he was drafted by the Raiders back in 2008. To me, that's a big part of why he had such a hard time staying healthy in the early years of his career.
McFadden is now on pace to rush for 2,096 yards and is the biggest single reason why the Raiders are 2-1. He was also the biggest reason why the Raiders were able to finish at .500 for the first time in seven years in 2010.
Combine that with his age and he has to be on this list!
Everyone expected the Raiders to take a step backwards after they lost Asomugha, Miller and Gallery. But they've actually taken a step forward—starting the season 2-1 for the first time since 2004.
The icing on the cake for that is a win over the New York Jets, who went to the AFC Championship game the last two years. Sure we can give props to Al Davis, Jackson and the Raiders' staff, but we would be remiss if we didn't give props to the Raider youngsters.
They have stepped in and stepped up!
There are actually more youngsters on the way as they get healthy!