Oakland Raiders' State of the Franchise Going into Week 1
The Oakland Raiders are getting healthy so I wouldn't say that they are in as bad a position as most. However, this is far from the perfect team as there are parts that leave a lot to be desired.
But it is no where near on the level as their preseason record would indicate or what the media is saying. In fact, some of the parts that leave a lot to be desired can be improved by players already on the roster.
Turn the page to see why the Raiders aren't too far off.
Offensive Line: Weakness
The offensive line is far and away the weakness of this team.
As a unit, they've pass blocked pretty well this preseason but seem to allow pressure up the middle at times. Then in the running game, Michael Bush and Taiwan Jones have made great individual efforts to make their runs.
Last year, Jared Veldheer was the strongest link in the run game while weak link in pass blocking. That isn't a good thing for a left tackle so I recommended that he be moved to right tackle but Veldheer has stepped up his game in 2011 and become the unit's strongest link in both categories.
Then we have Stephen Wisniewski, the Raiders' center of the future that has to play left guard now. He' will do fine there but current starting center Samson Satele, right guard Cooper Carlisle, and right tackle Khalif Barnes get bullied backward at times.
I thought the Raiders were supposed to be building the bully.
On top of that Barnes can't remember the snap count!
I think this is fixable if the 6'5", 335 pound Stephon Heyer goes to left guard and rookie Joe Barksdale to right tackle. With Wisniewski at center and Bruce Campbell at right guard, the Raiders can actually run the ball to the right and up the middle without running backs doing it on their own.
Doesn't that sound more like a bully to you?
Running Backs: Strength
With emerging superstar Darren McFadden and battering ram Michael Bush, the Raiders return the No. 2 rushing attack in the league. It looks like the rich have gotten richer here as Taiwan Jones, the jitterbug, has shown people that he has ability in the last two preseason games.
It doesn't stop there.
Rock Cartwright, the special teams star is a battering ram himself so the Raiders have an abundance of speed and power in the backfield. McFadden has both speed and power so he will continue to be the workhorse of the group.
I wonder how many plays fullback/weapon Marcel Reece will make this year.
I can't believe I'm saying this.
The Raiders are very deep at receiver with seven and I can't blame them for keeping them all. Chaz Schilens is the best of this unit and he will play opening night after putting my breakout season prediction in jeopardy with a sprained knee.
Louis Murphy will miss opening night but all indications are that he will be back soon thereafter. Then we have Jacoby Ford, who's a dynamic playmaker waiting to breakout and training camp superstar Denarius Moore.
Derek Hagan is the veteran of the group and gives the Raiders another big body at the position. Nick Miller and Darrius Heward-Bey are a part of the Olympic caliber relay team the Raiders always have at receiver.
The good news is there is more that just speed in this group.
I believe that Jason Campbell is going to have a breakout year this season but if he get injured, I can't predict good things. Kyle Boller is...himself so I don't know what we'll get from him and Terrell Pryor is a rookie that got to camp late.
The offensive line is protecting better than last year at this time and Campbell has been pretty durable throughout his career. So l like his chances of staying healthy and doing some damage as he gets to play in the same offense as he did last year.
It also helps that he has a great receiving corps, many of which he's familiar with and an old offensive coordinator back.
Tight End: Strength
As I've said before, I like the addition of Kevin Boss as he is a better red zone and vertical threat than the departed Zach Miller. I'm still holding out that his sprained knee will be healed in time for the opener.
If not the Raiders are very deep at the position.
Brandon Myers can hold the fort down and Richard Gordon is a great run blocker at the position. Converted collegiate receiver David Ausberry has 4.4 second wheels and could be special one day.
He should at least be special for stretches this year.
Superstrength: Defensive Line
This unit is the NFL's best defensive line.
You can say that it didn't really look that way this preseason but they didn't really play a lot. Richard Seymour, the beast and leader of this unit was given a lot of the preseason off and rightfully so.
I mention this because everyone else on the unit plays better when he's in the game.
Who is the rest of the unit?
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly finally lived up to his potential last year with defensive ends Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston are looking to live up to their superstar potential this year. The Raiders have excellent depth at defensive tackle that didn't show this preseason because John Henderson missed a lot of the preseason along with Seymour.
Defensive tackle Desmond Bryant is solid himself giving the Raiders another option if someone goes down. At defensive end, Jarvis Moss has looked like a best and Trevor Scott looked like he's back from his knee surgery this preseason.
Don't forget that outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley can put his hand in the ground at any time.
This is going to be a strong unit this year.
Middle linebacker Rolando McClain looks like he knows his way around these days, finding the ball and stopping it. Kamerion Wimbley is on the cusp of being special and Quenin Groves, last year's weak link has improved.
If you look at the stats of the preseason game against the 49ers, you will be fooled because most of those rushing yards were yielded by the second team against the 49ers first team offensive line. It was also the second or third team that gave up the big run over 40-yards.
Last year, the Raiders' first team gave up runs over 40-yards in two of the four preseason games. This year, the Raiders' first team didn't give up any runs over 40-yards.
In fact the run defense looked good without Seymour in the game against the Saints, where the rest of the ones got the most playing time. I actually like the Raiders' depth at linebacker with Ricky Brown coming back to play middle linebacker.
Darryl Blackstock looks decent as one backup outside linebacker as does Bruce Davis as the other.
Secondary: Strength but a Question
This years secondary should be a strength of this team regardless of the departure of Nnamdi Asomugha. I'm not saying that it's just as good without Asomugha but it should still be a team strength.
The secondary didn't look the greatest this preseason but that is with rookie Demarcus Van Dyke trying to cover No. 1 receivers. Chris Johnson is back from his "oil change" to pair with Stanford Routt, who's looked like every bit of a shut-down corner this preseason.
The two corners finished in the top five in burn percentage last year and that was with Johnson playing hurt. Free safety Michael Huff was a second team All-Pro player so the Raiders are good there.
But Tyvon Branch was easy pickings last year, with a burn percentage of over 70 percent, giving up eight touchdowns. He hasn't looked too good in coverage this preseason either outside of an interception he made while in endzone.
The question here is will Mike Mitchell, a big hitter who played well in coverage last year, start when he is healthy as he is getting close to coming back. Huff is looking to play nickel corner and Chimdi Chekwa looks like he will be okay as the next man up at corner.
Van Dyke is going to be good but it's time to slow him down for a while as the next man. Joe Porter is more of a replacement for Hiram Eugene on special teams but will be a backup at corner.
Matt Giordano and Jerome Boyd give the Raiders depth at safety.
The special teams will be at the top of the league this year.
Shane Lechler is a Pro Bowl punter that sends footballs to the air to hang out and Sebastien Janikowski can kick a field goal from the Raiders 35 yard line. Ford is always a threat to take a kickoff back to the house and Nick Miller looks like he will get a chance to improve on his injury plagued 2010 returning punts.
Jon Condo is a Pro Bowl long snapper too.
Despite all the key losses, the glass is three quarters full for the Oakland Raiders. Strong safety and from center to right tackle could be a problem but it doesn't have to be if certain guys are put in place.
I guess the lockout has the Raiders' coaching staff a little hesitant to start rookies in certain positions but they will have to revisit it soon. But if the coaching staff plays their cards right, this can be a good year as the Raiders are solid in most positions as players get healthy.
The Raiders actually have depth at positions this year that they were thin at last year so they are still on schedule to improve.
The question is how much?