The Oakland Raiders are ready to make a statement in 2011. Before they take the next step, there are some questions that need to be answered.
The Raiders are coming off an 8-8 season that had its share of ups and downs. They went undefeated in division play, but were only 2-8 outside of the division.
The Raiders could be one of the surprise teams of 2011, but before that happens they will have to answer these questions first.
Obviously, the Raiders do not control this, but for them to have a great season in 2011, there needs to be one first.
The sooner the NFL and the players come to an agreement, the better it will be for the Raiders and the other 31 teams.
The Raiders are a young team with a new head coach and a quarterback entering the biggest year of his career. They need to get in and start working as soon as possible.
I believe Jason Campbell has the ability and the tools to be an elite quarterback. I also believe Oakland is his last chance to prove this.
Campbell finally has the trust of his owner, coach, players and fans in Oakland. He was missing the majority of that in Washington, and even part of last year.
For the Raiders to make any sort of big leap this year, Campbell has to show that he can play at a high level every week.
He doesn't need Peyton Manning-type numbers, but he needs to show he can win games with his arm and not lose games with mental errors.
If Campbell can do this, the Raiders will have a great year in 2011.
It's always a good sign when one of your top draft picks finally has a year that makes people say, "That is why he was drafted so high."
After two disappointing years with the Raiders, McFadden finally had a season where he was mostly healthy and always explosive.
If McFadden can have a bigger year and stay on the field, the Raiders offense will be one of the best in the league.
In my opinion, the Raiders will only go as far as Campbell and McFadden can take the team. The defense has the talent to be great, but if the offense doesn't help then it won't matter.
McFadden has to show that last year was no fluke and that he can be one of the best running backs in the league.
He is a nightmare for a defense because the players that are fast enough to catch him are not big enough to tackle him.
The Raiders have not had a receiver catch more than 70 passes in a season since Jerry Porter did it in 2005. No receiver has caught more than 50 passes since Ronald Curry did it in 2007.
Those stats are alarming because most teams have at least two guys that can catch 50 passes per season.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and the Raiders receiving group are all young and have "received a pass" the last couple of years. That will not be the case this year.
Heyward-Bey was a top 10 pick, and he will have to show that he can be a No. 1 guy. It took McFadden three years to break out, it took Nnamdi Asomugha four years, it took Robert Gallery three years and a position change and everyone is still waiting on JaMarcus Russell.
The Raiders do have a lot of youth and talent in the receiving group. If they can get two receivers above the 50-catch mark this season, the Raiders will have a great shot at making the playoffs.
I am very excited about the future of the Oakland Raiders offensive line. This was a position that was ignored a lot during the Raiders' seven years of losing 10 games or more.
In the last two years, the Raiders have drafted four guys that will most likely be starters for the team eventually. The real question is, how ready are the young guys for next season?
Jared Veldheer looks like he has solidified the left tackle position. It looks like 2010 fourth-round pick Bruce Campbell will be taking over Robert Gallery's former spot at guard.
2011 second-round pick Stefen Wisniewski could be the starting center from day one, and don't be surprised to see 2011 third-round pick Joseph Barksdale start at right tackle or one of the guard positions during the season.
If the Raiders offensive line can prove to be smart, consistent and healthy, they can take the Raiders deep into the playoffs.
Lack of protection in the passing game has really hurt Oakland. A lot of their routes are deep routes, and if the line can't hold the defense long enough, the quarterback won't have time to find his receivers.
The offensive line is a big factor in the Raiders success for 2011.
Michael Bush led the Raiders in rushing touchdowns in 2010, and he will be a big part of the Raiders offense in 2011.
Most teams have moved to a two-back system, and the Raiders have one of the best one-two punches in the league.
Darren McFadden is a dangerous back who can kill you with speed and power. Bush is a back that can kill you just by getting in his way.
Not only is he a big back who can punish the defense on the ground, he also has speed and great hands. Bush would be a starter for a lot of teams in the league. Look for him to have double-digit touchdowns in 2011.
I'm going to go ahead and make it official right now: The Raiders have the best special teams in the NFL.
Not only do they have the best punter in the league and one of the best field goal kickers in the league, but they also have one of the best kick returners in the league.
Shane Lechler, Sebastian Janikowski, Sam Williams and Jacoby Ford are four players who make special teams great.
Teams rarely score on the Raiders special teams, and the Raiders now have a player who can score anytime he touches the ball on kickoffs or punts. They also added Taiwan Jones who can add another threat to special teams.
The Raiders will need Lechler to continue his quest to be the best punter of all-time and will need a better season from Janikowski.
Williams has been a great player for the Raiders, and he should be applauded for what he has done with Oakland for the last nine years. You may not see or hear about him much on the TV, but it's players like him who make the NFL special.
Two of the best and longest tenured Raiders on the roster may not be coming back in 2011. Most of the speculation is that both Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff will not be in a Raider uniform next season.
Losing a shut-down corner like Asomugha and a play-making safety like Huff will impact the Raiders greatly in 2011. Whispers around the Coliseum are saying that the Raiders will change their scheme in the secondary.
If they do make changes, then losing a guy like Asomugha won't hurt as bad. The Raiders are strictly a man-to-man team that rarely disguises coverages. New DB coach Rod Woodson has made comments that suggest the team will try to disguise more coverages.
If that is the case, not only will that improve their pass defense, but they also will improve in stopping the run. The Raiders' man-to-man defense would sometimes leave them vulnerable to the big play in the run game.
In Oakland, you'll find two black holes. There is one where the fans sit and there is one on the field. The Oakland Raiders defensive line has become a black hole for quarterbacks.
The Raiders were second in the league in sacks, only one away from being first. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly were among the best interior defensive linemen in the league.
Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy are two young players who have super star potential.
Trevor Scott, John Henderson and Desmond Bryant also add depth and skill to a defensive line that could be one of the NFL's best next season.
If the Raiders defensive line can apply pressure to the quarterback and be aggressive against the run game, Oakland's secondary and linebackers will have a great season.
The Raiders will need a championship-caliber defense if they want to go to the playoffs.
There is a lot of youth in Oakland, and they will have to step up and show they are ready to take the team to the next level. Guys like Rolando McClain, Tyvon Branch, Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaughnessy and others will have to show they are ready to lead the defense.
Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Louis Murphy and the offensive line will have to show that players in their early 20s can execute and make plays in the NFL.
These players still have veterans like Richard Seymour and Jason Campbell to look up to for guidance, but their time is now. It's time for them to step up on and off the field.
If these young players can be true professionals and show up everyday to be the best, not only will the Raiders be successful in 2011, but they will be great for years to come.
The Manning and Brady Era is coming to an end soon. Most of the solid and young quarterbacks are in the NFC now. Most of the top AFC quarterbacks are in their 30s or approaching their 30s.
A youth movement is coming to the AFC, and the Raiders have an opportunity to usher in the new era in 2011.
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