Oakland Raiders: Some Dos and Don'ts for the 2011 Season
The Oakland Raiders enter the 2011 season brimming with optimism and looking to build upon 2010 where they greatly improved in the running game, passing game, pass rush and overall play.
With the lockout still stifling any real football news, everyone with an opinion has been speculating on what may happen in various free agent scenarios, trade rumours and the supplemental draft.
I mean, when Rich Eisen is admittedly wasting time with an entertaining but redundant seven-minute segment of detailed analysis on Mark Sanchez's sandwich preferences, you know material is a little thin.
The growing popularity of sports writing sites such as B/R has given everyone with an opinion, two fingers and a keyboard a forum to voice their thoughts. Since most people—myself heavily included— think their thoughts are profound and need to be shared, the Internet sports writing niche has exploded.
Couple a zillion new writers with a lack of new, fresh material to write about and nary a stone has been left unturned when it comes to speculating on the NFL these days.
I have some ideas about what the Raiders should and should not do in the upcoming season. Some may surprise you.
Like my take on the guy in the picture.
Move forward and see what I'm feeling for the 2011 season. Based on salary cap, free agency rules and other such administrative trappings, these ideas are subject to change once a CBA is in place.
DO : Get Bruce Campbell on the Field
Robert Gallery has gone on record that he will not return to Oakland this season. Though he never panned out as the franchise left tackle he was drafted (and paid) to be, he did end up as a fairly good guard over the last few seasons.
But his mentor and biggest advocate, coach Tom Cable, was let go by the Raiders, and it's clear he won't get the money he's used to getting. It would make sense to see Gallery join Cable with the Seahawks.
All indications are that most available interior lineman will re-sign with their current teams, notably Dahl and Joseph.
So speculate away, but when listening to these guys talk, they love their teams and have played well. There's no reason to think they're going anywhere, and Yanda isn't as good as people think.
Don't believe me? Check out the chart in the next slide.
We have a player on the roster who, though inexperienced, has all the attributes and work ethic necessary to step in and start this season.
He has long arms, gigantic hands and among lineman at the 2010 combine he was fifth in bench press and first in the 40, reaffirming his special speed, strength, size combination.
He spent all last year on the bench but worked his tail off and received huge praises from the coaching staff. Coach Hue Jackson has stated he thinks Campbell can be special. Scouts had already said he was ahead of the curve technique-wise coming out of college; he just needs experience.
The Raiders need to protect the quarterback better than they have, and Gallery is not always the best at doing so. Campbell is bigger, stronger and faster than Gallery, with longer arms, bigger hands and a mean streak.
He also has a chip on his shoulder, having fallen to the fourth round after being speculated as a first-round prospect.
Campbell needs to see the field next season, and at this point, left guard is the best place for him.
DO NOT : Get Rid of Cooper Carlisle
Full disclosure: I have been extremely critical of Cooper Carlisle in the past. I have cursed him, screamed at him and generally wanted him out of Silver & Black at times.
Of course, that was mostly when "Turnstile" Green was beside him and Carlisle looked bad by association. Without Green there last season, Carlisle actually played quite well.
And was still mostly cursed out for it.
Perception is an interesting thing. Once you're set on one, it's tough to get rid of it. Cooper Carlisle is perceived as a liability on the offensive line of the Raiders. It's not true, but it's the widespread perception.
Robert Gallery is perceived as almost elite. He's been good, but no better than Carlisle. Yet he's constantly praised and Carlisle constantly criticized.
See, Carlisle is a free agent signed from the Broncos, not the No. 2 overall pick who Raider Nation desperately wanted something, anything, positive from. At times, I have also been guilty of this thinking.
Gallery mostly gets a pass because Raider Nation needs him to get a pass; and often, the venom spewed forth for other lineman is misdirected and splashes onto Carlisle. I realize this now.
I'm going to make a statement that some will either laugh at, yell at or question me about. Cooper Carlisle is, and has been, our best lineman for at least two seasons.
While cynics will say, "Well, that's not hard," he actually compares very favourably to some of the perceived elite guards in the NFL also. It's not just praise by immediate comparison.
Before you jump to conclusions, before you let any past bias or opinion enter into the equation, know that I went back and studied this guy in 2009 and 2010. He is the least penalized Raider. He pancakes more opponents than any other, and he's solid in pass protection despite having to chip and help out often.
Many will say he doesn't fit the "bully" Hue Jackson wants to build. His tape and his opponent's grass stains, say differently.
Carlisle is underrated, underappreciated and we won't miss him until he's gone. The following table will further illustrate my earlier point that he compares favourably to some elite NFL guards:
Sacks Per Game
NOTE: Mankins's 2010 stats were incomplete, so I took the average of his 2006-2010 seasons. Stats taken from Stats Hosted Solution website.
Other than Ben Grubbs, who was statistically the best overall guard in the NFL last season, Carlisle is the least penalized while giving up as many or fewer sacks than other guards who get much more praise. He is solid, if not excellent.
The Raiders need depth and talent along the line, and they can ill afford to lose both of their best lineman with only inexperience and speculation to fill in behind them.
Gallery is gone; Carlisle needs to stay.
DO: Sign Competition for Jared Veldheer
I am a fan of Jared Veldheer, but I cannot deny he struggled in pass protection last season. Struggled might be putting it mildly. He was flat-out bad at it.
Great run blocker, but your LT doesn't butter his bread with run blocking.
I've already stated my preference for putting Bruce Campbell at left guard, though having him at tackle would work as well. He can at least provide some in-house competition for Veldheer and may even show enough to get a right-left split worked out among the lineman already here.
After a few years of seasoning, they would make a great bookend pair. They have the skills on paper.
But bringing in a proven veteran with a good track record to push the kids can only help, and there will be a few available.
There is much talk in Raider Nation about Jared Gaither. Gaither certainly has a better track record than Veldheer, but his injury history and me-first attitude—there's that perception again—put me off.
Of course, without knowing free-agent rules and salary cap numbers nobody knows how likely anything is.
But the Raiders need depth and experience along the line and need to sign at least one tackle and one guard to solidify this line.
DO NOT: Panic About the Offensive Line
OK, so thus far we've established:
Robert Gallery is leaving.
Cooper Carlisle should stay.
Jared Veldheer and Bruce Campbell should start somewhere along the line.
Veterans will be signed to add depth and competition.
We drafted our center for the next 10 years this past draft (OK, I just established that now.)
As it stands right now, the Raiders starting offensive line would most likely be:
Or Barnes in place of Walker. Either way.
Loper, Satele, Henderson, and Barnes have all started in the NFL. Barnes, at one time, was a high-level player. Satele and Henderson have played well at times, and Loper showed well when filling in for Gallery last season.
Though I wouldn't be dancing a jig, I could live with going into the season with this line as is. But it won't be. I'm confident we will sign at least one starter and another player with starter potential that is a versatile backup.
This line paved the way for the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL last season. It was the pass protection that is a worry. But that was with Veldheer adjusting from Division III college to the NFL. He was certainly overwhelmed at times but can only get better.
Jason Campbell's comfort with the playbook and the offense will contribute to quicker reads and less sacks as well. This offensive line performed better than they get credit for last season but must protect Campbell much better if the team has any shot at the playoffs.
I feel that in discussions about the line, it's generally accepted and railed about that they are terrible, when the stats and their performance don't say that at all. They were No. 18 in the offensive hog index on Football Outsiders, putting them smack in the middle of the league.
While nothing to write home about, and certainly in need of improvement, they aren't the slobs they are often made out to be by the media and many in Raider Nation.
I have the utmost confidence they can improve with what they already have, but that they will add the pieces needed to get to the next level.
DO: Sign a Wide Receiver
The Raiders have an elite young group of wide receivers ready to break out and show the NFL what explosive plays are all about.
I believe I wrote that in 2009. We're still waiting for the breakout.
I understand that there is talent on this squad. Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford have already proven it, and Darrius Heyward-Bey flashes it at times. Chaz Schilens, when healthy, is pretty much as good as advertised.
Throw in young Denarius Moore, drafted in the fifth round this year out of Tennessee, and the big, physical USC product David Ausberry, grabbed in the seventh round, and the Raiders have a cadre of young potential just waiting to produce.
But not one of these guys, at this point, is a No. 1 receiver.
Schilens has the chops, but his body keeps breaking down. Ford is still a little inexperienced and also pretty small, but he's great.
Murphy's hands and head abandon him at times. Heyward-Bey; well, he has the same problems as Murphy but even more pronounced.
This group hasn't produced at a level that makes me feel comfortable that we can get a first down whenever we need it. Zach Miller, though a priority, is a free agent and no lock to return to the team.
I'm sure Al will make his signing a priority, but going into a promising season leaning on a could-be-gone tight end and a group of talented but mostly unproven receivers is a little harrowing.
The list of free agent receivers is intriguing. In addition to the enigmatic Plaxico Burress, there is Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Mike Sims-Walker, Sidney Rice, Braylon Edwards, James Jones and many others.
While Jackson, Holmes, Edwards and probably Rice are likely to re-sign with their current squads, a big, physical guy like Sims-Walker, Jones or Malcolm Floyd could be just what the Raiders need to give Jason Campbell a reliable target and the young receivers someone to learn from.
DO NOT: Cut Darrius Heyward-Bey
I know Heyward-Bey is set to make roughly $7 million this season, yet despite playing a majority of snaps in his first two years, his career statistics look like a decent four-game stretch for Andre Johnson: 35 catches, 490 yards, 18.8 ypc, 2 TDs.
Not exactly jumping off the page at you, are they? And Johnson would have more TD's in four games.
When he was drafted, Raider Nation sighed. Another speedster with marginal tangible football skills, we thought. Everyone else was even harsher.
Cris Carter and Tom Jackson had a field day embarrassing the poor kid on national television during an ESPN interview. They were visibly laughing at him while they questioned him. Though unprofessional, it showed you exactly what critics thought of the Raiders' pick.
Unfortunately, he's done little thus far to dissuade Raider Nation's initial apprehension nor to shut the considerable yaps of Carter and Jackson.
But he's working his butt of to do so.
By all accounts this kid works as hard or harder than anyone on the field. He has the physical tools, but as someone once said, "You can't coach hands."
I disagree. The fact that DHB went and stayed with Jason Campbell and Louis Murphy this offseason shows once again how dedicated he is to refining his craft.
His touchdown against Seattle last year showed excellent ball attack and separation speed; the kind of things we expect and want from this guy week in and week out. Not everyone is a star right away.
I realize his draft position and salary demand him to be such, but we need to have one more year of patience before throwing in the towel.
He's too big, too strong, too fast to toss aside just yet. But the money, oh the money.
Vernon Gholston came to the Jets and voluntarily took a pay cut to help the team sign some players and because he hadn't earned his considerable bonus. While I think DHB should do the same, nobody can make him do it.
The team could request it, and I could see him acquiescing to it. But that's all.
A pay cut, yes. A full cut, no.
DO: Draft Terrelle Pryor in the Third Round of the Supplemental Draft
I'm not going to go into a huge spiel about Pryor. Enough has been written about why he's a great fit for the Raiders.
I'll reiterate that his size, speed, strength and athleticism scream Raider. I'll also say he just has a look about him, a steelness in his eyes, that says Raider.
I don't absolve him of his role at Ohio State. He made some very poor decisions, hasn't really owned up to them and ran away from the mess he created. Not really that admirable.
But he's still young, his crime didn't injure or maim anyone and he forever has to look himself in the mirror and know he helped destroy a storied program.
I think he's redeemable, but more importantly, I think he wants to make amends. Everything about him says listen, I want to show everyone I'm a good guy and a good player. I want to succeed.
If he's still there in the third round, the Raiders should grab him. I know that would leave us without a second-, third- and fourth-round pick next year, but we've stockpiled quite a bit of young talent in recent seasons and have one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
We have more to gamble with than other teams.
I don't care if he's QB, WR, whatever. His talent level and style fit the Raiders. This team's new attitude, leadership and coaching staff will keep him in line to be sure, and he's going to want to work his butt off to prove to everyone he's still the man.
Get him here and then sort it out.
It's worth it.
DO NOT: Draft Terrelle Pryor in the First Round of the Supplemental Draft
Not much to add here. If he's gone by the third, it wasn't meant to be.
No way, no how, despite all the good things I said earlier, should the Raiders risk a first-rounder on Pryor. He's too risky, and QB risks in the first round have been all-around disasters for the Raiders.
If he's still there in the third, great. In the fifth? Even better and a no-brainer I would hope.
But in the first?
There are many pressing issues I didn't address, such as the impending free agency of Michael Bush, Zach Miller, Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff.
I also glossed over the outside linebacker position, my desire to have Kirk Morrison return, my excitement to see a healthy Travis Goethel, my wisftul memories of Thomas Howard when he was a part of the defense, and how Kamerion Wimbley needs to be more consistent.
I see Branch at FS and Mitchell at SS, which is scary for opponents in the run game and scary for the Raiders in coverage.
I also didn't touch on our cornerback situation. Even if Nnamdi leaves, I feel we have a good, if not great, group of corners, and we will adjust. I want him to stay, but I will be somewhat intrigued to see our turnover numbers if he leaves.
There are an awful lot of things the Raiders need to address this offseason, and the window is growing increasingly short to be able to do so. However, Mr. Davis just celebrated his 82nd birthday, and I have no doubt he has about 82 different contingency plans on how to return this team to greatness.
And each one of them addresses far more than I ever could.
Thank you for reading as always. Let's go CBA!!!
Remember, whether good, bad or ugly, your comments are welcome and encouraged.