The Raiders are looking to pick up where they left off last season, when they fought their way back to mediocrity and in turn doubled their previous seasons win total. The Raiders seem to have momentum in their favor and would like to build off of last season’s resurgence. Oakland went 8-8 and for the first time went undefeated in the AFC West and narrowly missed the playoffs.
A lot has to happen for the Raiders to continue their journey back in to contention and atop of the AFC West mountain.
First of all, and most importantly, quarterback Jason Campbell must assert himself as the leader of the team once and for all. It is crucial that he distance himself from fan favorite, but oft-injured Bruce Gradkowski. Campbell must take control of the offense and silence all doubters by raising his level of play and cutting down on mental mistakes, inconsistencies and hesitations.
The offensive line will be an early indicator as to the direction of this Oakland team, and can easily spell success or failure for the Raiders. Rookie offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski must establish himself early and be mentally and physically ready to be thrown into the fire. Gone will be guard Robert Gallery, along with him will be his gritty run blocking and usually suspect pass protection.
The Langston Walker and Mario Henderson experiments were complete failures and both should considerable playing time behind rookie LSU tackle Joseph Barksdale. Both Walker and Henderson were never “prototypical tackles” and struggled in both the run game and pass protection.
The bright spots on an otherwise dismal and underachieving unit were rookie Jared Valdheer and Samson Satele, who battled injuries throughout the season. The Raiders coaching staff must find permanent positions for Valdheer and guard/tackle Bruce Campbell. Campbell wowed scouts at the combine, but seemed lost at times and unable to physically dominate the opposition like he did in college.
For the Raiders to have any success, the offensive line must mesh quickly and provide a physical presence not only in the much improved running game, but on passing plays also. Last season Oakland ranked second in the league in rushing and 23rd overall in passing.
Running back Darren McFadden proved last season what he was capable of leading the team in rushing yards and trialing only Michael Bush in touchdowns. Now McFadden must build on last year’s performance and stay healthy for the entire season.
If he can do so, and Oakland re-signs backfield mate Michael Bush, the Raiders could potentially have one of best backfields in the NFL. But the key will be if McFadden can stay healthy for an entire season and use the dynamic skills that have the Raider Nation salivating.
Many questions surround the tight end and receiving corps coming in to the season. The biggest concern will be whether or not the Raiders re-sign tight end Zach Miller. If Oakland plans on making a run at the playoffs, that will hinge on the contract situation and play of one of the underrated and talented players in the game.
Oakland's offense struggled when Miller was injured and unable to play. The Raiders offense, nor QB Jason Campbell, cannot afford to lose the playmaking ability of Miller. If anything, the Raiders must figure out a way to isolate Miller more and use him in as a go to receiver in as many offensive packages as possible.
The most glaring need for the Silver and Black offense is a reliable and playmaking wide receiver. Rookie Jacoby Ford turned heads and surprised many around the league with his play making ability. Unfortunately, this will not happen again, as many defensive coordinators will be keying on the second year receiver/return man.
The outlook is bleak for this group of Oakland receivers. Much can be said about this unit when fullback Marcell Reece is considered to have the best hands on the team. Both Louis Murphy and Chaz Schilens have battled injuries, but so does everyone at this level. Murphy has shown flashes, but has never been consistent. Schilens has the body that coaches drool over, but keep himself on the field long enough to make plays.
If anyone has seen seventh overall pick Darius Heyward-Bey, please notify the Oakland front office. The Raiders have filed a missing persons report on the disappointing receiver, known for disappearing on Sundays. Until DHB can put together a complete game and actually catch balls that are thrown to him, he will carry that very heavy and weighing label of “Bust.”
This Oakland team can be defined with one word: potential. The problem with that is so can every other team in the NFL. It is what is done with the talented players that set the great teams apart from the average. The Raiders have proven that they can win games with talented players, but not bona fide stars.
If new head coach Hue Jackson can energize this team and challenge them to shed any and all negative labels, this team has the “potential” to be not only exciting, but a force to be reckoned with in the NFL Playoffs.