They finished 2010 with an 8-8 record, and already it’s forgotten. New head coach Hue Jackson has interjected a high-volume dose of energy into camp. Practices are fast-paced and loud. There’s plenty of hitting, though not all out. The veterans have commented that Jackson’s camp is faster, longer and more fun than that of last year under Tom Cable, now the line coach in Seattle.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. This is a team that ranked sixth in the league in points (25.6) over 2010 and had no real threat at wide receiver. So far, Chaz Schilens looks in peak form—good news since he’s coming off two injury-plagued years. Jacoby Ford, last year’s surprise, is slotted to be the other wideout. He has an injured left hand that will keep him out of some preseason games and practices, but no one is worried.
Perhaps the biggest news is that Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, has shown signs of improvement. Practices had him running crosses and stops, not just the sprints up the sideline. His hands appear improved as well. Is that enough to unseat backup Louis Murphy or camp rookie star Denarius Moore?
The biggest issue is the loss of tight end Zach Miller, who signed with Seattle—in his place, Kevin Boss by way of the New York Giants. The coaches seem to think there is no real drop in performance, and that counts for the team’s confidence.
Yet that element of the team plays second fiddle to the defense. Ten of 11 starters return, including the interior tackles of Richard Seymour and Tommie Kelly. Rolando McClain has stated he’s ready to improve on his strong rookie season, and the secondary seems not to miss Nnamdi Asomugha, who is replaced by Chris Johnson. Safety Tyvon Branch anchors the squad.
Add in the strong special team performers of Sebastian Janikowksi and Shane Lechler, a schedule that features the NFC North, apparent weak division foes Denver and Kansas City and the fact that the team swept the AFC West last year, and you can see why quiet confidence abounds in Raider Land.
In that vein, here is insight into five Raiders who, taken together, give some insight into why so many who follow this team have bright, bright hopes for 2011.