The team ended the 2008 season on a high note by doing a few things that they haven’t done since 1999: win their last game and win a road game outside of California.
The Raiders have to make some major changes on offense. Those changes need to start with the evaluation of the players currently on the roster.
Most teams are built to go eight-and-eight or better. When they don’t, you can blame the front office 85 percent of the time.
It has to be determined which players should be a part of the Raiders' future.
Several young players have been auditioning to be a part of that group and any successful team needs a nice mixture of veterans and youth. The fact remains that you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. Some of the team’s veterans need to be let go as discussed in part II.
The top-down distractions from a dysfunctional front office and owner caused several problems for this unit. Former Head Coach Lane Kiffin is partly responsible for the demise of this unit as well. It was his task to put it together and develop the players.
There is no better place to start than with the franchise players on offense; QB JaMarcus Russell and RB Darren McFadden. Both are young players that need time to develop and learn how to play at this level. McFadden was injured and needs to be healthy to make an impact.
The next coaching staff will play a huge role in said development, specifically Russell’s. Having three different play callers in his first year starting set his development back. He needs to spend a lot of time in the film room and on the field working on timing, accuracy, reading coverages.
The poor play of the offensive line and the terrible play calling hurt the team just as much as not having any go-to wide receivers. This team was built to run the ball and have a controlled passing game.
This leads me to assessing the offensive line, a group in need of reinforcements. The team is in need of two Tackles, especially a Left Tackle. Possessing the seventh overall pick in the first round, the team can go in several directions. But drafting a Left Tackle would be a solid choice.
I know what several of you are thinking after I’ve made the above statement:
The team should draft WR Michael Crabtree. I don’t have a problem with the thought or action. He is the best WR in the draft, a position of need for the team.
He has yet to declare, but I doubt very seriously that the Rams, Chiefs, Bengals and Seahawks will all pass on him, allowing him to fall to the Raiders.
First things first, Tackles Kwame Harris & Cornell Green both need to be given their walking papers and replaced.
I feel that it took Interim Head Coach Tom Cable entirely too long to figure out that starting Mario Henderson over Kwame Harris was a better choice and better for the team.
He showed what he could do when given the chance in week two in Kansas City.
I think he was doing someone else’s bidding by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Just as he was by voicing how upset he was with Kiffin hiring James Cregg from his coaching staff.
Had the decision been made to start Henderson earlier, there is a possibility this unit could have performed better and possibly won more games.
In regards to tackles, here’s what we know: Mario Henderson is raw, but has the tools to succeed. Paul McQuistan, who has had success playing both Guard and Tackle, has recovered from injury and will be back with the team in 2009.
James Marten, the second-year player drafted by the Cowboys in the third round of 2007, will have a chance to factor into one of the tackle positions in 2009. Brandon Torrey is an undrafted free agent on the practice squad.
The Guard positions are set with starters Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle.
The depth behind them (Robert Felton, Paul McQuistan and Chris Morris) could use an addition via the draft, free agency, or an undrafted free agent. Jake Grove played well this season at center, his backup is Chris Morris.
The team could use a third quarterback, possibly a veteran behind Russell and possibly Andrew Walter. I don’t see Marques Tuiasosopo in the team’s future.
The three-headed rushing tandem of Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush is effective and needs to make a healthy return in 2009.
The only chance of a change is if it is possible to trade Fargas for a third or fourth round draft pick.
The Wide Receiver position is one that is in transition. I don’t have a problem with the position coach. The players that are being developed prior to any additions are Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens, Todd Watkins, Arman Shields, Jonathan Holland and D.J. Hall.
Fullbacks Oren O’Neal and Justin Griffith should be back for 2009. TE Zach Miller had a solid year that could’ve been better if he didn’t have to help the offensive line. The second Tight End is Darrel Strong; the third TE is Tony Stewart, who is more of a blocking Tight End.
The new coaching staff needs to use the rushing attack more, provide more playing time for Michael Bush, and find a role for FB/H-Back Marcel Reece and RB Louis Rankin.
I would like to see Louis Rankin and Justin Miller as kick returners. This will allow Johnnie Lee Higgins to focus more on WR & Punt Returns, where he can continue to be one of the team’s playmakers.
The youth has served the team well, and it shows that these young players are the future of this team and need to be developed. There are players on offense that will garner the attention of opposing defenses that need to be lead by a unified owner, front office, scouting department and coaching staff.
I’ve mentioned the players that this team will move forward with as far as youth. But it all depends on one thing: Is Al Davis going to move into the 21st century or not? If he does, for example, hire a GM like a Scott Pioli and give him control of the team, he could bring Josh McDaniels with him.
Al could hire Bill Parcels, who is set to be a sought after Executive at 67, and give him total control. If he is able to pull off either move this franchise will be on an upswing and set for success in the future.
The NFL can be a copycat league, but the fact remains that it has several very tough competitors. You must remain competitive, and the Raiders are competing with several other teams for the services of the guys mentioned above and others to right the ship.
The only way the Raiders can compete is if Al Davis changes his ways and gives the keys to someone capable of leading the franchise back to prominence.