Heading into the 2009 NFL season, the Oakland Raiders have several interesting battles emerging before the start of training camp. How these four camp storylines play out will have a direct effect on the team's fortunes.
4. Michael Huff vs. Mike Mitchell (Safety)
When the Raiders drafted Huff seventh overall in 2006, they thought that they added a playmaker in the consensus first team All-American safety who won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's best defensive back.
Three lost seasons followed in which Huff accounted for only one interception and one sack for the Raiders, including numerous botched assignments that culminated in Huff's eventual benching.
Enter Mike Mitchell, a ferocious hitting safety drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft. The Raiders envision Mitchell as a playmaker in the Jack Tatum, Ronnie Lott mold who has the chance to make an immediate impact.
Mitchell may be the future in Oakland who will see the field extensively in 2009, but Huff should enter the season as the starter and will be given a chance to finally find his niche in the NFL.
With Mitchell breathing down his neck, Huff needs to perform early in the season, or 2009 could be his swan song in Oakland.
3. Mario Henderson vs. Khalif Barnes (Left Tackle)
Henderson, a third-round pick in 2007 who had been deemed a project by former head coach Lane Kiffin, blossomed late in 2008 when given playing time.
As a starter, Henderson held the likes of Mario Williams and Gaines Adams off the stat sheet and quarterback JaMarcus Russell off the turf.
One of coach Tom Cable's main objectives heading into this offseason was to sign offensive lineman Khalif Barnes, whom Cable thinks will fit in well with the zone blocking scheme that Oakland employs.
Barnes stated that he signed in Oakland to play left tackle and has had some success at the position during his four years in Jacksonville.
Anyone who has followed the NFL at all knows that Al Davis has the final say in every aspect of the Oakland Raiders.
If the way Davis was gushing about Henderson's play at the end of the season is any indication, Henderson will start the season at left tackle, with Barnes settling in on the right side of the line.
2. Justin Fargas vs. Darren McFadden vs. Michael Bush (Running Back)
Perhaps no one in the NFL plays with more guts than Justin Fargas, who has overcome injury to become a productive back in the NFL. Fargas blends a drive and ferocity that undoubtedly rubs off on his teammates.
Overcoming injury is something Michael Bush is familiar with as well.
A former star running back at Louisville, Bush suffered a severely broken leg in his senior season, causing his draft stock to fall from the first round down to the fourth, where Oakland seems to have landed a gem.
Considered the top talent in the 2008 NFL draft, Darren McFadden landed in Oakland as the fourth overall pick. With draft measurables that matched his lofty collegiate stats, McFadden is the playmaker Oakland sorely needs.
If Coach Cable can integrate all three backs into a cohesive, productive unit, Oakland will have a running game to be reckoned with, and as a result, the whole Raider offense wins.
Fargas is a great character guy who gives his all and McFadden has the jaw-dropping abilities, but Bush has the edge, being the most durable of the three.
1. JaMarcus Russell vs. Jeff Garcia
Drafted with the first overall pick in 2007, Russell has jaw-dropping abilities and all the measurables to develop into a franchise quarterback.
After a holdout sabotaged his rookie season, Russell was anointed the starter in 2008 and showed glimpses of what he could become with the right work ethic and determination.
Jeff Garcia is the antithesis of Russell. What Garcia lacks in talent, he more than makes up for with intangibles. The four-time Pro Bowler went undrafted in 1994 and has had to prove himself every step of the way.
Shortly after signing with Oakland as a mentor for Russell, Garcia made his intentions of challenging Russell for the job known.
Russell is the incumbent, and little will change. Garcia will provide the perfect motivation for Russell to succeed and develop into a franchise quarterback. Garcia provides a great option if Russell falters or is injured.
Among all this competition there is a common thread: The Oakland Raiders are collecting pieces of a successful franchise. Putting the pieces together and restoring the silver and black to prominence is the battle that lies ahead.