NFL Preseason 2010: Oakland Raiders Top Storylines
There isn’t all that much to say about life as an Oakland Raiders fan recently. The Raiders have stunk. Let's not sugarcoat it.
With ornery owner Al Davis in charge, Oakland has been terrible since head coach Bill Callahan led them to an 11-5 record and a Super Bowl appearance in 2002.
After Callahan was fired following the 2003 season, the hottest coaching seat in football became Oakland. Norv Turner, Art Shell, and Lane Kiffin all came and went in less than five full seasons.
Tom Cable took over mid-2008 for Kiffin, and has promptly led the Raiders to consecutive 5-11 seasons (although Oakland was already 1-3 when Cable took over in his first year).
With last year’s debacle, the Raiders became the first team in NFL history to lose 11 games in seven consecutive seasons.
So, yeah, this decade hasn’t exactly been the glory years of the Silver and Black.
But with that said, there are finally some reasons to be excited in Oakland.
We aren’t suggesting the Raiders are going to win the AFC West, but it’s no longer all doom-and-gloom in the Bay like it has been for the better part of the 2000s. The Black Hole has a reason to get fired up again.
As the NFL preseason rolls on, here are a few storylines from Raiders camp.
A New Quarterback in Town
Reason No.1 to be excited if you’re the Raiders? The JaMarcus Russell era is over in Oakland.
Russell never produced for the Raiders, who made him a very rich man by handing him a $61 million deal after selecting him first overall in the 2007 draft.
All Russell did after he came out of LSU was report to the Raiders out of shape and unmotivated. Russell accumulated a 7-18 record as a starter in Oakland before the team released him this May.
In replace of Russell is Jason Campbell.
The Raiders acquired Campbell from the Washington Redskins in April in return for a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft.
Campbell battled some injuries in Washington and could never solidify his role as starting quarterback under coach Jim Zorn. Washington reportedly tried to trade for Jay Cutler and was very high on Mark Sanchez in the 2009 draft.
When Mike Shanahan took over this past offseason and brought in Donovan McNabb, it was clear Campbell needed a new home.
However, Campbell still needs to prove himself in Oakland.
In three seasons, Campbell boasts a 82.3 QB rating and has completed 61.2 percent of his passes.
If coach Cable intends on having a short leash with Campbell, then the Raiders may not get what they had hoped for as a return on their investment.
But if Campbell is allowed to grow into the starting role in Oakland and is given a fair opportunity to be the guy, the Raiders may have found their best QB since Rich Gannon.
Gradkowski Returns from Injuries
If Campbell does falter, Bruce Gradkowski will be waiting to reclaim his starting role.
Gradkowski was off to a good start in 2009, winning two of his first three starts before he tore ligaments in both knees and missed the rest of the season.
He then tore his pectoral muscle in the offseason before straining his groin this summer in training camp.
“It’s tough,” Gradkowski told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I can’t control the injuries that I had. We have three quarterbacks that can win for us this year, and we’re excited about that.”
The third quarterback, Kyle Boller, initially competed with Gradkowski for the backup job.
Gradkowski says he is excited to get back on the field this Saturday as the Raiders take on the San Francisco 49ers in Oakland.
Running Back by Committee?
The Raiders would love stability in their backfield, but that may not be the case this year.
Darren McFadden is listed as the team’s No. 1 back and will get a load of the carries, but McFadden has already missed significant time in training camp.
McFadden returned to practice on Tuesday for the first time in two weeks since injuring his hamstring.
McFadden, Oakland’s first pick in the 2008 draft, suffered from turf toe injuries in 2008 and was limited to 12 games in 2009 after tearing the meniscus in his right knee.
How the speedy back will hold up as he begins his third season in the league is anybody’s guess, but it’s clear the Raiders need him.
Oakland will look to McFadden and Michael Bush to help improve a rushing attack that ranked 21st in football last season.
McFadden will see some action this weekend against San Francisco and could potentially be an explosive 1-2 punch with Bush.
If either one falters, Rock Cartwright and Michael Bennett will be competing for carries.
Will Heyward-Bey Emerge?
The Raiders surprised many when they picked wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the seventh pick of the ’09 draft out of Maryland.
Most people thought Michael Crabtree would be the top receiver selected, if only based on talent alone, but the Raiders went a different route.
Heyward-Bey didn’t exactly produce like a skills guy picked in the top-10 normally would.
Heyward-Bey played only 11 games last year and caught one touchdown.
However, those numbers are irrelevant. The Raiders need Heyward-Bey to become the No.1 receiver they thought he could become when they selected him.
Heyward-Bey is back after missing a week of camp due to “fatigue,” whatever that means.
He is slotted as the No.1 receiver for Oakland, and his responsibility is even larger now that Chaz Schilens will miss some time after he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
If McFadden is healthy and Hewyard-Bey can become a reliable target for Campbell to throw to, the Raiders will have something cooking on offense.
Can the D Dominate?
If Oakland is going to improve on their 2009 record, they are going to have to get a much better effort from their defense.
The Raiders ranked 23rd last year in total defense and 29th against the run.
Oakland did very well against the pass, however, coming in seventh in the NFL.
To compensate, Oakland concentrated on its front seven with their premier draft picks.
With the eighth overall pick in 2010, Oakland took linebacker Rolando McClain out of Alabama. McClain won the Butkus Award last season, given to the nation’s top collegiate linebacker, and will start at middle linebacker for the Raiders.
With their second pick in ’10 draft, 44th overall, Oakland nabbed defensive lineman LaMarr Houston from Texas.
Houston is scheduled to start at left defensive end and has already earned two sacks with the Raiders.
Stevie Brown, a seventh-round pick out of Michigan, needed a good pro day to even be selected. Brown isn’t scheduled to start, but he has two interceptions and four passes defended in Oakland’s first two preseason games.
If you add those three rookies to a defense that already has tackle Richard Seymour, ’06 first-round pick safety Michael Huff, and Nnamdi Asomugha, currently the league’s highest-paid corner back, Oakland could be very solid on defense.
Solid enough to compete for the AFC West? We shall see.
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