2011 team previews
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He was soon informed that he wouldn't be returning to his job with the Raiders, the latest in a long line of head coaches that have failed to satisfy Al Davis' desire to be relevant again, but Tom Cable left the team with these parting words: "We're not losers anymore."
No, Oakland went 8-8 last year and became the first team since the merger to go 6-0 against division opponents and not make the playoffs. It was the Raiders' best finish in eight years, but it wasn't enough to save Cable. Davis promoted from within, hiring offensive coordinator Hue Jackson as his seventh different head coach in the past 10 years, and the expectations for Jackson in Year One have been made very clear. Davis believes he has built a team that should be contending for the playoffs, so anything less will be a disappointment — and Davis' patience is short.
Jackson, a high-energy spark plug, oversaw tremendous improvement on offense last season. And in a division with no truly dominant team, the Raiders proved they're ready to compete. While Davis was aggressive, spending freely to lock up some potential free agents before they hit the open market, Oakland was unable to keep all of its key contributors from departing this offseason, however, and there could be large voids to fill. Young players on both sides of the line will need to develop quickly, and more consistent play from QB Jason Campbell, who has management squarely in his corner, also would provide a boost.
Veteran assistant and "Air Coryell" disciple Al Saunders was hired as offensive coordinator, but Hue Jackson will continue to be the main play-caller. Jackson and Saunders worked together on the Ravens' staff in 2009. Saunders, who interviewed for assistant and head-coach jobs with Oakland in the past, is also familiar with QB Jason Campbell, having served as his offensive coordinator for two seasons when both were with the Redskins. Under Jackson, the Raiders will move away from a zone-blocking scheme in the running game, though they might not abandon it completely. They'll feature power blocking in front of a solid RB tandem and will attack defenses with a vertical passing game.
Quarterbacks: This is a big season for QB Jason Campbell. He was up and down last season, his first with the Raiders, and was twice demoted before finishing the year strong. Heading into his contract year, he has the full support of the organization, which should boost his confidence. Campbell has great size and enough arm strength to make just about every throw, although the ball will sail on him at times when he fires deep toward the numbers. He has a long throwing motion and can get flustered by pressure. Campbell is mobile and will elude some pass rushers. The top backup is veteran Trent Edwards. His throws are generally on-point and accurate, but he rarely stretches the field and too often loses confidence in his arm. The team used a 2012 third-round pick when it selected Terrelle Pryor in the supplemental draft. Fast and athletic, he is a long-term project. He also is suspended for the first five games of the season.
Running backs: Oakland has a productive and explosive 1-2 punch with RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. McFadden is coming off a breakout season. He can accelerate to fly past defenders, is versatile and will battle to break through contact. He jukes to avoid defenders and can run inside and outside. McFadden has good hands and is dangerous on screens and check-downs when he has room to operate, but he has missed at least three games in all three of his NFL seasons. He seemed to wear down late last season and handling a full workload takes a toll on him. Bush hits the hole hard and plays with good lean. He doesn't have a strong second gear, but is powerful and is usually effective in short-yardage situations and on the goal line. Rookie Taiwan Jones has elite top-end speed to make plays in space but is a poor blocker. He looks to be a complementary player at best. FB Marcel Reece, who went undrafted in 2008, emerged as a nice role player for the Raiders last season. He has good balance, soft hands and big-play ability.
Receivers: Inexperience has been an issue for the Raiders at receiver for the past couple seasons, but there's great speed and potential in this group of players. The third year has been a breakout one for some of the league's top wide receivers after they struggled initially, and Oakland is hoping that Darrius Heyward-Bey will follow suit. He's very tough to catch if he gets a chance to accelerate and tracks the ball well over his shoulder; he also has good leaping ability. He has yet to put it all together, though, and has small and unreliable hands. On the other hand, Jacoby Ford, a 2010 fourth-round pick, made his presence felt in short order. While he's short and lacks polish, the Raiders figured they had to find ways to get the big-play threat opportunities and he became more involved on offense in the second half of the season. He's fast, will accelerate past defenders and is dangerous on reverses and end-arounds. Though Ford missed time in camp with a broken hand, he is expected to suit up Week One. Louis Murphy is also a deep threat. He can gain separation and has good length, but drops have been a problem. The Raiders like Chaz Schilens' size, but he missed 19 games over the past two seasons and has struggled to get into a rhythm. Rookie Denarius Moore fits best in the slot, as he has athleticism and speed to make plays between the numbers. TE Zach Miller, the team's top receiver each of the past three seasons, signed with the Seahawks in free agency. His replacement is former Giant Kevin Boss, who has reliable hands but is not a downfield threat.
Offensive linemen: The offensive line did a nice job of creating lanes for running backs last year, but the pass protection was poor, and the team lost its best O-lineman, OG Robert Gallery, in the offseason. QB Jason Campbell could benefit greatly from having more time to throw and the Raiders are optimistic that the protection will improve as a couple young building blocks develop. Jared Veldheer began his rookie season at center before moving to left tackle. There were some shaky moments, but he was Oakland's best option at the position. He has a big frame and stands tall at 6-foot-8, which makes it more difficult for him to gain leverage. Quick pass rushers give him problems, but he's agile for his size and is very smart. The other project prospect, Bruce Campbell, has outstanding measurables and looks the part. He has long arms and the agility and quickness to get to the second level. Consistency and awareness are two areas where he needs to improve, and he has a chance to be very good if he figures it out. Campbell could compete with declining veteran Cooper Carlisle for the starting spot at right guard or take over at left guard. Second-rounder Stefen Wisniewski is expected to start at center at some point. The nephew of ex-Raiders OG Steve Wisniewski, one of the team's current O-line coaches, is smart and able to block in space, though he needs to improve his power. C Samson Satele gets off the ball with vigor and has the strength to gain leverage, but he can be beaten by great size or speed. Third-rounder Joseph Barksdale could see time at either tackle or guard. Barksdale is strong, but he doesn't fully understand how to use his body to seal off blocks and might benefit from a season of experience. Veteran Khalif Barnes, a smart and stable player, fills out the line at right tackle.
This side of the ball tightened up a bit in 2010, but coordinator John Marshall was let go and the Raiders decided to turn to Chuck Bresnahan to run the "D." This is Bresnahan's second stint as Oakland's D-coordinator — he held the position from 2000-03 — and spent the past two seasons as an assistant in the UFL. He's known as a fiery motivator. Oakland runs a 4-3 base and relies on the front four to generate pressure. Al Davis wants speed all over the field, but especially in the secondary. The Raiders play mostly man coverage.
Defensive linemen: There is a nice mix of youth and veterans with plenty of experience on a talented defensive line. The veterans man the interior. Richard Seymour became a full-time D-tackle before last season and played inside and outside in his first year with the Raiders. Seymour has great length and he stacks the point well. He's strong and has the ability to bull rush or use pass-rush moves to get pressure. The 11th-year veteran isn't as quick as he was earlier in his career, but he still can explode off the ball and can beat the double-team. While DT Tommy Kelly has underachieved for much of his career, he has great quickness and has benefited from Seymour's presence. John Henderson is involved in the rotation at D-tackle and he's a space-eating run plugger. Third-year veteran Matt Shaughnessy lines up at right end. He's developing into a solid all-around player, but is a stronger run defender at this point. DLE Lamarr Houston, a starter from Day One last season as a rookie, impressed observers with his disruptive presence. He's stout vs. the run and flashes great pass-rush ability but needs to become more consistent and add more moves to his arsenal.
Linebackers: The Raiders landed the best inside linebacker in last year's draft, taking Rolando McClain with the eighth overall pick and he started 15 games at middle 'backer as a rookie. He doesn't have great speed and is a long-strider, but he's instinctive and hard-hitting. McClain has good length, which makes him tough to throw over when he's dropping deep into the middle of the field. He handled a lot of on-field responsibility right away and played through pain last season, and has been given even more responsibilities in Year Two. OLB Kamerion Wimbley made a great impression after being traded from the Browns before last season and recorded a team-high nine sacks. He fires off the edge and has good burst and closing speed. In a sign of just how much they value him, the Raiders gave Wimbley a five-year, $48 million contract following the lockout. Quentin Groves is a bit of tweener. He played weak-side linebacker for Oakland after being traded last season from Jacksonville, where he was a defensive end. He's not a thumper, but is quick and agile. Backup Darryl Blackstock could make his greatest contribution on special teams.
Defensive backs: Stanford Routt had plenty of interception opportunities playing opposite CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who was usually avoided by quarterbacks, but Routt has made only six picks in his six-year career. It didn't stop the Raiders from giving him a big payday this offseason, as he signed a three-year extension. Meanwhile, Asomugha signed a big-money deal with the Eagles in free agency. Al Davis places a premium on Routt's rare speed. Routt isn't a good tackler, but he's very solid in man coverage and can play bump-and-run. CB Chris Johnson lost his starting job to Routt before last season. Johnson has good, quick hands and could be running with the starters again. Oakland is developing two young corners in Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware, and they could compete for more snaps after playing sparingly as rookies. Neither player has great size, but both have the speed and quickness Oakland looks for in corners. The same holds true for rookies DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa. Both have blazing speed and solid coverage skills, but will be in trouble when it comes to making open-field tackles. Michael Huff returns as the free safety after testing the open market. He never has lived up to the hype of being a top-10 draft choice, but Huff is a solid tackler who adds much-needed experience to the secondary. SS Tyvon Branch can plant, flip his hips and explode to deliver a punishing hit. Branch is fast and is tough in run support, but he doesn't have great ball skills. Mike Mitchell, a backup strong safety, can be overly aggressive at times. He's very athletic and looks to make the big hit. The backup at free safety is Stevie Brown, a second-year player who came on strong at the end of his rookie season.
The Raiders' special-teams units are among the league's best. Shane Lechler, the all-time leader in net punting average, is a six-time All-Pro. He has good size and plenty of pop in his leg. Lechler kicks rugby-style, so the ball goes end over end in the air like it would on a kickoff. Only three of his punts have been blocked — none since 2006. PK Sebastian Janikowski has a booming leg and handles kickoffs. With the rule change that moved the kickoff spot up to the 35-yard line, he could kick nothing but touchbacks. Janikowski has the strength to make kicks in the 60-yard range. He will miss some kicks that he should make, though. Jacoby Ford has track-star speed and took three kickoffs back for TDs as a rookie. WR Nick Miller isn't the big-play threat that Ford is, but he has handled the vast majority of punt returns. He has good speed, but isn't going to break many tackles.
The Raiders made it out of the cellar and might have a bright future, thanks to some solid draft classes. However, some questionable salary-cap moves that resulted in the team being unable to retain its top offensive and defensive players in free agency is a major downer for a fan base that hasn't had a winning team to root for since 2002. There's major potential, though, as lots of young players will be relied on heavily in Hue Jackson's first season as head coach.
To order the digital edition of Pro Football Weekly's 2011 NFL Preview magazine, visit the PFW Store. The publication contains scouting reports on all 32 teams, rosters, depth charts, positional grades and 2010 week-by-week stats. Also, the magazine includes PFW's exclusive player rankings feature, ranking the top players in the league by position and overall.