Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts ’10: An Oakland Raiders Season Preview

Roster Roundouts ’10: An Oakland Raiders Season Preview

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Oakland Raiders (projected finish: 7-9)

Team synopsis: There’s a lot of talent in Oakland this season, but there’s a lot of talent in Oakland every year.  They lead the league, annually, in deeply flawed players with a penalty-happy tendency.  If you think that things are going to be night and day different this year, you’re fooling yourself.  However, with the AFC West division weakened, the schedule compliant, the balance between talent and attitude might actually blend perfectly enough for a real special season in Oakland.  There’s confidence abound on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and on neither side is it completely unjustified.  As for a prediction of playoffs: we’ll believe it when we see it.

Best Players

  • QB Jason Campbell (trade — Washington/2012 4th round pick)
  • RB Michael Bush (drafted — Louisville/2007 4th round pick)
  • TE Zach Miller (drafted — Arizona State/2007 2nd round pick)
  • DT Richard Seymour (trade — New England/2011 1st round pick)
  • DE/LB Trevor Scott (drafted — Buffalo/2008 6th round pick)
  • CB Nnamdi Asomugha (drafted — Cal/2003 1st round pick)
  • SS Tyvon Branch (drafted — Connecticut/2008 4th round pick)

Best Prospects

  • WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (drafted — Maryland/2009 1st round pick)
  • WR Louis Murphy (drafted — Florida/2009 4th round pick)
  • DE Matt Shaughnessy (drafted — Wisconsin/2009 3rd round pick)
  • LB Rolando McClain (drafted — Alabama/2010 1st round pick)

The Raiders were ridiculed for their 2009 draft and praised for their 2010 draft in the immediate wake of the April amateur convention, but it’s possible that now, a year and a half later, there’s far more upside in the 2009 class than the 2010 one.  For one thing, us writers all enjoyed mocking Darrius Heyward-Bey during his rookie season — after all, Michael Crabtree held out for eight weeks and still had more catches and touchdowns with less drops in more attempts.  Heyward-Bey’s rookie season could explain everything that’s wrong with the Raiders: that they decided ahead of time not to take Crabtree, that they decided to play DHB before he earned the right to be on the field, and that they’d pair him with an offensive unit so terrible that they only way he could stand out would be to have a ridiculously poor season.  Mission accomplished, I suppose.

But the Heyward-Bey pick was really the first time since Rich Gannon’s retirement that the Raiders passed on the player who could help them most immediately for the player that they thought could help them most in the future.  That’s a significant step for the Raiders.  It took a second bout with Art Shell and the entire duration of the Lane Kiffin era to reach that point of building for the future and separating from the failures of the past, but I’ll be the first to say it: it seems counterproductive to rip the Raiders for moving in the right direction — even if the short term results have unbelievable entertainment value.

The Raiders focused on younger players in that 2009 draft, adding Michael Mitchell and Louis Murphy and Matt Shaughnessy, all of whom played the 2009 season at age 22 or younger.  None of the players filled immediate needs, either.  But if Heyward-Bey develops with Jason Campbell at the helm, and Murphy does as well, and Shaughnessy is the rush end on the Raiders for the next five seasons, and Mitchell takes over for Michael Huff at the end of the season, it’s going to be tough to knock this draft in hindsight.  The 2010 draft saw them take a highly rated linebacker who replaces a different highly rated linebacker that the team soured on, a defensive tackle who will learn left end on the fly so that Richard Seymour’s career can be extended inside, some project-able offensive linemen in the middle rounds, and a speedy receiver type, who unlike Heyward-Bey, has no defined receiving abilities.  In terms of pure focus, the largest difference is that the Raiders ignored short term needs in 2009 and drafted according to them in 2010.

Of course, the Raiders themselves are hardly sold on the idea of moving all their resources towards the future, and with owner Al Davis on the wrong experienced side of 80 years old, you cannot expect an all-out youth movement.  Lane Kiffin-JaMarcus Russell was supposed to be a youth movement, instead it was just…bad.  All-around.  Tom Cable is now in his third year as Raiders head coach, there’s no real youth in the coaching staff, and everyone is year-to-year in job security anyway.  It’s hard to confuse anything the Raiders are doing as well-intentioned rebuilding.

They’re getting better.  The drafts are getting better year by year, and the player personnel decisions are improving, to the point where you no longer have the head coach talking up rookie pass rushers in mini-camp, and then the owner releasing said player after the last preseason game.  The coaching staff is no longer a hastily assembled joke.  Cable is well-entrenched, and while Ted Tollner is still responsible for coordinating the passing game, quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a bright offensive mind who will command the respect of the offensive players — and the job he has reportedly done with Heyward-Bey this offseason could not have come at a better time.

But where Jackson will really cash his check this season is the job he will do (or not do) with quarterback Jason Campbell, the player he hand picked to lead his Raiders offense.  Campbell was a good choice, and a shrewd personnel pickup — putting smart football men on your coaching staff will actually lead to a few of those.  There’s a certain amount of personal pride here for Jackson in terms of getting this one right, as there’s more than just his job with Oakland on the line.  There’s his reputation as a quarterback guru.  His work with Joe Flacco in Baltimore is appreciated, but if he can take Jason Campbell, put him on the Oakland Raiders, and produce actual, live offense, we might start molding the Canton bust this January.

Jason Campbell needs a strong, competent, healthy offensive line to be successful, and this unit is still the Raiders’ greatest weakness.  It’s best player continues to be LG Robert Gallery, who continues to be marred by injury.  Samson Satele and Chris Morris split the center duties, though neither does a particularly good job, Satele is clearly less of a weakness.  Neither is impressing this year, so third round pick Jared Veldheer is working at both center (where he could start), and backup LT.  Cooper Carlisle continues to put in good work at RG.  But even if they get the interior line fixed this year, and they’ve moved a bunch of guys around to get it settled, the tackle position is going to be a problem.  The first-teamers are Mario Henderson (LT), and Erik Pears (RT).  Khalif Barnes has also been moved inside, and now Langston Walker, one of the most tenured Raiders, is the primary backup at RT.  This could be a well-coached group that produces acceptable results, but the talent infusion needed here is obvious.

I’ve talked about what Campbell’s presence might do to help Darrius Heyward-Bey become a top receiver in this league (even, if similar to Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall, he needs someone else besides Campbell to excel), but another guy who could really flourish as a playmaker with Jason Campbell behind center is Darren McFadden.  Campbell is very good at a few things, but is excellent at only one, which is his sense of timing in throwing to his running backs.  Pinning him up in a downfield offense could be detrimental, unless you can take advantage of those downfield routes to free up your playmakers underneath.  When Jim Zorn’s Redskins were at their best (and it’s been awhile) his plays were clearing space for players like Chris Cooley, Ladell Betts, and Antwaan Randle El to work underneath.  Zach Miller and Darren McFadden should have really spectacular receiving seasons in the near term future, as Louis Murphy and DHB have mere opportunities.

Michael Bush is going to spearhead the running game this year, and to that I say: it’s about time.  Bush is in a contract year, but he had an excellent half season in 2008 and a pretty nice full season in 2009.  He was damaged goods coming out of college on a broken leg, but had he been able to play in the 2007 season, Bush might have done spectacular things in Lane Kiffin’s rushing attack.  Flat out, a big season for Bush will mean a vast improvement in the Raiders offense.

I’m a little more skeptical on the Raiders defense than most.  I think that this unit could be the one that does the team in.  I don’t think they’ll have trouble pressuring the quarterback, and I think Richard Seymour’s move to defensive tackle will really help the run defense, but as good as they can be in the front seven, the Oakland Raiders have a major, major flaw in short area pass defense.  Right now, the projected OLBs are Kamerion Wimbley and Trevor Scott.  Both were college defensive ends.  The projected MLB is rookie Rolando McClain, a prospect, but rookie linebackers are usually terrible in coverage.  Wimbley is expected to be the best of the three in pass coverage, and the team could always bring Ricky Brown off the bench in passing situations to replace McClain, but this is still a major weakness.

Going to predominantly man coverage concepts will assist these young defenders, as “cover the tailback” isn’t confusing.  But do the Raiders have a safety on the roster who can man cover a tight end?  Michael Huff, perhaps?  Maybe Mike Mitchell can do it, but the Raiders might not be willing to find out.  CB Chris Johnson is a half decent cover corner, but Stanford Routt is a fish out of water.  The Raiders know that they can limit the damage opposing receivers cause if they match Nnamdi Asomugha up on the oppositions no. 1 WR all season long, but they’ve been reluctant to do is, if only because the Raiders have long considered both their corners to be elite players.  Johnson, obviously, is not, but he’s better in the role than DeAngelo Hall was, and Fabian Washington was before him.

The Raiders don’t have to go that far in the past to find an elite defense, when they ranked 4th in football in DVOA for pass defense, and 3rd in total defense.  That team got 10 (unsustainable) sacks from an aging Warren Sapp, but placing Richard Seymour in that role creates a similar dynamic.  They got 11 sacks from Derrick Burgess, who isn’t an irreplacable part of the defense, and probably isn’t any better than Trevor Scott in the same role (Scott won’t be in the same role, Matt Shaughnessy and Quentin Groves will).  They got 3.5 sacks from Tommy Kelly, which, really isn’t beyond expectation for him this year.  They got two picks from Kirk Morrison, eight from Asomugha, and four more from Fabian Washington.  And that year, the Raiders offense was on the wrong side of dreadful.

The Raiders will never get eight picks from Asomugha again, because that would mean intercepting about 30% of passes thrown at him in a season (or a better receiver season than DHB’s 2009).  The Raiders have showed incredible loyalty to Stanford Routt for reasons completely unclear to rational human beings.  So they overdrafted the guy in 2005?  Not a big deal.  Routt was half-decent as a starter in 2007, but was terrible before that and has been terrible since.  In defense of the same decision makers, paying Chris Johnson instead of Fabian Washington after the 2007 season appears to have been the correct move.  Washington is in a contract year in Baltimore, as a necessity starter of sorts after Dominique Foxworth’s injury.  Johnson is a more complete defender, strong in run support.  But the NFL has changed considerably since 2006, mostly in the way that necessitates more than just two good corners.  There may be a chasm between Asomugha and Johnson, but the chasm between Johnson and the next-best (rookie CB Walter McFadden?) could be larger.

So the Raiders have pass coverage issues at linebacker, at corner, and with the safeties.  What could possibly go wrong against Houston, San Diego, Pittsburgh, and Indianapolis?  Anyone?  Those opponents are five out of the sixteen games on the Raiders’ schedule.  Maybe, you can knock Matt Schaub out of the game.  Maybe, you can hit Ben Roethlisberger enough to fluster him.  But the Raiders haven’t beaten the Chargers in 14 consecutive games, going all the way back to the 2002 team.  If the Raiders-Chargers games end up deciding the division, the Raiders have almost no defense except to outscore them.

With a better run defense, a better pass rush, and a shutdown corner at the top of his game, the Raiders are confident that they’ll get results from this group.  That’s the first step.  But if the offense doesn’t surprise, things will get very leaky very fast on this side of the ball.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

So many pressing camp questions such as: where does Kyle Boller fit on this team?

There’s a legitimately meaningful battle for third RB that could determine which way the team will take this offense, and I’d imagine Hue Jackson has a huge say in who wins it: Rock Cartwright is primarily a factor in the passing game (and special teams) these days, both as a blocker and a receiver.  Michael Bush is the team’s top pass blocker, but there’s not a lot of other reason to play him on third downs, which is where Cartwright can help the team.  But Michael Bennett is a better runner than Cartwright, and would be much more apt to holding no. 2 RB duties, pushing McFadden into a Reggie Bush type package player.  Then Cartwright is expendable.  They could keep four RBs, but it would be overkill to have four active RBs on game days.

The Raiders have a ton of fast receivers for depth behind their big three of Murphy, Heyward-Bey, and Chaz Schilens, who could be a star in this league if he could ever stay healthy (he won’t).  Among the speedsters: Shaun Bodiford, Yamon Figurs, Jacoby Ford, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jonathon Holland (converted CB), Paul Hubbard, Nick Miller, and Todd Watkins.  That is the Raiders roster at receiver in it’s entirety.  Probability suggests that there’s a couple of actual football players among the bunch here, but damned if you can figure out in short time who they actually are.  It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to have them share a single jersey throughout the year, thereby circumventing roster restrictions.

John Owens is a nice pickup as a blocking tight end, though I’m not certain where he fits into the plan.  He could replace Tony Stewart, who’s remaining value is as a veteran safety valve for the quarterback.  Jason Campbell doesn’t need a designated safety value, take my word on this one.  Brandon Myers should step up to the role of no. 2 TE in the offense.

The offensive line makes my head hurt.  Your third round pick is listed as T/C.  No, this is not a joke.  The Raiders have no idea who is a tackle and who is not a tackle, and we’re only about a month away from the season.  It’s not — I repeat, not — a bad strategy to take fringe tackles and try them inside at guard, similar to a fringe MLB starting pitcher getting a shot in the bullpen, but the Raiders are doing this with every tackle on their roster, save the starters.  It’s possible the Raiders could keep an entire second team off offensive linemen, but I think if Jared Veldheer ends up starting opening day at Center (an improbability, to say the least), Samson Satele could be released (as well as Bruce Campbell being kicked back out to LT).  LT Mario Henderson should improve a little, which makes Jason Campbell happy, but it’s hard to imagine Veldheer not cracking the starting lineup somewhere.  This is not a good group.

Jay Richardson and Quentin Groves provide very good depth at the tackles.  Groves was acquired from Jacksonville for future considerations, and those considerations were used in the Kirk Morrison trade.  Groves is 6-3, 250, but he’s a run stopper first and foremost.  Richardson goes about 280, and he’s a pass rusher.  Raiders, they are.  Three DTs will be in the primary rotation: Seymour, Kelly, and John Henderson, picked up from Jacksonville on a one year basis (not a trade).  Desmond Bryant, William Joseph, and Chris Cooper are the depth, but the Raiders aren’t keeping 6 DTs (they’ll likely keep five).  The team likes Slade Norris as depth at outside LB, and Thomas Howard remains in play as a spot starter and nickel package player.  Travis Goethel or David Nixon will hang on as the seventh LB, but will primarily play special teams.

Recent signee Joe Porter will try to bounce draft pick Jeremy Ware as the fifth corner.  Michael Huff and Hiram Eugene will remain the free safeties.  In 2008, Eugene came out of nowhere to steal the former first rounder’s playing time.  In 2009, Huff got his job back and played well, at least most of the time.  Huff is running with the first team this year, but Eugene isn’t going to disappear.  Also, both have to worry about the team trying to push Mike Mitchell into a starting role, but the Raiders will probably wait just one more year before going with Tyvon Branch and Mitchell as their starting safety tandem.  Branch is nominally a strong safety, but is an excellent centerfielder in the preferred man-free coverage of the Raiders.  That gives him a lot of responsibility, but he’s good enough to handle it.

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