Season Preview 2010: Three To Turnaround

The Raiders must do three things to turn its fortunes around. What may be very complicated to execute is quite simple to analyze.

The Raiders need to score more points, stop the run and force turnovers.

The Raiders scored just 12.3 points per game. That is not even two touchdowns. The Raiders need to add an extra touchdown and field goal per game to their average.

The weapons are in place and the Raiders have a quarterback that can accomplish the task, but Jason Campbell only mustered 16.6 points per game in Washington last season. He will need the cast around him to make plays.

Playoff teams score more than 23 points per game.

The Raiders finally made a big change in the front seven to address the issue with stopping the run. Scoring more and playing with a lead will help, but the addition of five new players to the front seven may be the golden ticket.

The Raiders draw Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson the first two weeks. In 2009, the Raiders allowed 155.5 yards per game. The goal will be holding these elite rushers around 100 yards.

Playoff teams hold rushers under 100 yards.

The Raiders had just eight interceptions in 2009 and 13 forced fumbles. This isn’t good enough. To become a top defense the Raiders will need to double their turnover output.

Playoffs teams rack up around 40 total turnovers.

Do the Raiders have the players to achieve these goals? Check out the position-by-position breakdowns to read more.

Quarterbacks

When the Raiders turned to Bruce Gradkowski in 2009, the reaction was that the Raiders could have been an eight-win team if not for the poor play of JaMarcus Russell. While that certainly would have been possible with Gradkowski starting, that doesn’t make it probable.
Gradkowski is a great leader, but his injuries and lack of raw talent will forever limit him.

The Raiders added Kyle Boller at the third quarterback this season.
The big-armed guy looked the part and may be the best third string quarterback in the league. If it wasn’t for his tendency to throw interceptions he still has the talent to start in the NFL.

The big splash was obviously the addition of Jason Campbell. Named starting quarterback before training camp, Campbell has done everything right so far and looked good this preseason. The Raiders hope his addition will rejuvenate the once proud franchise.

Campbell is the perfect fit for the Raiders offensive plans under Hue Jackson. The Raiders will try to be explosive and use the offensive weapons and speed at the skill positions. You can read more analysis on Campbell’s fit in the Hue Jackson offense here.

Running backs

Gone is Justin Fargas. The Raiders will finally turn to the young duo of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush to carry the load. The move, thought to be long overdue by many, must pay off for the Raiders.

A pedestrian run game would put added pressure on the new passing attack. Bush and McFadden are already fighting a case of the injury bug. The Raiders will need the backs to stay healthy to have any chance to turn around a poorly ranked run game.

Darren McFadden must avoid fumbles and learn to use his “chicken” legs to fight through arm tackles. McFadden has never avoided contact, but in his case, this is a bad thing. McFadden must learn how to use his speed to his advantage.

Bush need with more physicality. Considering his size, Bush shouldn’t try to run away from defenders. He is big enough and strong enough to be a bruising back, he must prepare mentally to punish the defense.

Bush must also fight the urge to take a blow when he is tired and the Raiders should get the wheels turning with Bush early and knock the defense out with McFadden’s fresh legs late.

Michael Bennett and Rock Cartwright will contribute in the event of injury. Cartwright will also be valuable on special teams.

Fullbacks

Luke Lawton is suspended and not likely to be retained when his suspension ends. A position of weakness last season will now be filled by Marcel Reece. Manase Tonga is on the practice squad in case the Raiders need another fullback.

Reece is a superior receiver and has significantly improved his blocking. The Raiders will need him to protect Jason Campbell and clear the way for the talented running backs.

Receivers

The improvement of Darrius Heyward-Bey has been much publicized, but all for nothing if he can’t produce in a meaningful game. He will be relied because of another injury to Chaz Schilens. Schilens has an injury history dating back to his college years and hasn’t been able to stay injury free long enough to fulfill his potential.

Louis Murphy will start opposite Heyward-Bey. Murphy had a superior rookie season to his counterpart, but it has been a quiet offseason for the fourth-round draft pick in 2009.

Behind this top group is rookie Jacoby Ford and veteran Johnnie Lee Higgins along with Yamon Figurs and Nick Miller.

There is no way of knowing how much production the Raiders will get from the fourth receiver this season.

The Raiders balked at several opportunities to add a veteran presence. Either the Raiders are content with the youthful group or failed to convince a veteran to join the team in an uncertain role.

There is big play ability here, but without Schilens the Raiders will have to prove they can move the chains consistently.

Tight ends

Zach Miller is destined to be one of the top tight ends in the league.
He will likely be Campbell’s favorite target and he can be the receiver to move the chains on a consistent basis. His blocking has improved each season, but it will be up to the offensive line to free from those duties.

Brandon Myers is another receiving option, but he has had trouble holding onto the ball during preseason. He isn’t great blocking and will be used primarily to give Zach Miller rest when needed.

The Raiders lack a blocking specialist at tight end and will use offensive tackle Erik Pears to fill that role on short yardage and goal line situations.

Offensive Line

Tom Cable isn’t concerned about his offensive line, but it easily the group with the most question marks. Perhaps one of the most vital groups to the success of an offense and this offensive line has a lot to prove.

Mario Henderson was well below average left tackle last season. He will retain his job after being pushed by rookie Jared Veldheer in training camp. Henderson’s biggest problem is playing consistently. Jason Campbell will not be able to improve this offense on his back or in the training room. Henderson must be better.

Cable insists Henderson’s ills are easily corrected, but the Raiders wanted Russell Okung or Trent Williams in April’s draft. The Raiders know Henderson needs to take a leap or take a hike.

Robert Gallery returns from injury and is one winning season away from a Pro Bowl. He physically dominated Richard Seymour in one-on-one drills in training camp and pushes the pile in the running game. Henderson should benefit from a healthy Gallery to his right. The entire offensive line was better when Gallery played in 2009.

Rookie Jared Veldheer gets the start at center over Samson Satele. The coaching staff has been waiting for things to click for Satele, but his time may have run out. Satele will now only be an option if Veldheer falters.

Veldheer was impressive this preseason at center and tackle. Besides a few blown line calls and rookie mistakes against Julius Peppers, Veldheer was a significant improvement over Satele in the run game and better at holding his ground against the pass.

Will Veldheer’s height be a blessing or a curse? He will become the tallest starting center in NFL history standing 6’7″ tall. He can physically match nose tackles, but may also have trouble with their lower center of gravity. Can he make the proper line calls? He may receive help from the veterans around him. One concern could be the hurry-up, with only enough time for Veldheer to make the call.

Veldheer’s work ethic and attitude will be conducive to success. He is a gym rat and if the Raiders can get the same dedication in the film room you have a potential star in the making.

Cooper Carlisle will start at right guard. His play dropped off in
2009 after a solid 2008 campaign. The Raiders hope Carlisle isn’t starting a trend since Bruce Campbell may not be ready to start until 2011.

Langston Walker returned to the Raiders and started towards the end of 2009. He played remarkably well down the stretch and wasn’t challenged during the offseason. While unspectacular pass blocking, Walker is an above average run blocker.

Backups Khalif Barnes, Erik Pears, Daniel Loper and Samson Satele will fill in as needed.

Loper was the lone surprise to make the roster. He played extremely well at left guard during the preseason, physically dominating just about every player he was matched up against. The competition was inferior, but he did enough to become the primary backup guard.

Defensive line

Matt Shaughnessy may be the next young defensive star. He recorded four sacks during his rookie year and enters 2010 as a starter after only starting two games in 2009.

Joining Shaughnessy is Richard Seymour, the Pro Bowl defensive lineman, who shifted from defensive end to defensive tackle. Seymour may still occasionally play end in certain situations. Seymour needs to be more physically dominant to justify the 2011 first-round draft pick surrendered to acquire him. He may slide over to defensive end in certain situations.

Tommy Kelly enters the season 35 pounds lighter. He has retained his starting position despite strong opposition from Desmond Bryant and John Henderson. Kelly takes a lot of heat for the contract he signed, but hasn’t been horrible. Losing weight should help him change some minds this season.

The Raiders signed Jay Alford, formerly of the New York Giants. He will be reunited with his defensive line coach Mike Waufle.

Bryant and Henderson will be on the field at times to spell the others. Keeping the big guys up front fresh is an underrated asset.

The Raiders will almost certainly use all the defensive lineman at their disposal.

Doing so should keep the line fresh, which could play a factor in the Raiders ability to stop the run.

The Raiders haven’t ranked higher than 22nd since 2002, when the team ranked third against the run. An improved offense will help, but the Raiders need to stop the run in order ascend and become a top five defense.

Rookie Lamarr Houston figures to start at left defensive end with Trevor Scott coming in on passing downs to apply added pressure to the quarterback. Houston figures to be a stout defensive end capable of plugging the run without sacrificing too much against the pass. The Raiders have a luxury in Scott who excels against the pass and can fill any voids in the pass rush.

Scott’s role remains cloudy, perhaps intentionally. Wimbley and Groves could also see time as rush ends.

If the Raiders execute along the defensive line, this unit could develop into one of the top groups in the NFL.

Linebackers

The Raiders started the rebuild with consensus can’t miss middle linebacker Roland McClain. While this label will make many fans nervous, it’s McClain’s work ethic that can make the difference between a bust and star.

McClain may have already learned a valuable lesson from preseason from playing too tentative. Perhaps catching up to the NFL speed will not be as easy as he thought? When he does put his pads on a player he packs quite the punch. Don’t expect him to make the same mistake twice.

His first test is one of the toughest in the league, Chris Johnson. The second is nearly as tough, Steven Jackson.

The Raiders will be counting on McClain to justify his draft status as soon as they take the field on Sunday in Nashville.

Kamerion Wimbley will play the strong-side linebacker position. This is something new for him, but he will also be able to rush the passer. The AFC North was glad they didn’t have to game plan around him. That is the type of player you want on your team. The question is if Wimbley can cover a tight end. He did a solid job in preseason, but time will tell.

Quentin Groves appears to have secured the starting weak-side linebacker position. The only explanation is he excelled in pass coverage and Thomas Howard and Scott didn’t. He played well this preseason and appears to have done more than just make the team.

Thomas Howard is a high priced backup, but quality depth. The Raiders know exactly what Howard can do and can’t do. Ricky Brown will be a backup. Makes a few plays, but also gets beat in the pass and run game far too often to be trust worthy.

Rookie Travis Goethel will have the greatest impact on special teams initially.

Cornerbacks

Any analysis of the Raiders secondary starts with Nnamdi Asomugha. He is one of, if not the, best cornerback in the NFL. The Raiders may finally let Asomugha shadow the top receiver and they will likely let him come down and play in the slot. The Raiders want to use Asomugha to be a disruptive force in the secondary. Opposing quarterbacks may be pulling their hair out if Asomugha’s supporting cast can hold their own.

Stanford Routt won the job opposite Asomugha. Routt has always been more effective playing outside as opposed to the slot nickel cornerback. He must be better than Chris Johnson was a year ago. In many ways, Routt won the job by default. Chris Johnson was burned repeatedly during the preseason by guys that probably didn’t even make the team.

Don’t be surprised when Jeremy Ware is the nickel back and Chris Johnson is riding the pine. Johnson will be another overpriced free agent signee not giving the Raiders their monies worth, but you must put the best players on the field.

If it wasn’t for Ware, we might be talking more about Walter McFadden. An injury derailed his final preseason game, but he performed well as a cover cornerback. He isn’t the most physical guy and he had made multiple mistakes on special teams during the preseason, but he is a solid cover corner for a rookie and he should only grow from here.

Safeties

Tyvon Branch is a budding star. He lead the league in tackles at the position. The Raiders hope he will have to spend less time making tackles and will have more time to make plays. He will also whiff the occasional tackle, but he makes the vast majority. Further development could land Branch in the Pro Bowl.

Michael Huff isn’t a very good tackler. Everyone knows Huff is a tackling liability. He is however, a pretty good deep safety. He can cover and has range. Unspectacular, but a solid player surrounded by good ones.

Hiram Eugene and Mike Mitchell are the backups. These guys have situational roles and will play special teams, an underrated skill in the NFL.

Mitchell may be used as an extra box safety when the situation calls for it.

Special Teams Players

Shane Lechler is the best punter in the league. Maybe in NFL history. Sebastian Janikowski is becoming a very accurate kicker, with the strongest leg in the NFL. Condo hasn’t had a bad snap in two years.

The problem with the Raiders special teams is the coverage units. Now that the Raiders have a finalized roster, the coaching staff can finalize the special teams units. Let’s hope it helps, the coverage units were terrible during the preseason.

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  • @Ryan_Riddle Nothing wrong with either opinion. Honestly I could build around both guy, I'd just do so differently.
    about 6 hours ago
  • @Ryan_Riddle Very different qualities required for both. It's why I am not a huge fan of the coordinator->HC promotion ladder.
    about 7 hours ago
  • @Ryan_Riddle He'll need to run good routes to be better than Beckham if my thinking...even if he's dangerous.
    about 7 hours ago
  • @Ryan_Riddle That' putting too much faith in Evans refining his route-running for me. Beckham's floor is very high.
    about 7 hours ago
  • @Ryan_Riddle Rather have Beckham to build around.
    about 8 hours ago