I know better than to get my hopes up with these clods. I really do. Yet somehow, despite a long and depressing track record that should lead me to think otherwise, I have a slight glimmer of hope this year. Al Davis got off his damned wallet for once this offseason. Unfortunately, most of that money went to Javon Walker. More on that later. The preseason is so incredibly worthless. It is impossible to accurately gauge how a man is going to do if he's playing against a bunch of dudes who will be unemployed in a few weeks. I can't count how many times I've seen a guy crack heads in the preseason only to watch him shrink away to obscurity a few weeks later once the games start to count. The opposite is true as well. There have been countless players seemingly sleep walk their way through the exhibition games, fall ass backwards into a roster spot and then suddenly become world beaters on Sunday. That's why I don't put much weight into a players preseason performance. So, without any further ado, here is my position by position breakdown of the 08-09 Raiders.
QB: JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo
First the good news: There is a lot to like about JaMarcus. He's a big guy who can move around in the pocket and has an absolute cannon of an arm, but his reads need loads of work. Luckily for him most of the passing plays will either be out of the shotgun or 3 step drops, thus giving him more time and limiting his chances to make bad decisions. So long as they don't fall behind early (lol) and ask him to put the ball in the air more than 20-25 times a game he stands a chance at least of being a decent caretaker. But let's be honest: The guy is essentially a rookie. A well documented holdout that went into the regular season combined with a steep learning curve that pretty much made him a non entity last year, which was probably for the best. I have high hopes for him and if he keeps putting in the effort I really think he could be a franchise QB.
And now the bad news: Andrew Walter sucks. Really bad. He is both injury and turnover prone. The team invested a 3rd round pick in him a few years back and has gotten dick in return. He couldn't beat out fellow turnover machines Josh McCown or Daunte Culpepper last year. That is some pretty damning evidence right there. The team has obviously grown tired of his inaccuracy and shitty reads, yet he still managed to make the team, seemingly as the #2 QB.
Standing behind him is another Raiders first day draft blunder from the past. Marques Tuiasosopo is back for a second tour of duty. Apparently no one seemed to notice how God awful he was the first time around. I really don't know why they brought Tooey back. He has never at any time in his NFL career shown anything resembling talent. He has a Chad Pennington level arm minus the accuracy. He used to have nice mobility but a couple of knee injuries have taken that away for the most part. My only guess is that there is some super secret NFL mandated Samoan roster spot requirement that each team is required to fill. If JaMarcus gets hurt this team goes from 6-7 wins back down to 2-4 wins almost instantly.
RB: Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden, Michael Bush
FB: Justin Griffith, Luke Lawton, Marcel Reece
Now we're talkin'. I was ecstatic when the Raiders picked up Michael Bush in the 4th round last year. A first round talent slipping to the 4th round coming off an injury is always a risk worth taking. Like JaMarcus, he is for all intents and purposes a rookie this year. I have always loved his game. He is a tough dude who loves to slam it between the tackles. What I got to see of him during the preseason I liked. He is an absolute beast to try and take down and he made some huge hits on punt coverage. I think he's going to have a great career and if he develops as hoped by this time next year he could be pushing Fargas out of the picture as Run DMC's partner in crime. That isn't meant as a slight towards Fargas, another homegrown RB.
The Raiders have always known what Justin was capable of. That's why he was still on the roster last year despite getting hurt all the time. He finally got his chance to be the #1 guy and he did a great job, earning himself a new contract. On a team with as big of a passing deficiency as this one you are going to need 3 solid running backs. When Fargas tooking over the starting job last year the Raiders became a different team. They were able to control the clock. They were able to convert 3rd downs into first downs. The other team knew they were going to run the ball, yet they still couldn't stop them. It was nice to see the Raiders being rewarded for not giving up on a guy too soon like they are known to do. Unfortunately, Fargas managed to get hurt yet again. I still don't think he can make it through a full 16 game season as the featured back, but luckily for him he's got two young studs standing behind him to help carry the load. I will be completely honest and say that didn't want the Raiders to end up with Darren McFadden. I really wanted Chris Long, for obvious reasons. Then when he went #2 to the Rams I had my fingers crossed for Glenn Dorsey. Alas, the Raiders did something they seemingly never do: They drafted the best player available instead of drafting for a need. The more time has passed since the draft the more I am starting to love McFadden. He is not Adrian Peterson. In fact, I will be stunned if his rookie stats are half of what Peterson's were. He is something totally different. He has a little, dare I say it, Eric Dickerson to his game. Tall, sleek runner who sees the entire field and makes some nasty ass cuts. Plus he's a load to try and arm tackle and he's a good receiver out of the backfield. I look forward to watching him run over safeties and break long runs for the next 5 years. All in all, this by FAR the Raiders strongest position and will most certainly be the most entertaining. Justin Griffith is back at fullback. His main competition, Oren O'Neal, is out for the season. Griffith is a good all around fullback who is good at picking up the blitz. Lawton and Reece are both inexperienced youngsters who hopefully won't see much action this year.
WR: Javon Walker, Ronald Curry, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Todd Watkins, Chaz Schilens
This position is the polar opposite of the RB situation. After over half a decade of waiting for Jerry Porter to develop into a top flight receiver the Raiders finally gave up. Now he's a Jaguar and he's currently injured (SHOCKING!). The Raiders needed to turn somewhere to try and get a big play receiver. And in a year with a shockingly bad WR free agent pool, the Raiders somehow still managed to go with the worst possible choice. Once upon a time I thought Javon Walker was going to be the next Terrell Owens. Big, strong guy who was impossible to cover. Several years, a few knee injuries and being run out of two towns later it is apparent that he is nowhere near TO's level. He got off to a good start in Denver, but as he is apt to do, he fucked it all up. Between bitching about the offense, watching teammate Darrent Williams die in his arms and getting hurt he managed to get cut after last season. Al Davis came calling and backed the Brinks truck up to Walker's door despite the fact that he had received little to no interest from other teams. Walker said all the right things about recommitting himself to the game and proving his detractors wrong after signing with the Raiders. He then promptly went out and got his ass rolled in Vegas by a bunch of thugs. Call me crazy, but if I was a rich athlete who had recently sat in the back of limo, covered in the blood of my dying teammate, I would probably be a little more cautious while going out in public. In fact, I'd probably steer clear of the whole club scene all together. Javon Walker doesn't get it. He is seemingly hell bent on getting his ass shot. The Raiders even had a second chance to get out of this horrible deal when Walker told them he wanted to give back his bonus money and retire. Yet, for reasons no one is sure of, they talked him out of it. So he limped his way through training camp and the preseason. This has all the makings of a free agent disaster.
Ronald Curry is my favorite current Raider. I remember telling my buddy who I owned season tickets with that this skinny ass QB they drafted in the 7th round was going to be something. I remember cheering him on as he made the conversion to receiver after spending a couple seasons on the practice squad. I was proud to watch him claw his way up the depth chart, fighting through a blown Achilles and knee injuries. Ronald Curry is the heart and soul of the Raiders offense. That said, he is merely a slightly above average wide receiver. Good size and strength, good hands, good routes, average speed. He is the perfect #2 receiver. Problem is, he's spent the last couple years miscast as a #1. If Javon Walker has anything left in the tank and draws some double coverage Curry could be in for a breakout year. I wouldn't bet on it. Curry should be good for 700-800 yards and a half dozen TDs. In a receiving corps filled with uncertainty he is the one reliable option.
I have been pretty hard on Johnnie Lee Higgins, and rightfully so. He was a disaster last season. He spent much of the preseason shutting me up. He's emerged as a solid slot receiver (which this team desperately needs) and as a home run hitter in the return game as well. He's getting to that point that every time he touches the ball I get that feeling that I haven't had since the days of Napoleon Kaufman, where he can take it the house at any given time. His improvement from season one to season two has been remarkable. Drew Carter signed a one year deal to be the #3 receiver but he suffered a knee injury and is done for the year. It's a shame too because he is a legit deep threat who would've fit in perfectly with what Lane Kiffin is trying to do offensively. Rookie Chaz Schilens and second year man Todd Watkins made the team through a combination of attrition and hard work. Watkins looked really good in the preseason but gave up on a route in the Seattle game the other night that would've been a sure touchdown. Schilens is a beast who I can see possibly making an impact this year. I wouldn't be shocked to see him catch 20+ balls this year. As bad as the Raiders first day draft picks have been they seem to have stumbled onto a formula for success in the later rounds. It is still possible that they might look for a recently released veteran receiver, especially if Walker doesn't start showing some signs of life. This is a dangerously thin position, but luckily this is going to be a run oriented team.
TE: Zack Miller, John Madsen, Tony Stewart
I am a huge Zack Miller fan. He earned the starting job early last year and never looked back. He didn't complain about basically being an extra lineman for the first half of the season, as the o-line was so bad at pass protection. When they finally started looking his way down the home stretch last year he made the most of it. He's an excellent receiver and is fairly quick. It's been a while since the Raiders have had a dominant TE and with a little more work Miller can be that guy. He could be everything that Rickey Dudley, Doug Jolley, Teo Johnson and Courtney Anderson were supposed to be. When you have names like Casper, Christensen and Dalby constantly being thrown around, you better be productive. Miller will be called on to be JaMarcus' safety valve quite a bit this year. John Madsen is good receiver and average blocker. He is a good #2 TE. Tony Stewart is essentially an extra tackle. An injury to Miller and this team could be in trouble.
C: Jake Grove, John Wade, Chris Morris
RG: Cooper Carlisle, Fred Wakefield
LG: Robert Gallery, Paul McQuistan
RT: Cornell Green, Seth Wand
LT: Kwame Harris, Mario Henderson
Why on God's green Earth the Raiders decided to protect their $60 million investment at QB by guarding his blind side with a combination of Kwame Harris and Robert Gallery is beyond me. The Harris signing, while not as potentially financially crippling as Javon Walker's deal, is terrible none the less. Has anyone on this coaching staff ever watched him play? Do the scouts not own DVD players or VCRs? The man is a human turnstile. He has looked horrible in the preseason, which stands to reason because he is horrible in the regular season. Mario Henderson is his backup. The fact that he is a 3rd round pick from last year who played in zero games as a rookie and couldn't beat out Kwame Harris for the starting gig is all you need to know about him.
At left guard we have Robert Gallery, the walking, talking false start penalty. I was honestly hoping he'd get cut this season so the Paul McQuistan era could begin, but the Raiders seem insistent on trying to motivate him into not being a huge bust. They have failed. Miserably. The fact that he was so terrible scared them out of spending the #1 overall pick on Joe Thomas last year. So, basically instead of shoring up the left side of their line for the next 10 years with a guy who went on to become a pro bowler as a rookie they instead took a risk and drafted a QB. I hate Robert Gallery, not only as a player but also as a human being. Keep in mind that I have no idea what he is like as a person off the field. My anger towards him simply runs so deep that if given the chance I would run him over with my car. And then back over him a few times to make sure I finished the job. Between the false starts, the holding calls, the whiffed blocks and all around general awfulness Robert Gallery has managed to make it to the top of my list of people whose heads I will smash a beer bottle over when I become rich (long time C-Mack peeps will remember how much fun those lists were to make). Paul McQuistan is one of my favorite Raiders and when he finally nails down a starting job he'll hold it for a long time.
Gallery's retarded twin brother, Jake Grove, is back at center. Last year he lost his starting job to crippled ass Jeremy Newberry. The Raiders squeezed what they could out of Newberry and then cut him loose this offseason. Playing the Newberry role this season is Jacksonville cast off John Wade. He should be starting sometime around week 3 if my calculations are correct. Grove and Gallery were supposed to be o-line stalwarts for the next decade. Instead neither one has developed. I don't know what the deal is with Grove. It just seems like he really doesn't give a shit about football. This could (and SHOULD) be his last season in Oakland. Chris Morris is additional depth and nothing else. He can also play guard in needed.
Cooper Carlisle was a great pickup last year. He played multiple positions and was good at each one. They like him as a right guard. He still has 2-3 more good years left, so I see no reason why he can't repeat last years success (well, as much as you can call a 4-12 season a success). Former Cardinal Fred Wakefield backs him up. Wakefield is nothing special, which is why he is a backup. This is another position of great concern. Last season they were good at run blocking and terrible in pass protection. I fear a repeat.
All in all this is not the best Raiders offense ever, but it might be better than last year. They are committed to JaMarcus, unlike last year when they did the McCown/Culpepper shuffle. They are still a big play receiver and a couple o-linemen away from turning the corner, but the same could be said about nearly every team that missed the playoffs. I honestly have no clue what to expect this year, yet that little voice in my head keeps telling me that 7-9 is reasonable. Just don't suck as much, baby.