In less than a week, the Raiders will host their AFC West rival the San Diego Chargers on Monday Night Football in Oakland. At which point, we will get an idea of how this team has changed since last year and if the Raiders have made any vast improvements.
For half of the past decade, the biggest weakness for the Raiders has been the run defense, so many had hoped the Raiders would finally add an experienced vet through free agency along the lines of a Grady Jackson or Rod Colemen (both of whom are former Raiders). But, no such asquistions came to pass.
However, while no moves were made to sign a free agent, the Raiders did finally make a move with Richard Seymour now coming aboard via trade with New England. With Greg Ellis on one side and Seymour on the other, offenses will have to account for two solid football players sealing off the edge. That should improve the run defense, especially since undersized defensive end Trevor Scott was projected as the Raiders opening day starter.
Scott, Jay Richardson and Matt Shaughnessy should be more effective coming off the bench anyways, so this move with Seymour gives the Raiders the depth at end that they lost when Derrick Burgess was traded. The defensive line should be better, but Seymour still needs to get practicing right away so he can contribute in the opening game.
It is unknown whether or not he is expected to receive a new contract with the Raiders, and many have speculated that he may not even show. This is a situation the Raiders don’t need at all right now while making a last minute move to shore up the run defense.
Injuries Hurting Raiders
Injuries have slowed the silver and black this preseason. One such injury was suffered by second round pick Mike Mitchell. Not only did he miss most of the mini-camps and off-season activities because of NFL rules regarding college attendance, but he missed significant practice time because of a reccurring hamstring injury. He is back at practice now, however his chance of starting has slipped away, for the moment. He’ll likely get special teams duties and may see time in some goal line packages.
-Offensive lineman Khalif Barnes was supposed to fit his way in at one of the offensive tackle positions but went down with a broken foot, just as he began his competition for the starting left tackle began with he and Mario Henderson. Raiders don’t expect Barnes to return until week 2 or 3 of the season. At which point Barnes is expected to take over at right tackle. Cornell Green will remain the starter at right tackle until Barnes is healthy.
-Second year receiver Chaz Schilens, clearly was the Raiders best receiver in training camp, is supposed to be coming back from his foot injury by week 2 or 3 as well. His absence may hurt the offensive passing attack abruptly, that Tom Cable has clearly been trying to upgrade since taking over the play-calling duties last season.
-Raiders are crossing their fingers with Javon Walker(and babying him to game shape), hoping he can be that number one that they have been paying him to be. However it remains to be seen if he can hold up, or if he is even a shadow of what he used to be. If he is back to old form like he was in Green Bay and in his first year in Denver, then that is a huge bonus for this Raiders offense. An offense that is desperately trying to expand their horizons beyond running the football over 50% of the time. The speed of Darrius Heyward-Bey should help bolster the previously non-existent passing attack as well.
-Kirk Morrison is expected to be back for the opener and Cable said that he will start. Ricky Brown has been given a chance to start at middle linebacker in the preseason but he will start at strong side linebacker against the Chargers. It remains to be seen what the alignment will be in future games.
Areas Of Concern
The Raiders linebackers are the key part of this team stopping the run. That means consistently fighting off blocks and filling their gap assignments to allow the defensive lineman to do their jobs. This is where newly acquired players like Greg Ellis and Richard Serymour come into play.
The offensive line– specifically the right side– doesn’t look very good with Cooper Carlisle and Cornell Green as the returning starters. The backs usually find more creases through the left side of the line than the right. The pass blocking on the right side is not something to brag about either. Khalif Barnes will help shore up the right side when he returns from injury.
Center Samson Satele was believed to flourish in the Raiders ZBS system after struggling in Tony Sparano’s power blocking scheme last season, but he hasn’t come along. Tom Cable had no choice but to name fourth year center Chris Morris the starting center for the opener. Not sure if Morris is that much better than Satele or if this move is just temporary, but Cable better have it right because the Chargers 3-4 nose tackle Jamal Williams is one of the best in the business.
With questionable offensive and defensive lines (the most critical units to every football team), and a tough schedule ahead, the Raiders season is definitely up in the air. They should be able to run the ball, but teams can gameplan around that-unless the Raiders can utilize their receiving corps accordingly. The Raiders look good on paper with Seymour and Ellis now joining the defense, but the Raiders have looked good on paper almost every year in some way, shape or form.
Raiders have talent, they just have to put it all together. Which has proven, in recent years, to be a very difficult task. It all comes down to execution and leadership. A big step would be to start off their season with a win in front of a national audience.
The Raiders haven’t won an opening game since 2002 and they have been embarassed by setting an NFL record of six seasons with ten losses or more. To add to that, they have been beaten 11 straight times by division rival San Diego. That should be enough motivation to give a little back to the Raider Nation, who will be out there in full force for Monday Night Football to support their once beloved “team of the decades”.
–AJ DeMello, TFDS Guest Contributor