The Raiders are about half way through training camp, so it is time to take a look at the team and see how they are progressing. Camp opened to a whole host of questions with few answers. There was the usual optimism among the Raider Nation that comes with the rebirth that is training camp. However, there was still the lingering clouds of the past six years as well as questions as to whether or not Tom Cable was the man for the job.
After covering the minicamps, OTAs, training camp, as well as the first preseason game some answers are becoming clear, whilst others are still cloudy. There have been many developments, as well as many surprises.
It was a liturgy read by nearly everyone who gave more than a passing look to the Oakland Raiders in 2008 that wide receiver was a position of dire need. The statistics were bandied about endlessly by the usual talking heads. The Raiders selected two wide receivers in the draft in Darrius Heyward-Bey with the first round pick and Louis Murphy with the fourth round pick.
The best receiver in a Raiders uniform is 2008 seventh round draft pick Chaz Schilens. He began to emerge at the end of last season, but has been on fire throughout all of the offseason workouts and on into camp. In the Dallas game he added fie receptions to his resume. Coach Cable doesn’t believe in naming a “number one receiver” before hand, saying that “in January or Feburary we’ll look back and see who the number one was.” From all appearances, Schilens is building the requisite chemistry with JaMarcus Russell that will allow Chaz to pull coverage away from tight end Zach Miller.
To say that the selection of DHB with the seventh overall pick was highly derrided would be a gross overstatement. DHB’s struggles in the offseason program with a case of the dropsies, as well as a hmastring injury only further heightened the consternation around his selection. He has been working hard in practice to improve his hands. He has had hot and cold practices, but has shown a dedication to improving himself.
Of course, with the San Francisco 49ers coming up to Napa coming to camp, it will be a chance for DHB to compare directly to the man that most wanted the Raiders to select in his place, Michael Crabtree. Well, DHB would be side by side with Crabtree, if Crabtree had signed his contract rather holding out and threatening to go back for the 2010 draft. Oh well, there will be one 2009 first round pick wide receiver on the field when the two Bay Area teams hold their joint workouts.
As 2008 drew to a close there were more questions surrounding the 2007 top pick Russell than a night of GSN programing. There were questions of his leadership, his accuracy, his work ethic, his conditioning, and so on. The offseason practices did little to answer those questions, but he began to step it up as a leader by taking the initiave to hold a camp with his recievers. Whilst not perfect, he has been improving in all phases of his game as camp progressed, and he had a solid and efficient outing in the Raiders win over the Cowboys.
Mike Mitchell’s desire to hit has earned him a spot in the hearts of the Raider Nation. However, he missed almost all of the offseason workout program, as well as the first preseason game with injuries. This is an inauspicious start for a player whose selection was completely panned by every talking head on draft day, in fact NFL Network’s Mike Mayock issued an apology to the Raiders on day two upon finding another team that had been interested in the safety.
The Raiders lack of moves in this unit has confounded the fans. They were essentially a Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde unit in the opener against the Cowboys. At times they were stuffing the Cowboys’ run game, but on other drives the ‘Boys were gashing them for big yards. There were several times when they were getting no push against the ‘Boys’ quarterbacks. This unit still has a lot to show.
There were mixed feelings in the Raider Nation when Cable had the interim tag dropped from his title as head coach. However, he has seemed to say all the right things and be pushing all the right buttons. He has the Raiders buying the team concept, which is something that has not been seen during the recent dark ages. He has the support of his players, and he has been bringing in the right assistant coaches to fill his staff.
It is too early to get a firm read on any kind of predictions, but if the defensive line can get its act together, the appear to be ready to step out of the darkness of the double digit loss seasons and find respectibility.