Raiders look good but…

Aug 28, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Jason Campbell (8) is sacked by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Travis LaBoy (54) in the second quarter of the preseason game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The 49ers defeated the Raiders 28-24. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

Today marks the first Raiders practice that won’t be in full view of the media. The media basically gets to watch the team warm-ups and then gets booted out. With just two weeks left until the season opener, I’d expect the Raiders to install any wrinkles they want to put on top of the base plays, that they’ve spent months installing, over the next two weeks. It’s likely that in Thursday’s game against the Seahawks, the starters, minus Jason Campbell and Michael Bush, will only play for a series or two. It is for that reason that I think the starting units will start preparing for the season opener against Tennessee as early as today. This may be the only game of the season that the Raiders actually look past on their road to glory.

Quarterbacks

Jason Campbell was back at practice today doing everything the other quarterbacks were doing. There is almost no chance he will miss the season opener. He dinged his wrist on the series before he suffered the stinger and Tom Cable said that the wrist is more of an issue right now than the stinger. However, Cable kind of shrugged off both injuries as though they were no big deal.

One of the things the Raiders learned about themselves on Saturday night was that they have a really good quarterback combination in Campbell and teammate Bruce Gradkowski. Both of these guys are starting quality players for Hue Jacksons offense. They were a combined 20-30 for 295 yards and Gradkowski threw two touchdown passes. Of the eight incompletions thrown by Gradkowski, at least four were legitimate drops, three on the opening drive of the third quarter by Louis Murphy, Zach Miller and Darrius Heyward-Bey and then the one on the final drive that would’ve been a fantastic catch by Todd Watkins, but slid right down between his arms on the 49ers goal line.

Gradkowski may have had a shot at being the starter had he not missed so much time this offseason. Now if Campbell has a nice year this year, he could be great potential trade bait in 2011. There will be some teams who are looking for a contender to come in and be their starter, or give a rousing challenge to their starter to try and get better play out of them and Gradkowski could be the top potential prospect for such a team.

Running Backs

Aug 28, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back Michael Bush (29) reacts after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The 49ers defeated the Raiders 28-24. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

Halfback Michael Bush had a procedure today to correct his fractured left thumb. Tom Cable said he doesn’t think a cast will be necessary for the season opener, but did not shed any light onto what the proper padding would be to protect the thumb. He did, however, say that Bush will most likely play in the opener. This is good news, although Cable said, “I saw explosive play (in Darren McFadden), I saw a guy run hard and in between the tackles.”

I wasn’t watching the same game apparently, because what I saw was AN explosive play that was called back for an illegal formation by Louis Murphy, a nine yard run, and six other carries for 0 yards. Basically, Darren McFadden can run hard all he wants, but it won’t matter if he goes down upon first contact. Even his explosive play came on a pass, while most people who have followed his career are saying he is a better receiver; some still think that he can be used to create more mismatch situations as a tailback.

Either way, getting McFadden involved on outside runs and pass plays are going to be more effective than the whole between the tackles thing. One play I remember, in particular, he caught a swing pass and just ran out of bounds instead of trying to get up the field. I’d like to have to opportunity to ask McFadden if that was just a preseason thing or if we can expect to see more of those types of plays from him in the regular season, because there was potential to at least pick up a few yards there.

Rookie Cornerbacks

Apr 30, 2010; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders rookie cornerback Walter McFadden (22) at mini camp at the Oakland Raiders practice facility. Photo via Newscom

I’d like to talk about a different McFadden right now, if I may, and that is Walter McFadden, who I believe has made some explosive plays this preseason. Well, maybe not explosive, but certainly solid plays. McFadden is a bright spot for the Raiders in, what I considered to be prior to the preseason games, a thin position. After a third down play he managed to break up a pass on, play-by-play announcer, Greg Papa, said that this draft class might be one that pays big dividends for the Raiders down the road. Immediately after that play, the Niners went for it on fourth down and McFadden was called for invisible interference on a comeback route. There may have been contact, but it was very minimal and did not affect the receiver coming back to the ball at all.

McFadden’s play, as well as his counterpart Jeremy Ware’s playing abilities, could prove to make this a really talented class for the Raiders down the road and I expect both of these guys to make the 53 man roster this year and be responsible for some nice plays as rookies. Ware’s play has been hit and miss, but he has shown the potential to be a solid contributor to the team. I’d expect him to get some good time in special teams play as the Raiders attempt to get those units back to respectability.

Special Teams

While there is no issue with the long snapper, kicker, or punter (beside he outkicks his coverage), there is a serious issue with kick return coverage and the blocking on the Raiders own kick returns. Since the departure of Brian Schneider, a unit that looked spectacular in 2008 has been subpar. Five touchdown returns in 2008, and none since, that is not up to the speed of the game. In addition to the lack of success in the kick return game, it seems that the coverage of the kicks is seeing a decline as well.

At this point in the season, it is not even a question that John Fassel will be the man in charge of the unit, but if the Raiders offense and defense keep moving forward this year, but are held back by the special teams, then Fassel could be unemployed or working for his father at the end of the year. I believe Shane Lechler said it best when he said, “You need all three units playing well together to win.” Hopefully the Raiders will not be harmed by the play of this unit this year.

Sacks

Aug 28, 2010; Oakland, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback David Carr (5) is tackled by Oakland Raiders linebacker Ricky Brown (57) in the fourth quarter of the preseason game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. The 49ers defeated the Raiders 28-24. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

My question on this one is where are they? The Raiders start out with 12 in two games and then end up with none for this game. Not only was there not a sack, but there was hardly any pressure at all put on by the first string unit on Saturday night. It seemed like Alex Smith just had time to sit back there and pick apart the coverage and that is exactly what he did. The second unit actually did a much better job of getting after David Carr than the first team did going after Alex Smith. And here’s the kicker to that point, much of the 49ers starting line stayed in the game well into the third quarter, while the Raiders second team unit started to show their faces towards the end of the second quarter. The Raiders second teamers were getting pressure against mainly the same guys who the first unit couldn’t manage to get hurries on.

And it’s not like they were focused on the running game either, the First half, the Raiders gave up over seven yards per carry and in the second half, the back-ups got that average down to five yards per carry for the whole game. So the second team unit outperformed the first team unit in all aspects of defense. That has got to change. In addition, I’d like to say to John Marshall and Al Davis, LET’S SEE MORE BLITZES PLEASE!

Left Tackle

Prior to this game, I was not worried about the offensive line, aside from perhaps a slight worry about the right guard position, but after this poor performance, I have to say I am a bit more worried. On the play at the top of this page where Jason Campbell got drill, Mario Henderson just got blown right by by the 49ers outside Linebacker, Travis LeBoy. Mario barely got a hand on the guy. Then he followed it up with a pointless penalty that coul’dve ended up being a drive killer in some situations.

So I guess now I’m mainly concerned about Henderson, although I’m quite certain that Cable will have him paying for his setbacks for the next two weeks. Hopefully, Henderson can trim the fat from his game, even if he can’t trim it from his diet, and he can come out and play a solid season, not making the Raiders even consider toying with Jared Veldheer at the position this year. You certainly can’t blame what happened Saturday on the basis of Robert Gallery not being to the inside of the third-year tackle. The Raiders cannot afford to have setbacks like that from a guy who hired Drew Rosenhaus last year and is looking for a big payday in 2011.

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