The Oakland Raiders offense enters the offseason once again in need of a facelift. The Raiders have spent their last three first round draft picks on that side of the ball to varying degrees of disappointment: JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. That doesn’t mean that the entire offensive side of the ball needs to be blown up and rebuilt. However, there are important positions that need immediate attention, whilst others don’t need much.
Regardless of the starter at quarterback, there are other areas on the Raiders offense that need a strong look. All three Raider starting quarterbacks spent too much time running for their lives, which is a determent to any kind of offensive success. For a quarterback to have success, he has to have receivers who can catch the ball and make plays with it.
The quarterback position is a big question mark. The offense worked much better when Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye were under center as opposed to JaMarcus Russell. Russell’s work ethic has been repeatedly called into question by Head Coach Tom Cable, and that has shown in his issues on the field. Russell’s lack of leadership was made readily apparent with the ease in which the team rallied around Gradkowski for instant improvement.
With the change to a journeyman quarterback sparking the team, that shows that the quarterback position is the primary issue on this offense. Gradkowski had washed out in Tampa Bay and didn’t catch on in Cleveland. He was, however, an instant upgrade over JaMarcus Russell. He was able to use his mobility to keep plays alive, and more than anything showed leadership that raised the level of play around him. The Raiders would do well to bring him back.
The offensive line needs to be sent in for a makeover. Mario Henderson was off to a roaring start not allowing sacks through the first half of the season, but then he started to get worked as the season went on. Right tackle Cornell Green looked like Kwame Harris for much of the season. If he wasn’t getting flagged for something, it was his man in the backfield making the play. Robert Gallery only played in six games, and recently had back surgery, which could portend injury issues down the road.
The Raiders are well stocked at tailback with their combination of Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and Justin Fargas. The fullback position is more unsettled. Luke Lawton is suspended for the first two games of next year. Oren O’Neal has missed two years due to injury after a promising rookie campaign, and Gary Russell is more of a runner/receiver than blocking back.
The inability of first round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey to hold on to the ball was the stuff of legend. Not only did he have as many drops as catches, his drops were epic. In a play that is sure to be immortalized in future editions of NFL Films Football Follies, DHB jumped for a perfect pass by Bruce Gradkowski, the ball ricocheted off his hands, chest, and knee before it was snatched out of the air by a Chiefs defender to seal the game. Nine catches in 11 starts is an inauspicious start for the young receiver. Fourth round pick Louis Murphy had his share of drops early in the season, but as the season wore on he emerged as a reliable receiver with flashes of big play potential. His breakout game came during the fourth quarter of the Raiders’ come-from-behind defeat of the Steelers. A game in which he had a 75 yard catch and run from Gradkowski.
Murphy and Chaz Schilens provide the Raiders with two young dynamic receivers. What the Raiders need is a steady veteran presence. Javon Walker could have been that presence, but he was inactive for 11 games as a healthy scratch. Johnnie Lee Higgins regressed.
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