Okay, after listening to Hue Jackson on the Jim Rome show – minus Jim Rome – I was inspired to examine a pressing question that’s been weighing on my mind. There is no doubt that the Raiders offense has some talented weapons of epic proportions, but I wonder – How good can this offense really be in 2011? In 2010, they ranked tenth overall in the NFL in yardage. Much of that was thanks to the gifted duo, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. The major question this year is going to be whether or not the passing game will follow suit and become equally, or even one-tenth, as dominate as that ground game.
From my perspective a lot of the passing game’s success is going to come from whether or not Jared Veldheer has an awareness growth spurt this year. I don’t expect him to be a Pro Bowl left tackle in only his second year by any means. However, I do think there is a chance that he can be a playoff left tackle and help keep his quarterback clean enough for this team to make a run. In 2010, Veldheer struggled against those pesky speed rushers on the edge. To me, that is to be expected of a rookie. He ended up giving up 10 sacks in 11 starts, but showed significant improvements down the stretch. There’s no question of whether or not he has the right tools though and he definitely has the brains to use those tools effectively. Whether or not he will depends on how hard he works in that film room during the week in preparation.
It’s true, the offensive line coaches, Bob Wylie and his assistant Steve Wisniewski, have the hardest job on this staff this year. Basically, barring any blockbuster free agents or trades for linemen, they will be asked to make something out of virtually nothing. They have to work with a toddler left tackle, an infant center, an elderly right guard, and whatever else is left over to create a “bully”. It’s asking a lot, but I’m not sure the Raiders would be able to ask it of anyone else but these two guys. They will get decent production out of this unit in my honest opinion, just via the two coaches’ knowledge of the game combined with their leadership abilities and experience.
There’s also no question that Head Coach Hue Jackson is going to put his players in the right position to make plays. It’s something that he spoke adamantly about last season where he got a breakout year from Darren McFadden, a legitimate weapon of a fullback in Marcel Reece, and in his own words, “Set the NFL on fire” with rookie Jacoby Ford.
If they want their passing game to work right, expect all three of those men to be involved in that. But I think a deadly combination in the making for this passing unit is the collective element of Louis Murphy, Jacoby Ford, and Zach Miller. In week three of the season, for example, Darrell Revis of the New York Jets is going to be asked to accomplish the impossible task of covering all three of them at the same time. How is this possible, you ask…and the short answer is that is not possible. Throw in a healthy dose of a hale and hearty Chaz Schilens and you have a recipe for disaster for almost any defense, shut down cornerback or not.
Which leads me to my next query and that is whether Darrius Heyward-Bey is going get significant playing time as a scholarship player, or if it’s going to be because he earned that. Previously, DHB has been the starter because he makes the most money. That experiment has to end. This year he needs to at least double his production form both of his first two years combined. Doubling his career production would give him 70 catches for 980 yards and four touchdowns; although if he is able to achieve this unattainable mark he’ll likely have more touchdowns than just four. Again, here is a player that is bursting with unreached potential. It’s going to be interesting to see how he comes out this year after all the training camp hype has seceded and the real pressure of playing in games that count takes him by the shoulders and shakes the crap out of him.
The final piece of the passing puzzle is actually the guy that makes it all work. That guy is Jason Campbell and the Raiders have invested their full faith in the veteran gunslinger this season. If the Raiders offense was a watch, Campbell would be the grease that keeps the parts working fluidly rather than bursting apart and spewing shrapnel everywhere. Perhaps Coach Jackson put it best on the Jim Rome show when he said that Jason “Was disappointed when he wasn’t playing, the way any competitor would be. But he still came to work to get better and at the end of the day it’s all about winning.
“Sometimes as a player you need to take a step back and understand the surroundings,” Jackson said. “Understand the players that you are playing with and make adjustments. During that little period where he wasn’t playing, I think he saw some things that he could do better. I think that’s part of this as you grow and move forward as a professional.”
Coach Jackson went on to say that he is – like the rest of us – looking forward to watching Jason “take that next step forward for us.” Altogether, a lot of pieces have to come together to get this unit of guys playing at their maximum capable potential. But if they do find that magic – that chemistry to make those watch parts into a Rolex, then all the fans will have left to do is watch and enjoy the ride.