Raiders’ offense only scratched the surface in 2010

The whole world got to watch as Al Davis crawled out from his hole in the Alameda Raiders complex and addressed the media for the first time since September of 2009. He looked his age, that’s for sure, and he also looked as though ex-head coach Tom Cable had paid a visit just moments before the locally televised press conference. Am I the only one who noticed that he had a massive cut on top of his head that appeared to be quite fresh and possibly still bleeding? And Al also had a swollen and bruised cheek, like he had been punched in the face. What’s that all about? But I digress.

It’s no surprise that Hue Jackson has had success on the field with the offensive players he has coached. He did learn from a Raider Nation favorite, Jon Gruden. “We were office mates. We were both young coaches, both young [and] aspiring coaches. We shared an office together and Jon Gruden, I’ll never forget it, used to put me on the board at nighttime for three months straight, and we would talk football. That’s where my start happened.”

If you are expecting the 2011 Oakland Raiders’ offense to be the same as you saw on the field last year, you are in for a surprise. Hue Jackson, despite doubling the production of the 2009 offense, said that he was disappointed in his team’s performance.

“We didn’t get it done. We didn’t play like we could play on offense. That was my frustration more than anything. I truly believe that there is so much more there for us and I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can be,” he said Tuesday.

But Jackson also expressed his optimism about the direction in which his football team is headed, “I’m so excited to get to work, but right now I’m more excited about this whole football team because that’s my role now. I’m excited about where our defense can go; I’m excited about where our special teams can go; I’m excited about where we can take this football team. We’re talking about some real, real good football players who are very young, very talented, and very eager.”

The most notable statement was one Jackson made with consistency yesterday — that the Raiders can be so much more offensively than they were in 2010.

“We’re going to build a bully here. This is the Raiders. We know exactly where we’re headed and what we want to do. I think our players today are very excited about where they are going,” said the first-time head coach.

When asked about the success and progression of ascending halfback Darren McFadden, Jackson said he is not as good as he can be… yet.

“[Darren McFadden] can be as good as he wants to be,” said Jackson. “I think the sky is the limit for the young man. He is just scratching the surface of what I think Darren McFadden can be. He’s a very explosive runner; he’s a very good receiver out of the backfield that can make plays down the field. I think we are just tapping how good he can be and I’m looking forward to working with him this season.”

As for McFadden’s backfield teammate and training camp roommate, Michael Bush, Jackson said this: “I think we have two very good players [at tailback] that we want to turn and hand the ball to. We want to play them both — there is no question about that — because they both have strengths. But sometimes that’s dictated by how the game goes, [one gets] hot and you ride him and sometimes the other guy needs to come in the game and take the game over.”

Basically, in layman’s terms McFadden is expected to be the primary and Michael Bush is a nice compliment to that. I think it was only last August when most of the Raider Nation thought the exact opposite. The big question will be, how does Michael Bush feel about playing second fiddle to the guy with the bigger paycheck? Is he going to want to test the waters of free agency and see where the bigger money and better playing time will be? It may not even be an issue this year if the new CBA includes the old style — or similar — restricted free agent rules. But still it would become something to think about in the next offseason if Bush doesn’t feel he was given the kind of time he deserves on the field in 2011.

Jackson went on to dispel the notion that think Jason Campbell cannot be the guy the Raiders can build a team around. When asked by Raiders’ color commentator, Greg Papa, if the coach thought Campbell was going to be able to lead the Raiders to Super Bowl victories, Jackson said, “There is no question in my mind that he is, but what we have to continue to do is keep improving. Obviously, we need to get better around Jason… everywhere.

“Darren McFadden has got to go play better than he did last year, our receiver unit has got to play better than they did this past year, we have to protect our quarterback better than we did this past year, and on defense we have to play better than we did.  There’s no question, I think Jason has it, but we have to continue to create this environment for our whole football team to take him and uplift him and make him the quarterback that he can be.”

Campbell later returned the praise of his new head coach in his own separate interview with Papa: “The hiring of Hue, I think, is good for our football team. I think because of the fact that he has been with us for a whole year, he knows the ins and outs of what we do offensively and what we need to improve on as an overall team. It gives us an opportunity as a quarterback and a young receiving corps to be on the same page for another year and an opportunity to work together in the same system. I think that is very important. Stability in the NFL is something that you have to have when you’re dealing with a young group.”

That certainly has to be a huge plus for Campbell who has had nearly a decade worth of different play callers during his career. Campbell also touched on the idea of what Al Saunders represents as a potential filler of the void left at offensive coordinator for the Raiders: “He is really smart and he’s an offensive coordinator that knows the ins and outs of the game. I can remember when he was in Kansas City, before he came to Washington, and I think [they were] the number one or two offense in the league, like, every year and just the consistency of being at such a high level. I had an opportunity to be with him under two years and he is a great guy to be around.  Professional. He’s a guy that is very intelligent about the game of football.”

Jackson expects to hire an offensive coordinator to work with him: “When I’m not able to lead the offense, when I’m not able to be there because I want to make sure I’m putting my hands all over this football team as often as I can because I want to bring the energy forward.” Right now, the clear cut frontrunner is Al Saunders, who interviewed for the position with the Raiders today.

Saunders is known as an upbeat, detail-oriented, players’ coach who has a thick playbook. He is a former San Diego Chargers head coach who has been an offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs and St Louis Rams, and associate head coach with the Washington Redskins when Campbell was fresh meat. For the last two years he has been an offensive consultant for the Baltimore Ravens.

But Campbell went on to say that Jackson and Saunders — if/when he is hired — bring more than their knowledge of offense to the Oakland Raiders. “The attitude here [is] from Baltimore — expecting to win every time we play a game [and] we don’t compromise for anything. We don’t want to leave anything out there, we go out and we fight hard for each other. Guys fought together this year and we came a long way and it’s just all about working together.

“You know, Oakland has been through some rough times,” Campbell continued. “And for us to go out this year and to become a team that’s getting that respect again, a team that has young players with a bright future, it’s an exciting time. It’s an exciting time in my life, career-wise and off the field.”

Jackson’s hiring marks a continuing trend of continuity for the Raiders. In spite of the fact that the coaching staff will be almost completely overhauled this year, he said that he will hire a dedicated staff to work with him who carry similar beliefs as he does about bringing “a bunch of passion, a lot of fire, a lot of enthusiasm.”

But what Al Davis may be the most excited about in the coming year of the new and improved Jackson offense is the combination of the different blocking styles of Jackson’s scheme. As if to get one last jab in at Tom Cable, Davis was sure to add, “I’m not a zone blocking purist, and we switched this year already. We got it started into gap, we got it into power, and we got it into zone, and that’s what Hue believes. He did it at Baltimore, and that intrigued me.”

That last part…”we got into zone”… as if they weren’t already into it.

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