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Oakland Raiders Preseason Update

The Raiders have opened camp under much better circumstances than in recent years. Between improved rosters, coaching stability, and a lack of rookie hold-outs, the team has been able to practice with out distraction. There has only been one major issue in the past months: the fragile mental and physical state of WR Javon Walker, but even this issue has seemed to dwindle as preseason games have gotten underway. There are still major storylines that bear watching, and below are a short list of the team’s major issues:

1. Offensive Line: There is no reason for the offensive line to be in the situation it currently is in. Starting quality offensive lineman are not expensive, and the team had money to spend this offseason. The team allowed LT Barry Sims to walk, instead opting to sign former 49er Kwame Harris. Harris has certainly improved under line coach Tom Cable and a favorable blocking scheme, but his major area of weakness is in pass protection, and as the left tackle of franchise quarterback JaMarcus Russell, this is a major issue. Harris needs to improve his skills in this area, as the passing came will be the Raiders’ main problem  for the foreseeable future. RT Robert Gallery and C Jake Grove have had great preseasons, and the rest of the line is holding up, but even Coach Lane Kiffin acknowledged that the team lacks depth and could have used better players. Mario Henderson, penciled in as the LT of the future, has still not shown that he can make use of his prodigious skills, and in the eyes of many he is beginning to look like a lost cause.

2. Wide Reciever: Drew Carter has been a godsend: a steady, quick and smart receiver who can help Russell complete the shorter passes he needs to thrive on in his first full year as the starter. WR Ronald Curry has a knack for these passes too, but the threat of WRs is predicated on their ability to stretch the field. That’s where Javon Walker comes in – though Russell may not be asked to throw many deep balls for now, the threat of it forces teams to defend the whole field, rather than squeeze in on Carter and Curry and eliminate the short passing game. Walker has had his share of problems, and is certainly not in playing shape at the moment, but the first preseason game saw a few good routes and the promise of a rejuvenation as the season approaches. The next week of training camp will be especially important for him.

3. Quarterback: Russell has not been thrown into the fire just yet. The first preseason game was a waste, as the QB threw only five passes before being relieved. Russell needs to gain experience with lots of throws and plenty of gametime, and he hasn’t shown much so far this preseason. Hopefully things will change in the next preseason game. Coach Kiffin is attempting to build a solid environment around Russell so that he can grow into the QB role – a pattern that recently saw success with the Pittsburgh Steelers and QB Ben Roethlisberger.

4. Lastly, the run defense. This was a major source of headaches for the Raiders last season, and the main reason they lost so many games. Tommy Kelly and Terdell Sands had terrible luck last year – Kelly tore his ACL after a stellar early season and Sands lost a family member and his focus on the game. This year it appears the two are in good shape for the season. Kelly showed that he is recovered from his ACL tear by collapsing the pocket and proving strong against the run in his first preseason game, and Sands has shown a much better level of endurance and effort, recovering a fumble 15 yards away and playing stellar run defense throughout his time on the field. The signings of Gibril Wilson and Ed Hartwell also look promising, as both are hard hitters and will be called upon to stop the run in crucial situations.

Of the four areas of greatest concern for the Raiders, I think its clear that the Offensive Line has issues that are likely to linger throughout the season. There isn’t much the team can do to improve its situation and it will be up to OL wizard Tom Cable to hold things together for the forseeable future. He helped bring the group from disaster to respectability last year and there’s no reason to think that he can’t repeat his successes in the upcoming season.

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Raiders Draft Notes

The NFL Draft is only a few weeks away so its a good time to consider the Raiders’ draft outlook. They have the fourth pick in the draft and many analysts are projecting the team to draft Arkansas running back Darren McFadden.

However, with the emergence of Justin Fargas and the current stable of backups (Michael Bush, LaMont Jordan, and Dominic Rhodes) it seems like the team has little room to add even the most talented RB in the draft. Instead, the areas of greatest need are undoubtedly in the trenches. Instead of picking a running back to help an already good rushing attack, the Raiders should draft the best player available at their position of greatest need. More likely than not, this player will be either Sedrick Ellis or Glenn Dorsey, since its highly unlikely that both players will be selected within the first 3 picks.

The Raiders then have only three picks remaining: one in the 4th round and 2 in the 7th, as a result of other recent trades.

Their fourth round pick should definitely be spent on the offensive lineman Tom Cable most covets. The seventh round picks, being so late, are generally reserved for best player available or an individual who is worth a small risk.

There is certainly the possibility of trading some players for draft picks. This would be a smart move because Fabian Washington and Stuart Schweigert can be moved for draft picks and cap relief without significantly damaging the team. If this happens, the team would have more leeway to select at other positions, but either way it is most prudent to focus on a Defensive Tackle and Offensive Lineman before addressing any other needs.

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Raiders Update

Update #7: The D’Angelo Hall fiasco: The Raiders appear ready to trade their 2nd round pick to the Falcons for D’Angelo Hall, who by the way appears to be insane. This makes very little sense because by giving Hall the extension that will come with this trade, the Raiders will inevitably raise the price of Nnamdi Asomugha’s franchise tag. It would be great to have two of the league’s best cornerbacks on roster, but I’m not sure this is financially prudent. Especially with a high 2nd pick being the cost.

Update #6: Raiders sign Drew Carter. JaMarcus Russell now has a good set of wide receivers, with diverse skills and great physical attributes. Wide Reciever now becomes a secondary draft issue. An excellent acquisition, in my opinion.

Update #5: The Raiders restructured the deal of Dominic Rhodes. This should reinforce the idea that McFadden should not be the target at #4, barring some sort of pre-arranged trade.

Update #4: Raiders sign Javon Walker and Kwame Harris. So now they’ve addressed their major needs at WR, S, and RB, as well as replacing Barry Sims with their new probable LT. This screams to me that they’re gonna draft a DT or OL in the first round. Though I’m kind of worried about the rate at which Al Davis is spending money, they have saved a ton with the release of Barry Sims, the retirement of Warren Sapp, and the restructuring of Robert Gallery’s deal. There’s also the likely release or reworking of LaMont Jordan’s deal, which might also save some more money. And though Kwame has not exactly been successful so far, I have faith in Tom Cable to take his massive potential and turn him into a reliable player.

Update #3: Raiders sign Gibril Wilson to shore up the safety position. Unless they plan to trade Michael Huff, they’re now set at safety.

go back in time, after the cut.

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