By Kevin Saito @Kevin_Saito on July 20, 2014
For the first time in a while, Raiders fans are looking forward to the start of the regular season with real hope, optimism and excitement – something you wouldn't expect about a club that posted consecutive 4-12 campaigns. But after a busy offseason in which nearly every hole has been plugged, the team has gotten better. A lot better.
Things are changing in Oakland and here are 10 things for Raiders fans to get pumped up about...
For the first time in a long time, the Raiders have a roster loaded with talent. Adding players like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and James Jones also gives them players with a championship pedigree – just the sort of leadership you want grooming your stable of young, explosive playmakers. Gone are the bloated contracts of former stars just playing out the string, and in are players with a chip on their shoulders and something to prove.
For too long, the Raiders have had a collection of talented individuals, but little cohesion, little sense of team and zero identity. But with veteran free agent adds like Justin Tuck, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Schaub, Donald Penn and LaMarr Woodley, the Raiders finally have an identity, an attitude and a big chip on their shoulders. That sense of team and players sacrificing for one another will pay big dividends when the season starts.
It's not the sexiest of positions, and offensive linemen usually don't get the credit they deserve. But when a line is bad, it will bring the whole offense to a grinding halt. Such has been the case for Oakland for quite a while. But with new additions like Austin Howard, Donald Penn and Kevin Boothe, the Raiders will have an athletic, versatile line that will punish opposing defenses and be the motor that helps the offense move.
Provided they can stay healthy, the Raiders have three explosive playmakers in Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Latavius Murray. Dividing the carries between the three will pay dividends in terms of health and productivity. All three have the ability to score from anywhere on the field, and with a rebuilt offensive line and a power blocking scheme that will maximize their talents; the Raiders have a lethal combination of running backs.
FA addition James Jones will be the glue that holds the WR corps together. For too long, it's been all potential with too much inconsistency. But with Rod Streater poised for a breakout year, the steadying influence of Jones and a camp competition that will help their entire WR group fulfill their potential – and weed out the ones who can't – Oakland looks to have a group of receivers as deep, athletic and explosive as they've had in a while.
Khalil Mack has the potential to be the dynamic defensive force the Raiders have been lacking for so long. His skill-set has been compared to Denver's Von Miller by HC Dennis Allen – somebody who would know – and the Raiders plan to employ the versatile LB in a number of different ways. The early returns on Mack have been tremendous, he's earning respect from the team's veterans and he looks primed to wreak some havoc once the season starts.
The Raiders were a mess at the QB position last season. Truth be told, they've been a mess at QB ever since Rich Gannon bid adieu to the game. But having traded for Matt Schaub and drafted Derek Carr, the Raiders look to have a much steadier presence under center, which will reap rewards for the offense as a whole. Schaub, having more freedom to run the offense, will rebound in 2014 and lead the Oakland offense to tremendous heights.
The Raiders' pass rush has varied between anemic and non-existent for quite a long time. But with players like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley, Sio Moore, Antonio Smith and Khalil Mack, DC Jason Tarver finally has the pieces in place to put together a multiple look, complex defense that is going to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. With explosive edge rushers and intense pressure up the gut, the Raiders finally have a defense with some teeth.
The losses of CBs Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins were addition by subtraction for the Raiders. Bringing in veterans Carlos Rogers and Tarrell Brown, as well as having a healthy Tyvon Branch paired with veteran Charles Woodson gives the Raiders an imposing secondary – as well as some terrific mentors and leadership for youngsters D.J. Hayden, Keith McGill and T.J. Carrie. The future of Oakland's defensive backfield looks bright indeed.
GM Reggie McKenzie did a masterful job of bringing in the right sort of veteran leadership to groom the next generation of Raiders playmakers. That sort of balance has been missing in Oakland for quite a long time and has resulted in a decade of mediocrity. But with stars in the making like Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, D.J. Hayden, Rod Streater, Sio Moore and Khalil Mack, the future of the Raiders looks brighter than it has in a long while.
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