No team looked more inept in 2006 than the Oakland Raiders, but believe it or not, there is hope for the not-so-distant future. Make no mistake about it. The Raiders were short on talent last year, but poor coaching consistently put them behind the eight ball. So, not surprisingly, Art Shell and his staff were sent packing and the youthful Lane Kiffen has replaced him.
The team then spent the No. 1 overall pick in the draft on LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, but an inability to reach a deal kept him out of training camp and the job will most likely fall to Daunte Culpepper, who was a late addition to the team.
The offensive line was no doubt the single biggest factor in the team’s inability to move the ball on the ground or through the air, and not much was done through free agency to upgrade the talent in that area. Many of the shortcomings, however, can be corrected with good coaching. Guard Cooper Carlisle and center Jeremy Newberry were signed as free agents to add a little depth.
Backup running back Dominic Rhodes was added to the offense, and will see significant time behind LaMont Jordan. And wide receiver Mike Williams, who was a bust in his first two years in Detroit, was picked up in a trade with the Lions.
Defensively, not a lot was needed. Coordinator Rob Ryan had his guys playing about as well as anyone in the league last season.
NFL Draft Picks
1st Round - JaMarcus Russell, QB LSU
2nd Round - Zach Miller, TE Arizona State
3rd Round - Quentin Moses, DE Georgia
3rd Round - Mario Henderson, OT Florida State
3rd Round - Johnnie Lee Higgins, WR UTEP
4th Round - Michael Bush, RB Louisville
4th Round - John Bowie, CB Cincinnati
5th Round - Jay Richardson, DE Ohio State
5th Round - Eric Frampton, S Washington State
6th Round - Orenthal O’Neal, FB Arkansas
7th Round - Jonathan Holland, WR Louisiana Tech
Losing a big name like Randy Moss generally isn’t good news for a team, but in this case, what are the Raiders losing? A malcontent who gave up? Big deal. He deserves his share of the blame as well for last season’s debacle. As is the case with the release of quarterback Aaron Brooks, the trade of Moss is more a case of addition by subtraction.
The team also lost backup quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo and offensive tackle Langston Walker.
What Needs to Change?
Things were so horrible on the offensive line last year that at times the line calls weren’t in sync with what the play was designed to do, and that falls on the shoulders of the coaching staff. Obviously the linemen have got to pick up their games this year, but they were put at a disadvantage last year by the guys who were supposed to be putting them in position to win.
None of the quarterbacks really had any chance of establishing themselves in ‘06, but it looks as though the team will go into the season with the veteran Culpepper steering the ship. Granted, there are still concerns about his health, but if he is at 100%, this offensive unit should show a big improvement over last season. With Culpepper’s size, he’s better equipped to handle any breakdowns in protection better than any of the other QBs on the roster. Russell may have the size, but he’s a raw prospect and not ready to be thrown into a less-than-ideal situation at this point.
Under Pressure to Perform
Daunte Culpepper - With the No. 1 overall pick invested in Russell, Culpepper is in a one-year audition for his next job and paycheck. A lot of people are still concerned, though, about his health and mobility. Without the ability to move around, he’s not nearly as effective. And there are also still questions about his ability to read a defense when he doesn’t have a safety net like Moss to catch anything thrown near him.
Robert Gallery - If this guy would play up to the potential he showed coming out of Iowa, a lot of the offensive line woes would take care of themselves. At this point he’s not a total bust, but he certainly hasn’t lived up to the investment the Raiders have in him.
Overall Offense - 32nd (246.2)
Rushing Offense - 29th (94.9)
Passing Offense - 31st (151.3)
Overall Defense - 3rd (264.1)
Rushing Defense - 25th (134.00)
Passing Defense - 1st (150.8)
Prediction - In trying to dig themselves out of the depths of the NFL graveyard, the Raiders have one advantage. They already have a tremendous defense. And that’s why I look at this team as perhaps the biggest surprise team of the year.
There’s no reason the defense should regress, and in fact, a little help on the offensive side of the ball could actually help the defensive unit raise it up yet another notch. And I don’t know how the offense couldn’t improve. Just getting someone competent in there that the players have confidence in should go a long way.
Give this team an offense ranked in the top 15 and they’d be a playoff team. One in the top 20 and they might just break even this year.
Record: 9-7 and second in the AFC West