Enter new head coach Norv Turner, who is a veteran coach that should be able to pull this team back together. Philosophies on both sides of the ball have changed with the changing of the guard, and overall, the Raiders should become a more aggressive unit this year. And if they can get a few young guys to step up, this club could rise nearly as fast as it fell.
The Raiders have an interesting situation brewing at quarterback with aging veteran Rich Gannon as the incumbent starter and former Giants QB Kerry Collins waiting in the wings. Gannon appeared to be throwing the ball well in training camp and has shown no lingering effects of the shoulder injury that cost him nine games in 2003, so he will begin the season as the starter. However, Turner prefers a vertical attack to the dink-and-dunk style that made Gannon successful under Jon Gruden.
Collins is younger than Gannon and his skills fit Turners system better. The most obvious being that he has a stronger arm to stretch opposing defenses. After filling in as the starter for the injured Gannon last year, Marques Tuiasosopo, who missed the end of the season because of injury himself, has reverted to the No. 3 role and is not likely to see a lot of playing time unless the injury bug hits the QB position again.
With the loss of Charlie Garner, Tyrone Wheatley will take the majority of the load at halfback. However, there are legitimate concerns about his ability to hold up for 16 games as the teams featured back. Second-year player Justin Fargas, who has durability issues himself, will share the load. He has the potential to develop into a home-run hitter with the size to run between the tackles and the speed to bounce outside.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Amos Zereoue, who makes a nice change-of-pace back, will push for playing time as the third-down back. Zack Crocket will start at fullback again this year, and while he is only adequate as a lead blocker, hes a good option in short-yardage and goal-line situations. Chris Hetherington is a better blocker and pass receiver, but he was waived after he lost his job in the preseason to the versatile J.R. Redmond.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
With the release of future Hall of Famer Tim Brown, this has become Jerrys receiving corps; Jerry Porters that is. Porter was hampered with a groin injury in 2003, which limited his production to just one touchdown, but he is clearly the future of this receiving corps. He has very good size and athletic ability, but if he wants to take his game to the next level, he must be more focused. He must run more disciplined routes with sharper cuts in and out of his breaks, and he must do a better job of making the routine catches consistently.
The ageless Jerry Rice will start opposite Porter after producing more than 800 yards receiving in 2003 at the age of 41. The Raiders will go into the season with five other receivers including Ronald Curry, second-year player Doug Gabriel, Alvis Whitted, fourth-round rookie Carlos Francis and fifth-round pick Johnnie Morant. Curry will probably fill the No. 3 role while Gabriel, Francis, and Whitted are likely to compete for time in the No. 4 spot.
Oakland will also keep four tight ends on the roster. Roland Williams should be a good fit as a blocker in the Raiders run-oriented scheme and third-year player Doug Jolley, who has improved as a blocker, is a nice complement as a receiver. Teyo Johnson and Courtney Anderson will play backup roles.
The Raiders offensive line has undergone a massive transformation, going from old, slow, and out of shape to a lean, mean blocking machine. Left tackle Robert Gallery and center Jake Grove, who were the Raiders first and second-round picks this year, appear to be stars in the making. Adam Treu appears to have held off Grove for the starting job for now, and Gallery was held off by veteran Barry Sims, but these guys wont be on the bench for long.
Former San Francisco 49ers guard Ron Stone was added to provide stability on the right side. He may not be among the elite guards in the league, but he has good size and strength, and he can move the pile in the running game. Frank Middleton will start again at left guard, but he could be replaced by Simms when Gallery is ready to take over the left tackle position. At right tackle is third-year player Langston Walker, who is a solid run blocker with excellent size.