Oakland Raiders 2008 Season Preview
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The dysfunction continues for the Oakland Raiders.
A team that has gone a horrid 19-61 over the past five seasons would have to eventually rise from the abyss in the parity-stricken NFL, right?
Not necessarily. The events of the offseason that followed Oakland's 4-12 campaign of 2007 only made the franchise look more clueless and directionless, not less so.
Where to begin?
Well, head coach Lane Kiffin tried to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who presided over the No. 26 scoring defense in the NFL last year, but owner Al Davis vetoed the move. Then, it began to seem that Kiffin was on his way out, showing up for public events not wearing any Raiders gear and generally giving vague answers (or no answers) when asked about his future. Kiffin made it to training camp with his job intact, but you'd find few folks willing to wager that he'll make it all the way through 2008.
The Raiders spent a ton of money in the free agent period, but spent it curiously.
They gave ridiculously outsized contracts to average defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and wide receiver Javon Walker, both of whom come off major injuries.
Davis also dealt for Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, whose prima donna act in Atlanta made many more headlines than his play.
There were a few canny moves, like the signing of underrated safety Gibril Wilson, a key part of the Super Bowl Champion Giants' defense, and the selection of dazzling Arkansas running back Darren McFadden with the No. 4 overall pick.
But the bad still outweighed the good by a wide margin, and it's hard to believe a team that made slight progress under Kiffin last year will have a chance to truly jell with so much uncertainty permeating the organization.
If this team's play does indeed match up to whatever Davis' vision is, it will be a Lazarus act of the highest order.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2008 edition of the Oakland Raiders, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2007 RECORD: 4-12 (t3rd, AFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002, lost to Tampa Bay, 48-21, in Super Bowl
COACH (RECORD): Lane Kiffin (4-12 in one year with Raiders, 4-12 overall)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Knapp
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rob Ryan
OFFENSIVE STAR: Darren McFadden, RB (1st Round, Arkansas)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (34 tackles, 1 INT)
OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 6th rushing, 31st passing, 23rd scoring
DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 31st rushing, 8th passing, 26th scoring
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Marques Tuiasosopo (from Jets), RB Darren McFadden (1st Round, Arkansas), WR Javon Walker (from Broncos), C John Wade (from Buccaneers), T Kwame Harris (from 49ers), DE Greg Spires (from Buccaneers), DE Kalimba Edwards (from Lions), DT William Joseph (from Giants), CB DeAngelo Hall (from Falcons), S Gibril Wilson (from Giants), S Adam Archuleta (from Bears)
KEY DEPARTURES: QB Josh McCown (to Dolphins), QB Daunte Culpepper (not tendered), RB Dominic Rhodes (to Colts), RB LaMont Jordan (to Patriots), FB Oren O'Neal (out for season/injured), WR Tim Dwight (not tendered), WR Jerry Porter (to Jaguars), WR Drew Carter (out for season/injured), C Jeremy Newberry (to Chargers), T Barry Sims (to 49ers), DE Tyler Brayton (to Panthers), DE/OLB Chris Clemons (to Eagles), CB Fabian Washington (to Ravens), RS/CB Chris Carr (to Titans), CB Duane Starks (released), S Stuart Schweigert (to Redskins)
QB: The JaMarcus Russell (373 passing yards, 2 TD, 4 INT) era begins in earnest for the Raiders this season, as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft is given an opportunity to sink or swim. Russell played in just four games last year, starting one, but showed enough positive signs in a season- ending loss to the Chargers to give Oakland fans hope. With 2007 starters Josh McCown and Daunte Culpepper both departed, two prodigal sons return to back Russell. Andrew Walter was at the bottom of a four-player depth chart last season, but is the odds-on favorite to win primary backup duties in 2008. Marques Tuiaosopo couldn't get off the bench in six years with the Raiders, but returns as the probable third-stringer after one season in a similar capacity with the Jets.
RB: The Raiders' most significant offensive bright spot last year was the play of Justin Fargas (1009 rushing yards, 4 TD, 23 receptions), who went over 1,000 yards late in the season before being sidelined with a knee injury. Still, Oakland couldn't pass up drafting the dynamic McFadden in the first round, and it stands to reason that the players will both see the football frequently this year. The jettisoning of LaMont Jordan and Dominic Rhodes will help Michael Bush move up the depth chart. Bush sat out all of last season with a broken leg, but at 245 pounds gives the team an intriguing option between the tackles. With Bush on the roster, it will be interesting to see whether the team uses fullback Justin Griffith (26 receptions, 1 TD) as frequently.
WR/TE: Though they got decent production from Ronald Curry (55 receptions, 4 TD) and the since-departed Jerry Porter a year ago, Oakland lacked a bona fide No. 1 receiver that could both stretch the field and make the tough catch. Enter Javon Walker (26 receptions with Denver), who could once do those things, but is now a major question mark due to frequent knee trouble. At 30, Walker will have to prove to both the Raiders and the masses that he still has it. Curry's biggest competition for the No. 2 job was supposed to come from newcomer Drew Carter (38 receptions, 4 TD with Carolina), but Carter was injured in the team's third preseason game and is out for the year. After Walker and Curry, it's difficult to say what receivers will stick. Rookie Arman Shields (4th Round, Richmond) and Chaz Schilens (7th round, San Diego State) will battle incumbents Johnnie Lee Higgins (6 receptions), Chris McFoy (1 reception), and first-year player Todd Watkins for a spot on the roster. At tight end, Zach Miller (44 receptions, 3 TD) was quietly effective last year, and will top a depth chart that also includes John Madsen (8 receptions, 1 TD) and Tony Stewart.
OL: The Oakland offensive line wasn't nearly as embarrassing in 2007 as it had been the year prior, when it gave up a whopping 72 sacks. That number shrunk to 41 last year, and Fargas' 1,000-yard season was further evidence of the unit's development. Still, it would be a reach to call this unit "good." Left guard Robert Galley, right guard Cooper Carlisle, and right tackle Cornell Green are the most reliable players up front, but should hold off making those reservations for Hawaii. Left tackle could be a real problem, since Kwame Harris, a pariah for five years with the 49ers, has been basically guaranteed a job as the successor to Barry Sims. The competition at center is among John Wade and Jake Grove, with the 10-year veteran Wade looking to have the edge over 2004 second-round pick Grove. Paul McQuistan, Mario Henderson, and Chris Morris all served in backup roles last year and have a good chance to remain on the roster.
DL: NFL observers are still scratching their heads at the $18.5 million in guaranteed money given to defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (30 tackles, 1 sack), who missed nine games with a torn ACL last year and was never a household name to begin with. Kelly will have to stay healthy to even begin justifying the money, and the same goes for Gerard Warren (22 tackles, 4 sacks), who started just three games a year ago and missed five contests due to injury. Terdell Sands (23 tackles), who had a poor season in 2007 but has started for Oakland, will be an experienced backup, and ex-Giant William Joseph has a chance to be in the rotation as well. At end, Derrick Burgess (39 tackles, 8 sacks) is entrenched as a starter but the free agent defection of Chris Clemons calls the other starting slot into question. Jay Richardson (33 tackles, 1 sack) started 10 games as a rookie last year and will be part of the discussion, but veterans Kalimba Edwards (17 tackles, 3 sacks with Detroit) and Greg Spires (26 tackles, 2 sacks with Tampa Bay) have a bit more name cachet.
LB: Underrated around the league because of their team's struggles, middle linebacker Kirk Morrison (120 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) and weakside LB Thomas Howard (95 tackles, 6 INT, 1 sack) are talented and could play for any team in the NFL. The duo was 1-2 on the Raiders in tackles and combined for more interceptions (10) than the entire Oakland secondary (8). The strong side job is less secure, with holdovers Sam Williams (16 tackles) and Robert Thomas (62 tackles) battling third-year players Ricky Brown (13 tackles) and Jon Alston (8 tackles) for duties there. All four players are unlikely to make the club, especially if Isaiah Ekejiuba (12 tackles), who played in 10 games as a backup and special-teamer a year ago, makes it.
DB: Davis was especially unhappy with the play of the Raiders secondary last season, which is why he shook things up and added cornerback DeAngelo Hall (70 tackles, 5 INT with Atlanta) and strong safety Gibril Wilson (92 tackles, 4 INT with the Giants). On paper, a group including Hall, Wilson, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (34 tackles, 1 INT) and free safety Michael Huff (85 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) should be solid, but there isn't a great deal of depth behind those players and nickel back Stanford Routt (42 tackles, 3 INT). Backup safeties Hiram Eugene (31 tackles) and Jarrod Cooper (5 tackles) could be in trouble if forced into starting roles, and fourth corner Chris Johnson (13 tackles) could have trouble holding off fourth-round rookie Tyvon Branch (Connecticut).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Say what you will about the Raiders' selection of kicker Sebastian Janikowski (23-32 FG) in the first round of the 2000 Draft, but he and Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler (49.1 avg.) are the longest-tenured players on the Oakland roster and have outlasted many other kickers and punters throughout the league. Janikowski was battling a hamstring injury during training camp, but was expected to be ready for the season. Johnnie Lee Higgins (5.2 punt return avg.) has a chance to field both punts and kickoffs following the departure of Chris Carr to free agency, but will be pushed by backup corner Tyvon Branch in that capacity. Long snapper Jon Condo will fill those duties for a second straight year.
PROGNOSIS: Even if you believe Kiffin put the Raiders on the right track last season, when the team was much more competitive that it had been under Art Shell, you have to admit a derailment seems imminent. With the owner and head coach at odds, and the head coach and defensive coordinator not exactly best buds, a cloud will hang over this club all season long. And that's before you get to the fact that Russell and McFadden - potentially the team's most important offensive players - are green and will undoubtedly make mistakes. Walker is an "X" factor, the o-line remains shaky, and the same defensive front seven that struggled against the run last year has not received much of an upgrade. There is talent on this team, but the high level of uncertainty that surrounds it will conspire to saddle the Raiders with yet another losing season.
08/25 15:58:37 ET