Oakland Raiders 2013 Season Preview
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - "Just win, baby" has quietly turned into "Hey, maybe we can win a few" in Oakland.
Gone is the swagger which once defined the Al Davis era, replaced by an organization trying to find its way. Since general manager Reggie McKenzie took over the job as Raiders' personnel chief back in January of 2012, Oakland's roster has undergone a major makeover.
Of the 90 players assembled for training camp, only 15 were on the Raiders roster dating back to the 2011 season. Additionally, only star kicker Sebastian Janikowski, the longest tenured Raider, has been with the Silver and Black for more than six seasons.
It almost seems like the Raiders have started a "new era" every year or two since their last playoff appearance, the 2002 Super Bowl XXXVII loss to Tampa Bay.
The '13 season figures to be no exception as former Green Bay and Seattle backup quarterback Matt Flynn figures to finally get his chance as a starting signal-caller, although even that gets murkier by the day.
A year after losing the presumed starting job in Seattle to third-round rookie Russell Wilson, Flynn could be on the losing end of the Raiders' gig to another third-round pick, the athletic Terrelle Pryor.
"I'll make (the decision) some time before the first game," head coach Dennis Allen said. "I think the competition has been good. I think both at times have looked good. I think Terrelle has an extra element with his athletic skills that lends to some playmaking ability and we want to put him in a position to continue to do that."
Oakland also really needed major help on the defensive line after the departures of tackles Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant and Tommy Kelly, as well as end Matt Shaughnessy. Underwhelming types like nose tackle Pat Sims and under tackle Vance Walker were the only answers, however, as McKenzie focused on reaching for Houston corner D.J. Hayden in the draft.
The Raiders loved Hayden so much that they almost wasted the No. 3 overall pick to get him before wisely trading down and snaring him at 12. The stark reality is they could have dropped another 10 spots at least.
Hayden was nearly killed during a practice while with the Cougars back in November and required emergency surgery to save his life. He tore the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart, an injury which has a 95 percent fatality rate in the field, according to doctors, and is most commonly associated with high-speed car accidents
Hayden also had an additional surgery in May to clear scar tissue from the initial procedure and was finally cleared for contact in late August, playing in his first game during Week 4 of the preseason.
"I just want to see him play football," Allen said. "It's been a while since he's really had an opportunity to go out and play real football. I'm looking forward to watching him. He's got exceptional coverage skills."
Few are rooting against Hayden but even fewer think he's going to be the next Lester Hayes or Mike Haynes.
2012 RECORD: (4-12, 3rd AFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002, lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII
HEAD COACH (RECORD): Dennis Allen (4-12 in one season)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Olson (first season with Raiders)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jason Tarver (second season with Raiders)
KEY ADDITIONS: OT Alex Barron, LB Kevin Burnett (from Dolphins), DE Andre Carter, QB Matt Flynn (from Seahawks), DE Jason Hunter (from Broncos), CB Mike Jenkins (from Cowboys), RB Rashad Jennings (from Jaguars), P Chris Kluwe (from Vikings), CB Tracy Porter (from Broncos), LB Nick Roach (from Bears), DT Pat Sims (from Bengals), DT Vance Walker (from Falcons), DB Charles Woodson (from Packers), S Usama Young (from Browns), CB D.J. Hayden (first round, Houston), OT Menelik Watson (second round, Florida State), LB Sio Moore (third round, UConn)
KEY DEPARTURES: DT Desmond Bryant (to Browns), RB Mike Goodson (to Jets), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (released, to Colts), S Michael Huff (released, to Ravens), DT Tommy Kelly (released, to Patriots), P Shane Lechler (to Texans), QB Matt Leinart (not tendered, to Bills), LB Rolando McClain (released), S Mike Mitchell (to Panthers), TE Brandon Myers (to Giants), QB Carson Palmer (to Cardinals), DE Matt Shaughnessy (to Cardinals), LB Philip Wheeler (to Dolphins)
QB: On Jan. 1, 2012, Flynn did something star Packers QBs like Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers never did, becoming the only signal caller in Green Bay history to throw for 480 yards in a game, as well as the only one to throw for six TDs in a contest. Unfortunately that performance not only defined Flynn's career, it is his career. The LSU product was brought in by Seattle to handle the starting job last year and he was beaten out by Wilson. This year, more than a few are in Pryor's camp, claiming Flynn simply doesn't have the arm to handle things at this level. As athletic as Pryor is, though, he's raw, meaning Flynn will likely get his chance.
"We're still kind of tinkering with that toy ... each week we're trying to expose a little bit more with Terrelle, add a little bit to the initial package we had in for him," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said.
RB: Former Arkansas standout Darren McFadden is one of the more explosive players in the NFL but he's also seemingly never able to stay healthy. The 6- foot-1, 218-pound back is the key to any Oakland success in recent seasons. McFadden has rushed for 100 or more yards 12 times in his career and the Raiders have posted a 10-2 record in those games, including six straight wins when he does it.
His backup figures to be the nondescript Rashad Jennings, a former seventh- round pick in Jacksonville.
Fullback Marcel Reece is a solid lead blocker and a nice outlet in the passing game, averaging an NFL-best 10.8 yards per catch among running backs since 2009.
WR: The two primary options in the passing game figure to be Denarius Moore and second-year pro Rod Streater. Moore is a talented vertical receiver who runs good routes and catches the ball well but he's been way to immature as a person and a player.
"A lot of it's gonna be on Denarius," said Olson. "To me it's that whole character issue about becoming a self starter and becoming a self-motivated person. A lot of it comes with maturity. I think he would be the first guy to say that and we're constantly on top of him. It's hard to give somebody like that any space so we just try to coach him up."
Streater was among the most productive non-drafted rookie players in recent NFL history in 2012. The Temple product's 39 receptions last season were tied for third most among non-drafted rookies since 2000 and he's developed into something Moore hasn't.
"When we talk about self starters and self-motivated people, Rod Streater's that guy," said Olson. "In that room, to me, he's the leader in that room just based upon his work ethic, his preparation and the way he approaches the game. (I'm) happy with Rod Streater."
Second-year player Juron Criner offers a big target at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds while rookie Brice Butler is a raw outside-the-numbers threat.
TE: With Brandon Myers in New York, third-year man Richard Gordon figures to handle most of the work at tight end. At 265 pounds Gordon is a big man who can run a little bit but he's largely unproven.
Former USC standout David Ausberry is more of an h-back, movement threat while sight rookie Mychal Rivera is a sure-handed guy who has a chance.
OL: Perhaps the Raiders' best offensive player, starting left tackle Jared Veldheer, will likely miss the entire season after suffering a torn left triceps in mid-August. The underrated fourth-year pro from Hillsdale College is in the final year of his contract and has started every game for Oakland over the last two years. Former first-round pick Alex Barron is penciled in at the all-important position in Veldheer's absence.
"It's strange. (The surgery) is not something that I've ever been through," Veldheer said. "First football related procedure that I've ever had done. It's disappointing, it's tough but the only thing that I'm focused on now is putting all my attention into getting after it and rehabbing and getting back on the field."
Stefen Wisniewski starts his second year at the pivot between right guard Mike Brisiel and left guard Lucas Nix. Veteran Khalif Barnes will try to hold off rookie second-round pick Menelik Watson at right tackle. Watson, who will also get a look at left tackle, was just a one-year starter at Florida State but can really pull and run.
DL: Lamarr Houston came out of the University of Texas as a three-technique player and is now being asked to be a difference maker as a weakside pass rusher. He does have a nice first step but isn't all that sudden and tends to get caught in the wash far too much. Opposite Houston is veteran Jason Hunter, a journeyman with stops in Green Bay, Detroit, Denver and Oakland.
Former Bengal Sims takes over at nose tackle and should be a competent option while Walker, a free agent acquisition from Atlanta figures to handle the under tackle role.
Veteran pass rusher Andre Carter, who ranks eighth among active NFL players with 78.5 career sacks figures to get plenty of snaps in the nickel while second-year man Jack Crawford and backup nose tackle Stacy McGee could also be rotational players.
LB: The Raiders revamped things at linebacker, bringing in veterans Nick Roach and Kevin Burnett along with rookie Sio Moore. Roach is penciled in as the starter at Mike linebacker while Burnett will handle the weakside and Moore the Sam position.
Roach didn't get a lot of publicity in Chicago while playing next to Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs but he's has turned into a solid player while Burnett, although on the wrong side of 30 now figures to be a leader on this defense. Moore, meanwhile, sports good range, speed, and lateral quickness and Oakland is very high on him
Burnett's brother Kaelin is also on board and they are set to become the first brothers to play in a regular season game in the history of the Raiders franchise. The Burnett brothers are also the only active siblings in the NFL on the same team. Second year man Miles Burris, a starter last season, figures to be the top backup.
DB: McKenzie remade the entire secondary, bringing in veteran cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins as well as drafting Hayden at cornerback while also enticing future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson to return home.
Porter and Jenkins figure to start on the outside while Hayden gets up to speed and Woodson will team up with the team's best returning defender, Tyvon Branch, on the back end.
Porter is best known for making one of the clutch plays in NFL history. With Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts trailing by a touchdown and driving late in Super Bowl XLIV, Porter, then a member of the New Orleans Saints, stepped in front of Manning pass intended for Reggie Wayne, and raced 74 yards for the championship-sealing score. He's a savvy player who should help.
Jenkins never lived up to his billing as a first-round pick in Dallas but is a good athlete and can certainly help here. Hayden, meanwhile, eventually projects as the lockdown corner.
Woodson, of course, is one the most beloved players to ever put on the Silver and Black and re-signed with the Raiders in May, returning to the team that drafted him with their first-round selection in the 1998 NFL Draft. After seven years with the Green Bay Packers, Woodson is a declining player but he can still be a difference-maker near the line of scrimmage, especially blitzing from the slot.
Branch has been by far the most consistent Raiders over the last four seasons. He enjoyed a breakout year in 2009, posting 124 tackles in his first season as a starter, leading all DBs in that category. Branch then followed that up by leading Oakland in tackles for 2010 and 2011 and setting a career high in 2012 with 146 tackles, good for second on the team.
Former Browns part-time starter Usama Young offers depth at safety.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Janikowski was good on 31-of-34 field-goal attempts in 2012, hitting 91.2 percent of his tries. Only 10 kickers in league history have hit at least 90.9 percent of their attempts during a season while perfect from 49 yards or less. In that group, Janikowski hit the most from long distance.
Outspoken punter Chris Kluwe is a great holder for placekicks but often struggles with directional kicking and is susceptible to giving up long returns.
"As specialists we aren't on the field as much as other people so there's not as much incentive to learn about what we do," Kluwe said. "It takes a very specialist type mind to want to know about punting and kicking so the average person just doesn't see that. But we do go out there and we do affect games."
Josh Cribbs is one of the most dangerous return men in NFL history but a knee injury curtailed his Raiders career before it ever started, leaving the return game in the hands of Jacoby Ford and perhaps backup cornerback Phillip Adams.
COACHING: We didn't learn all that much about Allen last season and I'm not sure that's going to change. He does have some veteran pieces to lean on in the back seven on defense but the front figures to struggle mightily. Offensively, Flynn is a wild card with no receivers so Olson will have to work miracles.
THE SKINNY: It's almost like the aging, unsuccessful version of Al Davis is still haunting this organization and the only way to perform the exorcism is to make a series of sound, rational decisions -- something which seems decidedly un-Raider like.
McKenzie came over from Green Bay before last season and is still trying to wash the Davis craziness out of the Raiders but hasn't really done a good job to this point. Oakland is lucky enough to be in a weak division with the notable exception of Denver so at least some progress should and must be expected.
08/26 12:21:47 ET