It’s the silver and black. It’s Howie Long, Gene Upshaw, Marcus Allen, Jim Plunkett, John Madden, Tim Brown. It’s three Super Bowl rings. It’s the white track suit, floppy hair and big glasses. It’s commitment to excellence and Just Win Baby. I have an affinity for the Raiders as a fan of football history and it is simply painful the current sad state of the franchise. All those players I just mentioned from yesteryear are replaced with their current day versions and memories of draft busts, journeymen players or simply free agent dissapointments: Jamarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Michael Huff, Robert Gallery, Warren Sapp and Randy Moss who were way past their prime years paired with visions of Sebastian Janikowski attempting 74 yard field goals and countless other mistakes. The Raiders are slowly but surely trying to get out of the depths of the tail end of the Al Davis regime. What worked in the past such as drafting for size, speed and athleticism won’t work anymore. The Raider way, which brought so many Hall of Famers, needs to be re-established and it starts with a few key elements…
1. Let Terrelle Pryor run wild: I have always respected Carson Palmer’s game. His elbow injury a few years ago as a member of the Bengals has deminished some of his accuracy and especially arm strength. The Raiders gave up a lot of picks for Palmer, so in essence, they feel obligated to start him. Despite some inconsistency at wide receiver and some offensive line problems, Carson still had a nice season. Consider how much they had to throw the ball when they were behind for entire football games and factor in a bad offensive line, an 85 quarterback rating as well as 4000 yards passing, 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions makes for a solid season. Carson will only bring them so far and the Raiders need to figure out if Pryor is a player they want to feature for years to come or do they want to rebuild at that position which has been a revolving door of mediocre players since Rich Gannon retired. Pryor has as much speed as any of the premier read option quarterbacks. He is also 6’4 and over 250 lbs. His arm strength is average, but he can gun it at a respectable level. He showed some flashes when he starter the final game of the regular season against the Chargers. Bottom line, although there is not enough of a sample size to truly make an accurate prediction of the type of player Pryor will be, the league is geared too much toward the running quarterback and Pryor has too many skills that are untapped for the Raiders to not make it an absolute open competition at training camp. Just look at Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III who came in with different schemes and their coaches adapted their offenses to fit them. The Raiders need to forget Carson Palmer’s $13 million base salary and simply start the best player based on who will give them the best chance to win.
2. Get a blocking fullback and make it a true time share between Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece: When Darren McFadden came out of Arkansas in 2008, he looked like a transcendent type of back. He was in the same mold as an Adrian Peterson with sub 4.45 speed. Unfortunately he simply cannot stay healthy. McFadden had a really poor 2012 season, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Injuries as well as a zone blocking scheme that just did not fit well with the Raiders personel was his undoing last season. Michael Bush who formed a nice one-two punch with McFadden and allowed him to be spelled during the game left to Chicago last offseason. What do you do now? Step in Marcel Reece. The jack of all trades, “joker” type player as Jon Gruden likes to call them, has amazing talent. He is your true fullback as per the original definition of the position. He can run very well and has great hands. He filled in beautifully for McFadden last year in two games as a starter against New Orleans and Cincinnati, compilling 100 rushing yards and 90 receiving yards against the Saints. On the season, even when McFadden was playing, Reece had 52 catches and almost 500 yards receiving. The stats show that he is simply too talented to be a lead-blocker only. The league is almost completely filled with teams that employ a time share at the running back position and it would be wise for the Raiders to not only play a guy in Reece is situations where he can exploit his great speed and hands and conversely allow McFadden to be fresh and avoid the nagging injuries that have rendered him to miss 23 games in his first 5 seasons.
3. Defense, Defense, Defense: The Raiders have not had a good defense since the exodus of some of their top talent, most notably Nnamdi Asomugha. While they do feature some solid players such as Rolando McClain(who had a down year with legal issues), Richard Seymour, Philip Wheeler, Andre Carter and Lamarr Houston, their secondary continues to be terrible. Michael Huff’s experiment from safety to corner was a solid transition, but ultimately he is best suited at his regular safety position. They are in dire need of some help at cornerback. In a league where receivers can barely be touched, you have to be able to cover the skill position with speed , athleticism and great coverage tools. The Raiders also need to figure out if they are a 3-4 or a 4-3 team. They have a 3-4 personel, but seem geared towards playing a 4-3 under Dennis Allen. Thankfully, they do not owe the Bengals anymore picks, therefore they can use this first two picks(one’s they did not have last season) to draft some defensive players.
4. Do not change the course: Since 2002, after John Gruden was “traded” to the Bucs, the Raiders have employed 7 head coaches. Again, the wacky ways of Al Davis through the last years of his tenure as owner/personel director were not pretty. In that same timeframe, there have been 7 starting quarterbacks. Clearly, cohesiveness and sticking with a plan is something the new brass must adhere to. The Raiders have already made a few moves towards getting back to respectability. Reggie McKenzie who was hired last season as the new GM has changed their draft strategy. Long are the days of simply drafting for speed and players with raw tools which is how Al Davis built his teams previously(Hello Deyrius Heyward-Bey). There should be no more reaching for players just because they clock great times in the 40-yard dash, but rather opting to go for the best player available. The Dennis Allen hire was a very good one. He came from a defense in Denver that played very well under his guidance in 2011. He was also the defensive backs coach for the Saints from 2008-2010 when they were one of the best ball hawking defenses in the league. The firing of Greg Knapp, one of the worst offensive co-ordinators in the game was also a positive move. He did nothing for Michael Vick as an OC and with that same title in 2009 with the Seahawks, they finished 27th in points scored. Although he runs west coast principles, his offenses are far too conservative. Ultimately, the zone blocking scheme that the Raiders used simply did not work out. His predecessor, Greg Olson, does not that have a great resume either having previously been OC for the Bucs from 2008-2011 and for the Rams in 2006-2007.
It will take a while for the Raiders to get back to the level that they were at in the late 70’s and 80’s, but they can make certain moves to get back to that title of being one of the best franchises in the NFL.