Now that training camp has arrived, it’s time for the Oakland Raiders offense to begin setting goals for the upcoming season. Having ranked near the bottom of the league in offense for several years now, here’s a modest ambition: Keep Shane Lechler out of the Pro Bowl.
For the 2009 Raiders, offensive success will be measured by how long they can keep their power-footed duo on the sideline, limiting the number of times they’re called upon to bail the team out with another long-distance drive.
What the Raiders would prefer to see is quarterback JaMarcus Russell delivering long-distance passes to his receivers. But while Russell has a strong enough arm to keep Al Davis happy, he also needs receivers who can both get deep and catch a pass, a commodity currently in short supply.
Of course, if Russell doesn’t have enough time to throw, it won’t matter how far he can heave it. Raiders quarterbacks were sacked once every 11 pass attempts last season (good for 27th in the NFL), and because Russell is larger than most of the defenders chasing him, he won’t be evading many tackles.
As it happens, “tackle” is currently a derogatory word in Oakland, given that the team still hasn’t decided which tackle will protect Russell’s blind side this season.
The Raiders are also light on proven pass catchers, now that Ronald Curry has followed Jerry Porter out the door. Oakland’s lack of depth at receiver means that Javon Walker might actually see meaningful playing time, despite the fact that he may have walked off the reservation years ago.
Fresh off a season in which he was robbed and beaten in Vegas, nearly retired, and produced absolutely nothing of consequence for Oakland, Walker has returned with a vengeance.
It’s only training camp, but Walker’s third-person references are already in midseason form, and he underwent surgery so obscure that he refuses to reveal even the country in which it took place.
Thankfully, the Raiders are replete with running backs, several of whom may be loaned out to the receiving corps this season. Offensive coordinator John Shoop (of Salt N' Pepa fame) has already experimented with Darren McFadden at receiver in training camp, and devising new ways to get McFadden the ball figures to be a season-long challenge.
Aside from his part-time job at wide receiver, McFadden will also serve as the team’s featured running back and occasional wildcat quarterback. McFadden never got into a groove as a rookie last season, but he’ll serve as the Raiders’ primary playmaker this year, and the team is counting on him for a breakout season.
With McFadden handling most of the carries, Justin Fargas spelling him, and Michael Bush providing the thunder, the Raiders have the kind of running back depth that’s all the rage among the NFL kids these days.
Bush is accustomed to a power running game, having already switched between running back and fullback 43 times in his brief NFL career. Add fullback Lorenzo Neal as the trio’s bodyguard, and Oakland’s running game figures to be even stronger than last year, when they finished 10th in the league in rushing yards per game.
With Russell (strong-armed quarterback), McFadden (quick running back), Heyward-Bey (deep threat at receiver), and Zach Miller (sure-handed tight end), the Raiders have all the makings of a good offense in Madden
How well the Raiders blend these individual skill sets into a functional offense will determine whether Oakland contends for a playoff spot or heads for a starring role in Roger Goodell’s Patriots-Examiner%7Ey2009m7d24-The-NFL-Draft-moves-to-prime-time-in-2010-NFL-gives-entire-west-coast-the-finger" target="_blank">new Thursday night lineup.
The Oakland Sports Examiner: New columns every Tuesday and Thursday.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!