Young,older newcomers to answer key questions for Raiders...Vic Tafur
If you talked to grayinex-Raiders players, they all got a chuckle out of the new regime's process this offseason. General manager Reggie McKenzie signed a bunch of older veteran players who were cast off by their old teams and all have a chip on their shoulders.
"That's a page from the Al Davis book," retired tight end Raymond Chester said, smiling.
We'll see how it comes together starting Wednesday, when players arrive in Napa for training camp. With the team's salary cap situation finally in order, "there are no more excuses this year," Davis said.
Ok, but there are a lot of questions.
Here are the Top 5 questions facing the team as spirited Raiders fans lay siege to Wine Country for the next two and a half weeks:
1. Can Penn and a revamped offensive line lead the charge?
The Raiders shot themselves in the shoulder at the start of the off-season when No. 1 target Rodger Saffold failed a physical and the team tore up the tackle/guard's contract offer. Oakland later settled on Donald Penn, below, who by his own account, had a bad year with the Bucs last season and was cut.
Penn will start at left tackle, while second-year player Menelik Watson gets first crack at right tackle. Austin Howard, signed from the Jets, is being moved from right tackle to right guard and, most agree, can open run lanes like a bulldozer.
The coaching staff expects rookie Gabe Jackson to start at left guard, with Stefen Wisniewski the only holdover at center. How well the group comes together, protects Matt Schaub and run-blocks for Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden will go a long way toward determining if the Raiders have any legs this season.
"We're going to play like the old Raiders," said Penn, who actually grew up a fan in Los Angeles. "We're going to be a physical offensive line and dictate the tempo."
2. Can the secondary stand up to a brutal schedule?
For the third year in a row, McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen discarded the previous year's starting cornerbacks, a bit ironic considering Allen rose through the ranks as a defensive backs coach.
Gone are Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter, and in are free agents Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, who both started for the 49ers last year. Rogers was brought in as a slot cornerback, but he might start, considering D.J. Hayden, above, last year's first-round pick, is on the shelf again.
Hayden missed the offseason program for a second straight year, this time with an ankle/foot injury, and there are whispers he won't be ready for Friday's first practice. Last season, Hayden was sidelined due to a follow-up procedure after his near-fatal heart injury in college. Then he missed the last eight games with a groin injury (and the eight games he played in weren't exactly pretty either).
The Raiders, who are excited about seventh-round pick T.J. Carrie, might have to sign another free agent cornerback soon.
3. How good, how fast, is rookie pass-rusher khalil Mack?
"The Thinker," the famous bronze sculpture, is just trying to figure out: When was the last time the Raiders had an elite, young defensive player? Allen is betting that linebacker Khalil Mack the team's No. 5 overall pick, is that guy and has not been shy about throwing around Von Miller comparisons (Allen was in Denver for Miller's first season).
Mack can rush with power and speed, and get low when he turns the corner, as well as change directions and chase the play if needed. He will learn the ways of falling on quarterbacks from defensive end Justin Tuck, line up in different spots to confuse them, and is the single biggest reason fans should be excited this year. There is no question that he has an impact this season," Allen said.
4. What do we make of the new quarterback, and will rookie Carr push Schaub and play this season?
Matt Schaub was a pretty good quarterback in Houston for years. Last year he was horrible and threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in four straight games. That's not easy to do.
Houston didn't want him anymore and Oakland traded for him, because Schaub would have signed with Cleveland if he was released. As the starter here, he will be asked to hand off, complete play-action passes, and not implode like Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor did last season.
If he can handle that, great. If not, the Raiders drafted Derek Carr, above, and are very happy with his work in the spring, both his accuracy and his grasp of the playbook, and are excited to see how he does against live competition in the preseason. People who think he is going to redshirt are not familiar with the Davis-McKenzie-Allen dynamic.
5. Who will get the majority of carries at running back?
Jones-Drew is in great shape, and the former Jaguar is looking forward to competing with McFadden at camp. It wasn't too long ago, before injuries, that they were two of the best running backs in the NFL.
"I'm doing everything I can to get back to the form I'm used to, and I know Darren is as well," Jones-Drew said.