Since the opening of the 2011 season, to say the Raiders’ organization has undergone a transformation of epic proportions could be viewed as an understatement.
Owner Al Davis died in October, Oakland traded for Carson Palmer later that month, Reggie McKenzie was hired as general manager in January, coach Hue Jackson was fired and coach Dennis Allen hired. Oh, and the club missed the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season in there too. Got all that?
As the 2012 campaign ratchets into high gear next week, the best chance Oakland has to snap that lengthy postseason drought stands about four yards behind the Raiders’ quarterback and sports the No. 20 jersey: running back Darren McFadden.
A healthy McFadden has to be on the field each and every week if the Raiders are going to make a run at the AFC West title. But therein lies the rub.
Healthy and McFadden go together like young children and well-rested parents. It almost never happens.
Explosive? Yes. Dynamic? Absolutely. But healthy? Eh, not so much.
“You hear it all the time, but that’s something I can’t do anything about,” McFadden said of the injury-prone label.
“It’s not like I’m going out there and just falling over and getting hurt.
“I’m out there playing and playing hard. I can live with that if I get hurt that way.”
In his first four seasons, McFadden missed a total of 19 games, with at least three in every season.
He appears to be fully recovered from the Lisfranc sprain to his right foot that cost him nine games last season and showed glimpses of his big-play ability in the preseason.
And good thing, too.
In his career, the Raiders are 7-2 when McFadden, who turned 25 this week, runs for 100 yards or more and 10-3 when he runs for 80 or more. He’s considered one of the NFL’s top ball carriers and has averaged 5.2 and 5.4 yards per carry the past two seasons.
Palmer and an emerging receiving corps featuring Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore are talented and capable of easing the load on the No. 4 overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft, but they also have some major flaws.
Palmer has a tendency to throw too many interceptions — he threw 16 in only 10 games last year compared to just 13 touchdowns. He didn’t fare much better in the preseason, throwing four INTs in his first three showings.
The receivers have been dazzling at times, but also have battled injuries and inconsistency.
McFadden’s presence has been key to the Raiders since he arrived in the East Bay, but it’s even more magnified this season with bulldozing, reliable backup Michael Bush now with the Chicago Bears.
In his stead sit Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones. Both fine players, but hardly a tandem that will leave opposing defensive coordinators tossing headsets and cussing up a storm.
That’s why the onus ultimately will fall on McFadden and his ability to stay out of street clothes.
The preseason is over, but there’s still more than a week left until the Raiders kick things off on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 10 against the San Diego Chargers. If I were Allen, I’d wrap McFadden in bubble wrap from now until then.
Because without him, it’ll be another winter spent watching the postseason at home for the Raiders.
Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @dkruse16.