After the offseason began with false rumors of Tom Cable’s imminent firing and then moved along to the release of embattled quarterback JaMarcus Russell, things have settled down in Raiderland — a rarity over the past few seasons. Cable is firmly in control of the team and Russell is out of the picture. While a playoff berth in 2010 is a long shot, the Raiders should have enough pieces in place to show steady improvement on both sides of the ball.
Here’s a look a three burning questions facing the Raiders entering training camp this week:
1. Will morale be better with JaMarcus Russell out of the picture?
The ominous cloud that had hovered over the East Bay football scene the past few years has finally lifted. JaMarcus Russell and his monster contract have left town for not-so-greener pastures, as he’s embroiled in a drug charge for allegedly possessing codeine syrup. Russell’s lazy attitude and on-field struggles seemed to have an impact on the rest of the Raiders during his tenure. With him out of the picture, expect the entire franchise to have a different approach and outlook during training camp.
Former Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell is the team’s new ringleader. While Campbell will never be confused with Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, he is a proven NFL quarterback who has won before. He has produced a quarterback rating of at least 84 the past two seasons and his completion percentage has gradually increased in all four of his years in the league.
2. Will the offensive line hold up?
The Raiders gave up 49 sacks last season, the third-most in the NFL. It was thought that beefing up the offensive line would be a priority this offseason, but it didn’t turn out that way. Oakland didn’t land a high-profile free agent or even spend a high draft pick on the line.
The Raiders did draft Bruce Campbell and Jared Veldheer, but both are considered long-term projects and may not contribute at all this season.
Center Samson Satele, who is in contention to start, was acquired in an offseason trade, but he had fallen out of favor with the Miami Dolphins. The Raiders appear content to start the year with Satele at center, Mario Henderson and Khalif Barnes at tackle, and Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle at guard. Last year’s unit showed some promise in the ground game, as Oakland averaged 4.1 yards per carry, but was only able to produce seven rushing touchdowns. The unit will need to mesh well in camp in order to take some of the pressure off Campbell.
3. Can rookies Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston shore up a shaky run defense?
Stopping the run has been an issue that has plagued the Raiders for years, and last season was no different. Oakland surrendered 155.5 yards per game on the ground last year, allowing opponents to control the clock and tempo of the game.
The Raiders are optimistic their first two draft picks, linebacker Rolando McClain and defensive lineman Lamarr Houston, will help put an end to the recent trend. McClain should start from the get-go, replacing the departed Kirk Morrison. Houston won’t be leaned on as heavily, but is expected to be part of the defensive line rotation that includes Richard Seymour, John Henderson and Tommy Kelly.
With Nnamdi Asomugha anchoring a solid defensive backfield that held foes to a paltry 179.7 passing yards per game last season, the pressure is on the front seven to clamp down on the running game. If the Raiders can do that, they could be a defense on the rise in 2010.
Raiders at a glance
LAST YEAR: 5-11
COACH: Tom Cable
TRAINING SITE: Napa
REPORT DAY: Wednesday
KEY ADDITIONS: QB Jason Campbell, LB Kamerion Wimbley, DL John Henderson, LB Rolando McClain, DL Lamarr Houston
KEY LOSSES: RB Justin Fargas, LB Kirk Morrison, DT Gerard Warren, DE Greg Ellis
PRESEASON GAMES: Aug. 12 at Dallas (6 p.m.), Aug. 21 at Chicago (5:30 p.m.), Aug. 28 vs. 49ers (6 p.m.), Sept. 2 vs. Seattle (7 p.m.)