2013 Season Previews
The Oakland Raiders enter the 2013-14 with a cautious sense of optimism.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie has been on the job for about a year and spent this offseason clearing dead weight off the books after they finished 4-12, but it was transition year under new head coach Dennis Allen.
The house cleaning was needed as the Raiders had no real franchise players on a team that was 26th in offense (18.1 points per game) and 28th on defense (27.7ppg allowed).
Some of the names that will be noticeably absent are QB Carson Palmer (overpaid at 13 million if he stayed with the team), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey and TE Brandon Myers on offense and safety Michael Huff, Linebacker Philip Wheeler (who was productive with 109 tackles, 6 passes defended and 3 sacks), problem child Rolando McClain who couldn’t stay out of trouble off the field, defensive tackles Desmond Bryant, Tommy Kelly (6.5 million salary owed after 45 tackles and just 1.5 sacks), and Richard Seymour, and longtime punter Shane Lechler.
Clearing a lot of overpaid players who weren’t leading to much success leaves them with close to 69 million in salary cap space in 2014. They will have money to sign free agents for the first time in many years.
Oakland traded Palmer for pennies on the dollar (they traded a 1st and 2nd rounder to acquire him when Hugh Jackson was the HC) by shipping him to Arizona for a 6th round pick (they exchanged 6th rounders with the Cardinals) and a conditional pick in 2014.
They followed this up by trading for Seattle’s Matt Flynn and he is expected to start the season at QB for the Raiders. Flynn is 28, but he has just 2 career starts after backing up Aaron Rodgers for 4 seasons and Russell Wilson last year with the Seahawks. Terrelle Pryor is getting reps, but he will most likely be a change of pace short yardage and goal line specialist. Tyler Wilson was drafted in the 4th round and was a steal that late in the draft, but he’s a project at this point.
The offensive line allowed just 27 sacks last year (excellent considering Palmer isn’t the NFL’s most mobile QB) and they should be even better this season.
The Raiders running game will be bolstered by new offensive coordinator Greg Olsen. His power running offensive made marginal talent LeGarrette Blount a 1,000 yard runner in 2011 when they were both with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Darren McFadden struggled last year in Greg Knapp’s zone running scheme, he had just 707 yards in 12 games. His 3.3 yards per carry was a career low and his 2 TD’s were the 2nd lowest of his career.
The Raiders added Latavius Murray in the 6th round when they drafted him. The 6 foot 3, 230 pound running played college ball at Central Florida and he gives the Raiders a big and physical RB who should be able to give McFadden a rest or fill in for him if he gets hurt. They also picked up Rashad Jennings (he played for Jacksonville last year) and he is a capable backup.
Fullback Marcel Reece returns and is a big physical player who has surprising quickness for a player that is 255 pounds. He had several games last year where he made key plays for Oakland.
The wide receiver corps are filled with players who are young and raw in Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Juron Criner as well as players who are injury prone in Jacoby Ford, newly signed Josh Cribbs and Moore.
Moore is the best of the bunch after a solid 2nd season (51 catches, 14.5 yards per catch, 7 TD’s, 12 plays of at least 20 yards and 33 first downs). Streater had a solid rookie year with 39 catches, 15ypc with 3 TD’s and will be a solid 2nd WR opposite Moore. Ford is a speedster who just needs to stay healthy (17ypc) to help stretch the field for the Raiders. Brice Butler was a 7th round pick and is a wild card to make the team. His size (6-3 and 213 pounds) combined with his quickness give him an excellent chance to see some playing time. He could be another Moore, a player who was a late draft pick, but makes the team and contributes.
Letting Myers walk was tough to swallow after he had a breakout season at TE (a team high 79 catches, 9 plays of at least 20 yards, 4 TD’s and a team high 41 first downs). The Raiders will attempt to fill his vacancy with 3rd year pros Richard Gordon and David Ausberry and rookies Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa. The TE will most likely be a blocker and see few passes thrown their way.
Jason Tarver implemented an aggressive defense last year, but he had a bunch of overpaid players that weren’t really suited to what he wanted to do. They are expected to run a 4-3 defense and also a 3-4 at times as well. This is why they were signing LB’ers left and right in the offseason.
Oakland got rid of Kelly, Seymour, Bryant as well as DE Matt Shaugnessy this offseason since the defensive line is the weakest part of the defense. After they let the veterans go, they picked up a few decent players in DT Pat Sims, DE Jason Hunter and DE Andre Carter to go with mainstay Lamarr Houston.
Sims is just 27 and should be a solid run stuffer at the line of scrimmage as he was with the Bengals last year. Vance Walker is a veteran (who played for the Falcons last year) who will get an opportunity to show what he can do. They drafted Stacy McGee with a late pick, but he may be just a player to add some depth. But, this is an area that could use some help.
The LB unit will be brand new as they will be replacing all 3 starters from last season, McClain, Wheeler and Miles Burris (he will most likely be a backup). Nick Roach will replace McClain as the MLB and he is a decent upgrade. He can produce (66 tackles and 1.5 sacks with the Bears in 14 starts), but he doesn’t have the off field drama McClain did. Kevin Burnett will be the new Weakside LB’er after an excellent season with the Dolphins (110 tackles and 2.5 sacks). He should be a solid replacement for Wheeler. Sio Moore was a 3rd round pick in the draft and will be the new Strongside LB’er. Draft experts thought Moore was a shrewd pick with his disciplined approach to the game and his ability to cover TE’s and bigger WR’s.
The cornerbacks were oft injured veterans Ron Bartell and Shawnate Spencer. They didn’t perform (just 17 combined tackles and 4 PD’s) and they were forced to use young players like Chimdi Chekwa and Joselio Hanson. They were so desperate they even used Huff at CB.
They went out and signed Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter. Jenkins is just 28 and made the Pro Bowl in 2009, he should be able to bounce back after having a down year last season. Porter is 27 and played in just 6 games last season with the rival Broncos, but should be an upgrade over what Oakland had to start at CB last year. They also drafted DJ Hayden with the 12th overall pick in the draft. He will most likely start out as a reserve, allowing him to adjust to the NFL since they have Jenkins and Porter, 2 veterans with a lot more experience.
Charles Woodson was brought back to the Raider family after spending the last 7 years with the Packers. Woodson’s worth will be much more influential as a veteran than as a playmaker. However, he recorded 7 INT’s in 2012 when he played in 15 games (after picking off just 1 in 7 games last year). He will be counted on to replace the often inconsistent Huff (only 56 tackles). Usama Young started 11 games for the Browns last year (52 tackles, 7 PD’s and 1.5 sacks) and was signed to provide a veteran backup to Woodson.
Tyvon Branch is one of the better strong safeties in the League. Branch was 3rd on the team with 94 tackles and is a consistent player.
Sebastian Janikowski was re-signed for another 4 years after converting 31 of 34 FG’s, proving he is still one of the best kickers in the League.
Long time punter Lechler will be replaced by either Chris Kluwe or Marquette King.
Cribbs will be the primary kick returner and punt returner.
The Raiders are in year 2 of the McKenzie/Allen regime and this may be another tough year for Oakland fans. I think a 6-10/7-9 record would be about the most Raider fans can expect from this team. It would show a little improvement and next summer McKenzie can chase the free agents he is interested in to help take this team to the next level and be an actual contender in the AFC West.
EJ: Not sure what to make of the Raiders. There are a lot of positives being said about Matt Flynn but he’s only made 2 starts, and couldn’t beat out Russell Wilson in Seattle after signing a 3 year $10 million deal with the Seahawks. On top of that he’s got Terrelle Pryor breathing down his neck with the Raiders. I know he put up big stats in those 2 starts with the Packers but I’m not convinced that he’s going to be a good QB with the Raiders. When I look at the offense the only player I do feel good about is Darren McFadden. If McFadden can avoid the injuries he could put up solid numbers in a power running scheme.
The Raiders defense? Scares me. Not in a good way though. The front 7 doesn’t fill me with confidence and the secondary is full of fading veterans. Charles Woodson’s return is nice but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and playing for a team that will be nowhere as good as his old team, the Green Bay Packers, were. So, where do I think the Raiders will end up? I think the Raiders will finish at 5-11 and in a fight with the Chargers to avoid last place in the AFC West. New GM Reggie McKenzie is doing all that he can to rebuild this franchise from the errors of Al Davis, but this Raiders team is still nowhere close to where it could be.
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