Sports Out West

Raiders season preview 2014: What to expect from the Silver and Black

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High school graduates should be familiar with the premise of Raiders’ Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Hence it’s no surprise anymore when the Oakland Raiders receive brutal schedules, suffer phantom penalties and endure losing season after season.

While it’s foolish to bet against the rules of physics, there is some evidence from the offseason which supports the notion the Silver and Black may enjoy a season less catastrophic than usual.

Here’s the 2014 almanac.

Position ratings:

Quarterbacks

Right now 34-year-old Matt Schaub is less appealing than leftover spam. The imported two-time Pro Bowler has looked mediocre in the preseason, affirming doubts that his struggles with the Houston Texans last year weren’t a fluke. Rookie starter Derek Carr has demonstrated the poise and physical gifts to be a stud pro quarterback, but it remains to be seen how the second round pick responds to opponents’ adjustments. Matt McGloin is arguably the best third-string quarterback in the NFL. Grade: B-

Half/Full backs

Maurice Jones-Drew leads a very talented trio at running back after signing a three-year, $7.5 million deal following two poor years in Jacksonville. A healthy, rebound performance would take pressure off disappointing former No. 4 pick Darren McFadden, whose explosiveness will be used in spots. Second-year pro Latavius Murray is a very intriguing big-back prospect with speed.

All-Pro fullback Marcel Reece will reportedly be targeted more in the passing game this season, and backup (and converted running back) Jamize Olawale has shown similar skill as a pass catcher. Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

The Raiders lack a true go-to threat through the air but James Jones, a No. 3 in Green Bay, will be the primary target in the red zone. Rod Streater is an improving route runner with steady hands, and Denarius Moore is a homerun threat quite lethal when focused. Brice Butler and Andre Holmes are capable backups with high ceilings. Grade: C+

Tight Ends

2013 sixth round pick Mychal Rivera oozes with skill and seeks to join a rich history of Raiders tight ends. Oft-injured fouth-year pro David Ausberry is a dangerous deep threat whose blocking still needs work. Grade: C

Offensive Line
Despite losing Jared Veldheer in free agency, the Raiders significantly upgraded the front five. Donald Penn, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signed a two-year, $9.6 deal to replace Veldheer and is an inconsistent but worthy starter. Oakland surprisingly added ex-New York Jets’ tackle Austin Howard with a five-year, $30 million contract and converted him to right guard. 2014 third round steal Gabe Jackson is poised to start at left guard, but 2013 second rounder Menelik Watson will have re-earn his right tackle job from Khalif Barnes. Stefen Wesniewski is a quick, crafty, smart center, and depth is highlighted by Barnes, Kevin Boothe and Tony Bergstrom. Grade: B

Defensive Line

The signings of Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley to similar two-year, $10 million deals were probably the most underrated free agency moves by the team. The Raiders struggled mightily to provide pressure from their front four without extra help last season. Antonio Smith, a 3-4 end with the Texans, will now play under tackle in the Oakland 4-3, and Pat Sims returns as the nose coming off a career year. Tackles Stacy McGee and Justin Ellis are projects. Grade: B

Linebackers

Nick Roach is back after collecting 112 total tackles and four forced fumbles as an every-down middle linebacker. Rookie Khalil Mack is a freak of nature on the strong side, and Sio Moore is a capable pass rusher from the weak. 2012 fourth rounder Miles Burris holds his own as a starter but Kaluka Maiava seems to have lost a step from his Cleveland Browns days. Grade: B+

Secondary

The last line of defense looks to benefit tremendously from a healthy Tyvon Branch, one of the fastest safeties in the league, and Charles Woodson, who continues to smooth out the intricacies of playing free safety. At corner, the Raiders are introducing a new pair of starters for the third straight year, in San Francisco 49ers’ castoffs Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers. The jury is out on injured D.J. Hayden, and Chimdi Chekwa is not an ideal nickel cornerback. Coaches are high on undrafted rookie T.J. Carrie. Grade: C+

Special Teams

Old faithful Sebastian Janikowski still boots touchbacks with regularity and stretches conventional wisdom on field goals. 25-year-old punter Marquette King has nearly seamlessly replaced All-Pro Shane Lechler. Murray is expected to handle kick returns and Carrie will do punt returns (where he was electric at Ohio University), and Taiwan Jones and Kaelin Burnett are outstanding gunners. Grade: A

. . . . .

Forecast:

Ground shipping

With a rookie under center, and a wealth of riches at ballcarrier, anything less than 30 rushes a game would be suicidal. Head coach Dennis Allen knows how pounding the rock boosts confidence on the line, tires the opponent and keeps the Raiders’ patchwork defense off the field. If you’re starving for aerial shootouts, flip the channel.

Groggy starts

The Raiders will travel a league-high 36,106 miles this season, adding a cruel burden to a team which already struggles adjusting to the East Coast. Case in point – since Allen became head coach, the Silver and Black have gone 0-8 in contests in the Eastern Time Zone. Add to the fact the Raiders have the toughest strength of schedule (.578 opponent winning percentage) and the team may need twice the recommended dose of espresso.

Shadowing fear

The recurring nightmare Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie envision likely involves owner Mark Davis, who may be running out of patience with the current direction. Allen has shown in the past he is willing to make gut decisions, and if losses accumulate and Carr struggles, who is to say he won’t give the aging Schaub a go? Likewise, what’s stopping McKenzie from firing Allen and saving his own rear? At least we know the players will be forced to give their best.

Projected record: 6-10

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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Rui Thomas

Rui Thomas is an NFL and NBA aficionado whose credits include Yahoo! Sports, FanNation, GoldenGateSports and Radiosurvivor.com. He also owns the Theruination.net. Rui grew up an obsessive fan of the Sacramento Kings and Oakland Raiders, but he sympathizes with every West Coast team.

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