For the first time in years it looks like the Oakland Raiders have their act together. The 2-1 preseason doesn't mean too much but the level of cohesiveness and competence the team is playing with suggests the Silver & Black can rise above the laughingstock level it's been relegated to since being blown out by Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.
Jason Campbell, acquired from the Redskins for a future fourth-round pick, provides stability to a position that was wasted on JaMarcus Russell for the past three years. And of course Jason had to be crushed in last Saturday night's exhibition and suffer a bad stinger. He also has a bum wrist but all signs point to a full recovery before the season open. That's good... because the Raiders recovery starts with him. Bruce Gradkowski can provide spells of decency but he's not a long-term answer.
Speaking of injuries Michael Bush has a broken thumb, which leaves Darren McFadden the starter at running back by default. Run-DMC has been injured and ineffective during his pro career but the talent is there. The onus will be on the returning O-line to provide good protection and open lanes. The center position will be manned by either rookie Jared Veldheer or Samson Satele and looks to be the weak link. It's not a great unit but another year in Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme should lead to improvement.
The wide receiving corps is a major question mark. Louis Murphy emerged last year as the most consistent pair of hands on the team. But he's not a #1-caliber receiver. Chaz Schilens is injured again, Johnnie Lee Higgins is fast (but maybe not as fast as newcomer Jacoby Ford) and Darrius Heyward-Bey is a question mark. At least Zach Miller is a bomb tight end.
Two rookies hope to shore up the defense. First-round and second-round picks Rolando McClain and LaMarr Houston are penciled as the MLB and DE respectively. Houston joins a formidable front four that also includes Matt Shaughnessy, Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour. Sandwiching McClain will be Trevor Scott, Kamerion Wembley and Thomas Howard in some combination. Nnamdi Asomugha leads the defensive backs. Chris Johnson keeps improving as the other CB but he's no Nnamdi. Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff are okay safeties.
SeaBass and Lechler are the two best kickers in the league. Ford and Higgins are likely the speedy returners.
The Raiders' schedule includes the six games against its division rivals (Broncos, Chargers and Chiefs) along with the AFC South (@Titans, Texans, @Jacksonville, Colts), NFC West (Rams, @Cardinals, @49ers, Seahawks), @Steelers and Dolphins.
Call me crazy but I think Oakland can play .500 ball this season.