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Oakland Raiders 2011 Season Preview

A lot of phrases are used to describe the Oakland Raiders. Often controversial. Frequently misguided. Usually unpredictable. And dependably enigmatic.

But rarely boring.

The franchise that gave the NFL timeless mantras like "Commitment to Excellence" and "Just win, baby" continued on its chronically newsworthy path in 2010, pulling off a particularly ignominious double by going unbeaten (6-0) in the AFC West but failing to qualify for the playoffs with an overall 8-8 record.

That unpalatable combination prompted a tumultuous offseason that included the forced departure of head coach Tom Cable -- replaced by offensive coordinator Hue Jackson -- and the unplanned exodus of big-ticket cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who took his free-agent talents to south Philadelphia to sign his name to a five-year, $60 million contract with the Eagles.

And while the off-field events have many expecting the Raiders to fade to black in the shadow of new coach Jim Harbaugh and his across-the-Bay San Francisco 49ers, the first-time sideline boss in Oakland is flashing a brashness characteristic of the franchise he now leads.

"We're getting ready to do something special," Jackson said. "I just feel it. Jim Harbaugh's across the Bay, Hue Jackson's on this side. I want to own the Bay Area. So does he. That's what it���s all about.

"I have high expectations. I'm not backing down from that. Why wouldn't I? Some people think you shouldn't make a bunch of noise. I look at it the other way. I talk boldly and carry a big stick."

Front and center among the Raiders' on-field stick-carriers is quarterback Jason Campbell, the seventh-year pro who's back for his second season as a starter for the Silver and Black. He started 12 times in 2010 and completed 58.9 percent of his throws for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions in an overall solid campaign.

Campbell briefly lost his slot to the since-departed Bruce Gradkowski, but returned to the field when the latter went down to injury and helped the Raiders score 410 points -- a 213-point improvement from 2009.

The 2005 first-round pick, who was traded from the Redskins to Oakland during last year's draft, has compiled just a 27-37 composite record as a starter, while his 2010 numbers were down slightly in all major categories after they'd risen incrementally annually since he received his first playing time in 2006.

Regardless, Campbell's status as the starter is not a concern with his new coach.

"There���s no question he is [No. 1]," said Jackson of Campbell. "The guy won some very important games [last season]. "The guy played hurt. The guy got to know his teammates, rallied his team and finished very strong.

"He helped us win, obviously, every game in our division, (so) there's no question he is definitely the unquestioned starter on this football team at this point. But I think he knows without any shadow of a doubt, there's work to do, and we have to do a great job of surrounding him, putting better players around him so he can go out and be the quarterback that we all know he can be."

Among Campbell's support cast on offense is fourth-year running back Darren McFadden, who broke through with a career-best 1,157 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last year while helping the Raiders to the second-best rushing output in the league in 2010 -- an average of 155.87 yards per week.

The Arkansas product suffered a broken left eye socket in early August, but is not considered to be in jeopardy of missing time once the regular season starts.

"He can do everything," teammate Rock Cartwright said of McFadden. "He pass protects. He runs over guys. He makes guys miss. You can put him at wide receiver. I can see him having 2,000 to 2,200 all-purpose yards and 1,500 to 1,600 yards rushing.

"His main thing is to stay healthy. I think he's going to [succeed] like that. He puts in the work."

Below we take a capsule look at the 2011 edition of the Oakland Raiders, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2010 RECORD: 8-8 (3rd, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002, lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII

COACH (RECORD): Hue Jackson

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Al Saunders (first season with Raiders)

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Chuck Bresnahan (seventh season with Raiders, fifth as DC)

OFFENSIVE STAR: Darren McFadden, RB (1157 rushing yards, 47 receptions, 10 total TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Richard Seymour, DT (48 tackles, 5.5 sacks)

2010 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 10th overall (2nd rushing, 23rd passing), 6th scoring (25.6 ppg)

2010 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 11th overall (29th rushing, 2nd passing), 20th scoring (23.2 ppg)

KEY ADDITIONS: TE Kevin Boss (from Giants), QB Trent Edwards (from Jaguars), WR Denarius Moore (5th Round, Tennessee), WR Derek Hagan (from Giants), C Stefen Wisniewski (2nd Round, Penn State), OT Stephon Heyer (from Redskins), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (3rd Round, Miami-Florida), CB Lito Sheppard (from Vikings), S Matt Giordano (from Saints), S Josh Bullocks (from Bears)

KEY DEPARTURES: TE Zach Miller (to Seahawks), OG Robert Gallery (to Seahawks), OT Langston Walker (not tendered), CB Nnamdi Asomugha (to Eagles), QB Bruce Gradkowski (to Bengals), WR Johnnie Lee Higgins (to Eagles), OT Mario Henderson (not tendered), OLB Thomas Howard (to Bengals), MLB Ricky Brown (to Patriots)

QB: Though it was still a drop from his 2009 numbers, Campbell's 58.9 completion percentage last season was still the highest by a Raiders quarterback since Rich Gannon in 2002. He also registered a respectable 84.5 passer rating while finishing third on the team with 222 rushing yards on 47 carries, as well as leading the offense to three 500-plus yard performances. While at Auburn in 2004, Campbell was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year by league coaches and SEC Player of the Year by the Associated Press, and he was also a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and the inaugural Manning Award honoring the nation's best collegiate quarterback. Battling for the second-string role will be onetime Ravens starter Kyle Boller and former Buffalo No. 1 Trent Edwards (521 passing yards, 2 TD with Bills/Jaguars in 2010), both of whom have combined for 79 starts and 74 touchdown passes. The Raiders also made an interesting selection in August's supplemental draft by using a third-round pick on Ohio State signal-caller Terrelle Pryor, though the talented rookie will sit out the first five regular-season games on suspension for NCAA violations.

RB: McFadden's 2010 rush total was the fifth-highest in Raiders history for a single season, and he became the first Raider since 1997 to post six 100-yard rushing games. He also led the NFL with nine runs of 30 yards or longer and was second on the team with 47 receptions totaling 507 yards along with three touchdowns, despite missing three games due to injury. Behind him is fourth- year man Michael Bush, who was second among Oakland players with a career-high 655 rushing yards on 158 carries while leading the team with eight rushing touchdowns. Bush had two 100-yard rushing games and added 18 receptions for 194 yards. Third-year fullback Marcel Reese was a varied threat in 2010, tying for fifth on the team with 25 receptions for 333 yards and scoring three touchdowns. He also rushed 30 times for 122 yards with one score and set a Raiders' season high with a 73-yard touchdown reception against Denver in December.

WR/TE: As usual, speed and big-play ability rule the day for the Raiders' receivers. The No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, Darrius Heyward-Bey (26 receptions, 1 TD) gets another chance to prove his worth after compiling just 35 catches for 490 yards and two scores in his first two seasons. Fellow speedster Jacoby Ford had 25 receptions for 470 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, averaging 18.8 yards per catch and adding 10 rushes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Louis Murphy (41 receptions, 2 TD), entering his third NFL season, led Oakland's wideouts with 609 receiving yards in 2010 and provides another deep threat for the strong-armed Campbell. At tight end, former New York Giant Kevin Boss (35 receptions, 5 TD) signed as a free agent in August after amassing 119 catches and 18 touchdowns through his first four seasons. He'll be replacing Zach Miller, Oakland's top receiver last year who joined Cable in Seattle via free agency.

OL: A developing front line will be anchored by second-year behemoth Jared Veldheer, a 6-foot-8, 315-pound specimen who made 10 starts at left tackle as a rookie and generally held his own. Veteran center Samson Satele also returns, though he's being pushed for a starting job by rookie Stefen Wisniewski (6-3, 315), a second-round choice in April's draft and the nephew of former Raiders great Steve Wisniewski. The Penn State product made 38 starts in college and is versatile, having experience at guard as well. Seventh-year man Khalif Barnes has started 62 career games and opened camp as the regular right tackle, though 2011 third-round pick Joseph Barksdale (LSU) could be an option there as well. Slated to man the guard spots are Daniel Loper, who takes over for free-agent departure Robert Gallery on the left side, and 12-year vet Cooper Carlisle on the right. Second-year project Bruce Campbell will also challenge for time at both guard and tackle, while the signing of ex-Redskins tackle Stephon Heyer provides further depth.

DL: The Raiders return a full front-line quartet on defense that combined for 24 1/2 sacks as a unit last season. Back with a lucrative new contract at one tackle spot is Patriots castoff Richard Seymour, who was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl in 2010 after posting 5 1/2 sacks for 34 yards in losses and ranking third on the team with 22 quarterback pressures. Overall, he had 48 tackles, two passes defended and a fumble recovery. Seymour is joined inside by Pro Bowl alternate Tommy Kelly, who's coming off a strong season in which he made 60 tackles and had seven sacks. On the ends are second-year man Lamarr Houston (39 tackles, 5 sacks) and third-year pro Matt Shaughnessy, who had seven sacks and 56 tackles. Also in the fold is former Broncos first-round pick Jarvis Moss, who joined the Raiders midway through last season after being released by Denver.

LB: Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley made his first season with Oakland a successful one. The ex-Cleveland Brown started all 16 games, led the team with nine sacks and added 58 tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defensed. He was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after a three-sack performance in the season finale against Kansas City. Also coming back for a second season with the team is another outside force in Quentin Groves, a former Jaguar who notched 12 starts and made 40 tackles, defended two passes and had an interception, a fumble recovery and a safety. Ex-Alabama star Rolando McClain, Oakland's first-round pick in 2010, had an impact debut season in which he was named to the NFL;s All-Rookie Team. He was second on the team and fifth among NFL rookies with 85 tackles in addition to recording one interception, a half-sack and six passes defensed.

DB: Filling the Asomugha void at cornerback becomes job No. 1 for Oakland, with eighth-year man Chris Johnson (16 tackles, 2 INT) taking on the role after intercepting eight passes in 55 games over four seasons with the Raiders. He has multiple interceptions in each of the last three seasons and career numbers that include 45 passes defensed and two forced fumbles. The other side is manned by Stanford Routt, who had career bests in tackles (55) and passes defensed (13) while garnering two interceptions in 2010. For those efforts, the speedster was signed to a big contract extension in the offseason. Safety spots are occupied once again by leading tackler Tyvon Branch (101 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT) and Michael Huff (84 tackles, 4 sacks), a former first-round selection who had a team-best three interceptions and was re-signed. A host of youngsters will compete for time in speciality packages, a list that includes 2010 draftees Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware and fleet-footed rookies DeMarcus Van Dyke (3rd Round, Miami-Florida) and Chimdi Chekwa (4th Round, Ohio State).

SPECIAL TEAMS: Already an accomplished kick returner who averaged 24.2 yards per runback and scored three touchdowns as a rookie, Ford may get extended exposure returning punts this season as well. Also in the running for that job is second-year man Nick Miller, who had 35 returns for 257 yards (7.3 avg.) and had a long of 46 yards. Handling the kicking duties once again will be 12-year veteran Sebastian Janikowski, who set a Raiders record with 142 points while hitting 33-of-41 field goal attempts and all 43 extra-point tries in 2010. Punter Shane Lechler, also in his 12th season, was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl after ranking second in the NFL in both punting average (47.9) and net punting average (40.8).

PROGNOSIS: The Raiders start on the road with two seemingly winnable games at Denver and Buffalo before returning home for difficult AFC tests against the New York Jets and New England. A trip to Houston and a home game with Cleveland later precede a three-game divisional stretch against Kansas City, Denver and San Diego that could make or break the season. From there, it's a four-game tour of the NFC North and a trip to Miami, followed by a trip to Kansas City and a home finale against the Chargers. A three-win start in the opening-month gauntlet could yield the Raiders an unexpected division title challenge, but the more likely scenario for a rookie coach and a quarterback who's battled inconsistency throughout his career is coming within a game of .500 in either direction.