Oakland Raiders 2012 Season Preview
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) -- At the time, it really didn't look that bad.
Sure, the 27-point Super Bowl XXXVII beating put on the Oakland Raiders by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in January 2003 was a blow to slump-shouldered players and their spike-laden fans -- but it didn't figure to leave the Silver and Black feeling black and blue for too long.
Nearly a decade later, however, it clearly created some lingering scars.
Not only did that 48-21 shellacking prolong what was already a 19-year drought between titles for the Raiders going into the game -- it's now been nearly 29 years since their last championship -- but it was the first in a series of tarnishes on a franchise whose "Commitment to Excellence" quickly devolved to a punchline.
Forget simply failing to "Just win, baby." The Raiders plunged to extreme levels of futility in the years immediately following the Super Bowl flameout, winning just 29 of a possible 112 games over the subsequent seven seasons and only emerging from the depths to reach ho-hum status of 8-8 in the past two.
Now, after the death of long-time czar Al Davis in the midst of the 2011 schedule and an offseason housecleaning that signaled the arrival of a new general manager (Reggie McKenzie), a new head coach (Dennis Allen) and new offensive and defensive coordinators (Greg Knapp and Jason Tarver, respectively), it's crossroads time in Oakland.
Allen, a former assistant with the AFC West-rival Denver Broncos, has already put his own unique stamp on the sidelines, eschewing the offensive play- calling responsibilities that Davis had long preferred for his head coaches and instead leaving the in-game operations to Knapp.
And while Allen's the first defense-leaning head man the Raiders have had since the John Madden era, he's also leaving that side of the ball in the hands of Tarver.
"I've got to oversee the whole operation, and it's hard to do that when you're so focused in on one side of the ball or the other," he said in following the pattern he had a year ago in Denver, when he called the defenses for the Broncos with the approval of his then-boss John Fox.
"[John] was obviously involved, and he had thoughts and ideas, and he was a great guy and a resource for me to bounce thoughts and ideas off of, and yet he let me call the game on Sunday," Allen continued. "And that's kind of the same approach I've taken."
In the eyes of quarterback Carson Palmer, acquired during the 2011 season after a prolonged dispute with the Cincinnati Bengals, the way Allen does things develops a confidence across the coaching staff that trickles down to the players.
"I think head coaches probably get more involved than they want if they don't completely trust their hires," Palmer said. "He trusts the guys he hired, and he doesn't feel the need to go over and interrupt or cut in."
Palmer's performance after a full offseason and training camp will go far toward determining if Allen's tenure will exceed the short-lived stays of recent predecessors Hue Jackson (16 games), Tom Cable (44 games), Lane Kiffin (20 games), Art Shell (16 games) and Norv Turner (32 games). The ex-University of Southern California star completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,753 yards with 13 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while going 4-5 in nine starts with the Raiders last season.
His arrival hastened the end of the brief Jason Campbell experiment, which officially concluded when the latter signed with Chicago in the offseason.
"I think we're a playoff team," Palmer said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we've been at it in OTA's and minicamps and now training camp. Guys have been studying hard and it's go time.
"There is no cushion or a year to get stuff going. We're ready to come into camp and go out and win as many games as we can."
Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Oakland Raiders, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2010 RECORD: 8-8 (tied 1st, AFC West)
LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002, lost to Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII
COACH (RECORD): Dennis Allen (first season)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Knapp (third season overall with Raiders)
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jason Tarver (first season)
OFFENSIVE STAR: Darren McFadden, RB (614 rushing yards, 19 receptions, 5 total TD)
DEFENSIVE STAR: Richard Seymour, DT (29 tackles, 6 sacks)
2011 OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 9th overall (7th rushing, 11th passing), 16th scoring (22.4 ppg)
2011 DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 29th overall (27th rushing, 27th passing), tied 29th scoring (27.1 ppg)
KEY ADDITIONS: RG Mike Brisiel (from Texans), SLB Phillip Wheeler (from Colts), CB Ronald Bartell (from Rams), CB Shawntae Spencer (from 49ers), QB Matt Leinart (from Texans), RB Mike Goodson (from Panthers), FB Owen Schmitt (from Eagles), DE Dave Tollefson (from Giants), OLB Miles Burris (4th Round, San Diego State), CB Pat Lee (from Packers)
KEY DEPARTURES: TE Kevin Boss (to Chiefs), C Samson Satele (to Colts), SLB Kamerion Wimbley (to Titans), CB Stanford Routt (to Chiefs), CB Chris Johnson (released), QB Jason Campbell (to Bears), QB Kyle Boller (retired), RB Michael Bush (to Bears), RB Rock Cartwright (to 49ers), WR Chaz Schilens (to Jets), WR Louis Murphy (to Panthers), WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (free agent), OG Bruce Campbell (to Panthers), OT Stephon Heyer (to Jets), DE Jarvis Moss (free agent), DE Trevor Scott (to Patriots), DT John Henderson (released), MLB Darryl Blackstock (to Ravens), OLB Quentin Groves (to Cardinals), CB Lito Sheppard (free agent), S Hiram Eugene (released), S Jerome Boyd (not tendered)
QB: Though he's certainly the No. 1 guy in Oakland and had a distinguished pro career, Palmer (2753 passing yards, 13 TD, 16 INT in 2011) may ironically be receive the least notoriety of the three quarterbacks on the roster -- trailing former USC national champion Matt Leinart and Ohio State star Terrelle Pryor. It'd be hard to fathom either unseating him for significant playing time, though Pryor's dynamism and playmaking ability will undoubtedly be called upon from time to time in gimmick packages. A well-traveled big name, Leinart threw just 13 passes for 57 yards and a single touchdown as a reserve with Houston last season, but is familiar with Knapp's offense from their time together with the Texans.
RB: Former Arkansas standout Darren McFadden is one of the most explosive -- and apparently difficult to keep healthy -- players in the NFL. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound running back ran for 614 yards and caught 19 balls in just seven games last season, after missing 10 combined contests from 2008-10. His premium secondary option from 2011, Michael Bush, left for Chicago in free agency, leaving offseason acquisition Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones (73 rushing yards) to battle for No. 2 status. Both backups have been injured early in the preseason, however -- Goodson with a shoulder and Jones with a hamstring. Marcel Reese (112 rushing yards, 27 receptions, 2 TD), a speedy 255-pounder and good receiver, is tops on the depth chart at fullback.
WR/TE: Palmer�s two primary options in the passing game figure to be Darrius Heyward-Bey (64 receptions, 4 TD) and Denarius Moore (33 receptions, 5 TD), a pair of speedsters. Heyward-Bey, a much-maligned first-round pick in 2009, showed signs of living up to his high draft status by catching 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns in 2011, while Moore had 33 grabs for 618 yards and scored five times as a rookie. As with the running backs, however, both have been dinged-up in training camp -- Heyward-Bey with a shoulder and Moore with a hamstring. Jacoby Ford caught 19 passes last season and is back as the No. 3 receiver, but he's been injury-prone as well during his career. Brandon Myers, the favorite to start at tight end, caught 16 passes in 2011 but is primary valued for his blocking.
OL: The Raiders allowed only 25 sacks last season, the third-lowest amount in the league, and will focus on protection again because most of Palmer's mistakes (10 of his 16 interceptions) came while he was pressured. Left tackle Jared Veldheer is a mammoth 6-foot-8, 321 pounder who started all 16 games last season and was beaten for just four sacks. Stefen Wisniewski also started 16 times at left guard in 2011 and will line up this year at center alongside new right guard Mike Brisiel, acquired via free agency from Houston. Veteran Cooper Carlisle and third-round draft pick Tony Bergstrom will compete for time at left guard, while the right tackle spot is a battle between returning starter Khalif Barnes and Joe Barksdale, who was a third-round pick in 2011.
DL: The Raiders lost a pass-rushing force when end Kameron Wimbley left as a free agent in the offseason with seven of the team�s 39 sacks from last year. Lamarr Houston (51 tackles) is back at the other end after logging a sack, an interception and two fumble recoveries a season ago. The inside tackle positions are the domain of veterans Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly. Seymour, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, returned to past form with six sacks and 29 tackles last season, while the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Kelly had 7 1/2 sacks and 41 tackles.
LB: Rolando McClain was the Raiders' main difference-maker at middle linebacker with five sacks and 99 tackles last season, and is still listed No. 1 on the depth chart in spite of some off-field troubles in the offseason. Flanking him on the strong and weak sides are free-agent signee Philip Wheeler and if healthy, former first-round pick Aaron Curry. Wheeler had 84 tackles in 13 games with Indianapolis, while Curry -- chosen fourth overall by Seattle in 2009 and dealt to Oakland last season -- had 46 tackles in 11 games. The latter has spent much of camp on the physically unable to perform list with bad knees, however, and his status is unclear. Miles Burris, a fourth-round pick out of San Diego State in this past draft, would be the top candidate to replace Curry on the weak side.
DB: Cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Stanford Routt have left the Raiders in consecutive offseasons, leaving the coverage responsibilities now in the hands of Shawntae Spencer, who's in from San Francisco, and Ronald Bartell, who spent 2011 with St. Louis. Bartell missed all but one game due to a neck injury last season, however, which could hasten the appearances of second-year pros Chimdi Chekwa (8 tackles) and DeMarcus VanDyke (13 tackles, 1 INT. The safety spots are in good hands with Michael Huff (38 tackles, 2 INT) and Tyvon Branch (109 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), who combined for 147 tackles and three interceptions last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Veteran Sebastian Janikowski remains as the big-footed kicker and made an oustanding 31-of-35 field goal attempts last season, including 7- of-10 tries from 50 yards and beyond. Meanwhile, punter Shane Lechler is the NFL's best at his position and proved it by averaging 50.8 yards per kick and dropping 27 attempts inside the opposition's 20-yard line in 2011. Ford is the No. 1 option as the kick returner and owns four touchdowns in that area over his first two years in the league, with Moore the favorite to handle punts.
PROGNOSIS: The optimist would look at the Raiders and their athletic potential on offense and think, 'OK, this is a 10-win team that'll be in the playoffs.' Meanwhile, the pessimist sees all the summertime injuries and ponders Palmer's once-balky knee and thinks, 'They'll never be healthy enough for the long haul.' In reality, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, and with a division that figures to have a still-relevant San Diego squad and a suddenly re-invented Denver unit, it more than likely leaves Oakland aiming squarely at its new norm -- a third straight 8-8 finish.
08/22 10:10:24 ET