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2008 Season Preview

The rebuilt Raiders open their 2008 season with back-to-back AFC West games for the first time since 1990. They are 2-18 in their past 20 games against division opposition.

By the end of Week 2 (after games against Denver and at Kansas City), the Raiders should know if their offseason roster changes are positive.

Gone are defensive tackle Warren Sapp (retirement), offensive tackle Barry Sims (released), free safety Stuart Schweigert (released) and running back LaMont Jordan (released).

Oakland replenished its defense by trading for former Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall and signing ex-New York Giants strong safety Gibril Wilson.

On offense, the Raiders selected University of Arkansas running back Darren McFadden with the fourth pick in the 2008 NFL draft. They signed former Denver Broncos wide receiver Javon Walker and ex-San Francisco 49ers offensive tackle Kwame Harris.

Will the infusion of new players upgrade a Raiders team that has an NFL-worst 19 wins the past five seasons?

Here’s a capsule outlook for the 2008 season:

Burning Questions
Is JaMarcus Russell ready to be a capable NFL quarterback? The former LSU star entered the 2008 preseason as the team’s projected No. 1 quarterback after playing in only four games (with one start) as a rookie following being chosen as the top pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

Will Oakland’s defense rebound from its nosedive last season? The Raiders finished the 2007 season ranked 22nd in total defense, allowing 341.6 yards per game and 398 points. The season before, they ranked fourth in total defense (284.8 yards per game) and surrendered 332 points. In 2007, Oakland ranked 31st in run defense (145.9) and 26th in points allowed (398/24.9). The addition of cornerback DeAngelo Hall (Falcons) and safety Gibril Wilson (Giants) improves the secondary, but the run defense is uncertain at best.

Will high-profile running back Darren McFadden make significant contributions as a rookie? He rushed for 4,590 yards and 41 touchdowns in three seasons with the University of Arkansas. With speed and elusiveness, McFadden has a huge upside running the ball or catching it.

Will Javon Walker step up as the big-play receiver solely needed in Oakland’s pass offense? He celebrated his reported six-year contract with $16 million guaranteed with Oakland by getting robbed and knocked unconscious in Las Vegas. The former Packer and Bronco is coming off his third knee surgery of his six-year NFL career.

Players To Watch
RB Michael Bush — After a two-year recovery from a broken leg, the former University of Louisville star is primed to thrive as a third-down back.

SS Gibril Wilson — Ex-New York Giant is expected to improve Oakland’s tackling in the secondary.

WR/PR Johnnie Lee Higgins — If he keeps a grip on the ball, the former University of Texas El Paso star has potential to make big plays as a punt returner and receiver.

TE Zach Miller — A sure-handed receiver who had 45 catches as a rookie in 2007.

DT Terrell Sands — Primed to erase the memory of an underachieving 2007 season, when he reportedly sulked after being demoted.

On The Hot Seat
Coach Lane Kiffin — If the Raiders stumble early, Kiffin reportedly could be replaced by receivers coach James Lofton or defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Lofton and Ryan reportedly interviewed with managing general partner Al Davis before Kiffin was named Art Shell’s replacement.

DT Tommy Kelly — Received a ton of money (reportedly $50 million over seven years) to re-sign with Oakland despite modest accomplishments during his first four NFL seasons.

FS Michael Huff — His switch from strong safety to free safety should increase his chances of creating turnovers. The former University of Texas star has one interception in 32 career games with the Raiders.

OT Kwame Harris — The 49ers’ first-round bust gets a chance at redemption in Oakland.

The Schedule
The Raiders’ 2008 opponents had a 90-118 combined regular-season record in 2007. Oakland plays three 2007 playoff teams — San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots amd Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Only three of Oakland’s opponents had winning records in 2007. The Raiders’ opponents had a .438 winning percentage last season. In 2008, only San Diego (.422) and New England (.387) have a more favorable schedule in the AFC.

Of the Raiders’ first 12 opponents, only the Chargers (at Oakland on Sept. 28), had a winning record in 2007.

History Lesson
Since playing in Super Bowl XXXVII in January 2003, the Raiders have gone 19-61, the worst record in the NFL over that period.

The Raiders lost 12 games in 2007, the fifth consecutive season in which they lost at least 11 games and tied the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1985-89) for the longest streak in NFL history.

Uneasy Alliance
Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, right, reportedly wanted to fire defensive coordinator Rob Ryan at the end of the 2007 season. Ryan shook hands with Oakland defensive players on the sideline during their 2007 finale against San Diego, an indication he was coaching his final game in Oakland.

Weeks later, the Raiders announced that Ryan would remain the team’s defensive coordinator.

Around the same time, Raiders managing general partner Al Davis reportedly drew up a letter of resignation for Kiffin. The team denied media reports that Davis asked Kiffin to resign.

Just a typical, chaotic offseason in Raider-land.

Kiffin is the seventh Raiders coach since 1995, when the franchise returned from Los Angeles to Oakland. Only Jon Gruden (1998 to 2001), lasted longer than two seasons during that juncture.

As long as there’s indecision and mistrust at the top of the Raiders organization, there’s potential for the team to continue to flounder on the field.

The Raiders’ abysmal 19-61 record the past five seasons speaks volumes for the instability of the Davis-led regime.

Photo caption/credit:
The Raiders’ Jon Alston, top, and Greg Spires,
bottom, force a fumble by the 49ers’ J.T. O’Sullivan.

Raiders coach Lane Kiffin

By The Associated Press

Updated: 8-12-2008


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