"NFL Total Access" has launched its "32 in 32" series, breaking down the biggest subplots of every NFL team as the 2013 season approaches. Around The League will follow along and offer our own take. Up next: The Oakland Raiders.
1. Thirty-three-year-old Carson Palmer is out; the untested Matt Flynn is in at quarterback. Flynn has thrown just 141 passes in five NFL seasons. He was a free-agent hot ticket coming out of Green Bay last offseason, but he barely saw the field for the Seattle Seahawks after losing out to the ascendant Russell Wilson. Now, Flynn finds himself the presumed starter in Oakland over rookie Tyler Wilson, ongoing project Terrelle Pryor and long shot Matt McGloin. The foursome struggled early in minicamp, prompting beat writer Steve Corkran to describe their field work as the "worst in memory" in his 19 years covering the NFL.
Subsequent practices reportedly were more hopeful, but Flynn remains a question mark. The arm strength is lacking, with ESPN's Ron Jaworski noting that Flynn's long strikes "lost energy at the back end." It wouldn't be a surprise to see Wilson take the field this season, possibly sooner than later. The quarterback position remains shaky, and Raiders fans ultimately might learn to appreciate what Palmer achieved on a bad team over the past two seasons.
2. The drafting of first-round pick D.J. Hayden filled a gaping hole at cornerback, but the Raiders' front seven is a disaster. Especially at linebacker, where stopgaps Nick Roach, Kaluka Maiava and Kevin Burnett headline the league's least-impressive group on paper. An immediate contribution from third-round draftee Sio Moore would help. The defensive line equally is depressing. Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant are out the door, replaced by Vance Walker, Pat Sims and Jason Hunter. Lamarr Houston might be the best of the bunch, but there's no anchoring presence here.
3. Back to the offense, where Oakland's receiving corps lacks star power. Denarius Moore is mildly intriguing, but Juron Criner and Rod Streater fill out one of the NFL's weaker pass-catching groups. Jacoby Ford and free-agent addition Josh Cribbs add some veteran spice, but Cribbs, especially, isn't the player he once was. One positive development is the arrival of new coordinator Greg Olson, who immediately ditched last year's zone blocking scheme for a "downhill" run-heavy attack that should keep Darren McFadden happy (if Darren McFadden can stay healthy, something he hasn't done in any of his five NFL seasons). The offensive line was due for a scheme adjustment: ProFootballFocus.com ranked the Raiders' front five in the bottom third of the league as a pass-blocking unit in 2012. As run blockers, only two teams graded lower.
Add all this up, and a quarterback carousel of sadness -- similar to what we saw from the Arizona Cardinals last season -- looms as a possibility.
4. Let's end on a hopeful note. Yes, the Raiders have issues -- and it might get uglier before the dark clouds clear -- but general manager Reggie McKenzie is a major plus. He has accepted one of the roughest assignments in pro football. For all of the innovative wonder we saw from Al Davis over the decades, he left this team an antiquated mess, and McKenzie's reconstruction project touches every level of the franchise. No matter the record this season, McKenzie would be wise to stick with Dennis Allen and stay the course. There's plenty of pressure on Allen to improve on last year's troubling 4-12 campaign, but let's get real: three or fewer wins is a possibility.
Our takeaway: I've made no friends in Oakland today, but don't ignore the subtext: There's reason for long-term optimism. With McKenzie at the controls, and if owner Mark Davis can stay patient, the Raiders have a chance, in time, to break out of their mega-funk and make their fan base proud once again.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.