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Change the Raiders can believe in

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Eric Risberg / Associated Press
The arrival of quarterback Jason Campbell is one reason why the Raiders feel primed for a winning season.


NAPA, Calif. -- It seemed like someone in Oakland knew what he was doing.

For the first time in a while, the Raiders didn't do anything outrageous on draft day. They selected linebacker Rolando McClain with the 12th overall pick and defensive end Lamarr Houston in the second round, and waited until the fourth round to select offensive tackle Bruce Campbell -- potentially the value pick of the draft.

Then the trade for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell and the eventual release of JaMarcus Russell -- a No. 1 overall bust -- seemed to confirm that the Raiders were no longer trying to play Fantasy Football and had a plan about building a real team.

"The vibe here is different, the feeling here is different from other years that I've been here," said perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who has never played on a Raiders team that has won more than five games since he was drafted by Oakland in 2003. "We've had years where we've had so much talent that it was assumed we were going to be a great team -- like maybe three years ago. We've had years where we brought a coach back and, again, it was assumed we were going to have a good team.

"(But) this year it actually feels like our team is going to make some noise because the product that we're putting out speaks greater than the names on the team. It doesn't matter what we have here. What we're doing in practice looks like winning football. It's a different feeling."

Caution: Just because the Raiders seem to be working off a legitimate NFL template and things feel decent, these are the Raiders. We should probably wait and see.

For instance, on Tuesday, four times there were pre-snap penalties. Receivers dropped passes. It was very Raider-like. However, this wasn't much different than some of the things I'd seen at previous training camps. And coach Tom Cable isn't letting these things slide.

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Neither is Campbell. How about that: A quarterback who's actually taking charge. That's why there is optimism in Oakland. Campbell isn't Russell, and that's such a good thing. He's still ironing out a lot of little things, as well as changing the mindset of an organization that, since 2003, is 29-83.

"It's still a process," Campbell said. "Things are not going to turn overnight. We've got to chip things down one by one."

OBSERVATION DECK

» Players are feeling good about new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. The high-energy play-caller has inserted a diverse offense -- especially in the passing game -- that even has defenders impressed.

"It doesn't matter who we put in, with him calling plays, we have a chance," Asomugha said.

There are multiple options in the passing game, but the key is Campbell getting the ball out quickly, something Cable said Campbell has done well. That'll allow the young receivers -- which include Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens -- a chance to make plays. Oakland will try to be a run-dominant team, but they won't be predictable.

Another good thing is that Jackson was relentless on detail during camp, jumping on players for seemingly minute things like unenthusiastically breaking the huddle. That being said, the defense dominated, which is something I've also noticed at my stops in San Diego and San Francisco, so this seems to be a trend early in camps.

Defenses are good early while the offense installs schemes and personnel packages. Things eventually should balance out.

» The Raiders' offensive line is still a work in progress. There were leaks in the run game and in pass protection. Cable is really stressing the need for cohesiveness and protection up front. He's also riding the running backs about protection.

» Heyward-Bey, Last year's first-round selection, is drawing high praise for working to improve, especially hanging onto the ball. He made some nice grabs when I saw him, but the same couldn't be said for the rest of the wideouts. Murphy (concussion) and Schilens (foot) did not practice.

» Running back Darren McFadden worked with the first offense and Michael Bush the second, but Bush rotated in depending on the situation. Cable said he's not sure how both will be used. What is clear is that both players with unfulfilled expectations will get significant playing time.

ROOKIE REPORT

» McClain is the real deal. Okay, he hasn't played in a game yet, so I'm not crowning him. But his instincts are off the charts. The cerebral middle linebacker has the speed and innate football sense to be around the ball against the run and in pass coverage. He's a legit three-down player whose feel for the game is impressive. I was really taken with how he played in pass coverage.

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Teammates said Houston is an ornery hombre. He still has some things to work out, but he ran with the first-team defense.

» Fourth-round wide receiver Jacoby Ford has blazing speed, but he needs to work on catching the ball. He routinely got open but didn't always finish the play in team drills.

SAY WHAT?

"My main thing is staying away from injuries. Without injuries I feel I can go out there and have my biggest year in the NFL. It's tough (being hurt). It plays on your head a lot. It plays on you physically. You can't just go out there and do the best you can."

-- Darren McFadden, who has just 217 carries and 856 rushing yards in two seasons because of injuries

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