|Eric Risberg / Associated Press|
|First-year Raiders coach Hue Jackson is bringing a fundamentals-first approach to Raiders camp.|
Bucky Brooks recently visited Raiders camp in Napa, Calif. Here's what he saw.
1. There is a buzz surrounding the Raiders' camp, and it's coming directly from the confidence, energy and enthusiasm of Hue Jackson. The rookie head coach has set the bar high for his team, and he has been unrelenting in his approach to get his guys to think and act like champions. Jackson spent most of practice loudly encouraging and challenging his players to compete and finish drills with zest. His reinforcement of the fundamentals is a welcomed sight for a team that has tried to win solely on the basis of its talent for years.
2. The Raiders' offense will build upon the momentum created at the end of last season to rank as one of the league's best units in 2011. That's saying a lot considering Oakland finished sixth in the league in scoring and ranked second in rushing offense in Jackson's first season as offensive coordinator. The addition of Al Saunders, however, will help the unit reach new heights due to extensive knowledge of the vertical passing game. He spent his formative years in the NFL working under Don Coryell, and he will certainly incorporate some of those principles into the Raiders' playbook. Saunders also is familiar with Jason Campbell after serving his offensive coordinator at Washington. Given their pre-existing relationship, the chemistry between play-caller and quarterback should help the offense get off to a fast start.
3. The Raiders' defensive line is the best in the league. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are absolute monsters in the middle, and their ability to dominate the interior will give opponents problems. Kamerion Wimbley is undersized by prototypical standards, but his speed, athleticism and rush skills are impressive as a situational rusher. Also, keep your eye on defensive end Lamarr Houston. The second-year pro has the potential to be a stud as a base end due to his combination of size, strength and agility.
4. Nnamdi Asomugha's departure might force the Raiders to run more zone coverage. While that thought is almost blasphemous in Oakland, Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson could struggle holding up extensively in man-to-man coverage without consistent safety help. Routt, in particular, is not a classic No. 1 corner capable of locking down elite receivers, and opponents could have success relentlessly attacking his side. Although he is a talented athlete coming off the best season of his career, he has been up and down throughout camp and looked nothing like a cover man in the mold of his predecessor.
5. The Raiders might have discovered a viable replacement for Zach Miller in rookie David Ausberry. The former USC receiver has been sensational at camp, and his athleticism makes him a matchup nightmare in space. While he is still learning the nuances of blocking as a tight end following a collegiate career as a receiver, he is a potential weapon in the passing game as an H-Back, and the coaching staff has been beaming about his play through the first week of practice.
6. Hue Jackson still hasn't figured out how the Raiders' offensive line situation will play out, but he isn't afraid to experiment with various combinations to find the right fit. The team has kept Jared Veldheer primarily at left tackle, with Khalif Barnes and Joseph Barksdale battling at right tackle. Cooper Carlisle, Justin Smiley, Stefen Wisniewski, and Samson Satele have been rotated among the interior three spots, with Wisniewski and Satele sharing snaps at center. Bruce Campbell, a second-year pro expected to vie for a starting spot at guard, hasn't practiced to date due to an injury and will have a tough time cracking the lineup given his extended absence.
New guy to watch
Denarius Moore has opened eyes at camp with his speed and playmaking ability. He has repeatedly gotten free against the No. 1 defense, and a penchant for making acrobatic catches in a crowd has made him a favorite target of Raiders quarterbacks. Although the team loves its young corps of receivers, Moore is well on his way to working into the rotation as a third or fourth receiver.
Hue Jackson yelling to the defense after watching Moore make a series of remarkable catches during a team drill: "Mama, there goes that man again!"
The Raiders haven't been to the playoffs in eight years, but they assembled a talented roster that makes them viable contenders this season. Their schedule features a pair of AFC heavyweights in the New York Jets and New England Patriots in the opening month, but the rest of the slate is manageable for the Silver and Black. If they can quickly resolve their offensive line issues, there is no reason why the Raiders can't make a run at the postseason in Jackson's first year. A 9-7 record will certainly keep them in the hunt.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.