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Raiders have reason to think playoffs with Jackson at the helm

NAPA, Calif. -- Getting to go to certain training camps year after year, you really have a chance to evaluate the current version of a team vs. what you saw the prior season. In the three practices that I've seen, the Oakland Raiders seem like a team ready to accomplish something in 2011.

I'm not sold on the San Diego Chargers bouncing back this season and the Kansas City Chiefs could take a step back after winning the AFC West last season.

Great expectations for Campbell
Aided by two coaches who know their way around a high-powered offense, Raiders QB Jason Campbell is poised for a breakout year, writes Bucky Brooks. More ...

That's where the Raiders come in. Hue Jackson's team is ready to make a playoff run. You see the attitude adjustment in camp with him as the head coach and with his two new coordinators. One thing that seems to have changed under Jackson is the physical demand on players. They appear to be working harder and hustling more between drills. It's not a 75 percent jog that's been the case in years past; it's a 110 percent all the time.

Jackson's rallying cry for the team this year is to be the "bully on the block." The Raiders are well on their way to living up to the slogan, and here are some reasons why they could win the AFC West this season.

Campbell taking the next step

It appears Jason Campbell is ready to thrive with new offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who has nearly 30 years of NFL coaching experience. Saunders is really good at doing things to make quarterbacks better. He won't call the plays for Campbell, Jackson will, but the foundation for success is in place.

Don't forget, Campbell didn't play poorly last season and has 22 more touchdown passes than interceptions in his career.

More weapons on offense

The receiving corps isn't the best group in the league, but it's capable enough to make Campbell a better quarterback. The Raiders want to run the ball -- they had the second-ranked ground game in 2010 -- but they have more weapons in the passing game.

Jacoby Ford had a pretty darn good rookie year and should only get better. He's so much more confident than he was last season. Louis Murphy is a pretty good receiver, while Darrius Heyward-Bey always looks like he's ready for the next step -- but potential hasn't led to production yet.

Marcel Reece really creates matchup problems out of the backfield because he's a former wide receiver playing fullback. He can run, catch and his speed makes a him a tough cover.

Fifth-round pick Denarius Moore can run a sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash and really runs good routes. A lot of fast guys can't get out of their breaks, but he can. He could have an immediate impact. He's also good on kick returns. He had a long one called back in the Raiders' preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

The Raiders lost Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller in free agency, but Kevin Boss is a pretty even exchange. Sixth-round pick Richard Gordon is going to give them a great blocking tight end. That should help their running game.

Defense taking shape

The defense is anchored by veteran Richard Seymour. He's the leader of every drill, running around like a rookie who's trying to make the team.

As a whole, the defense has a good mix of veterans with younger guys like Rolando McClain and Lamarr Houston, which usually leads to success.

Speaking of McClain, he's dropped 10 pounds from last year and is really moving well. He came in as a rookie with an attitude off a national title team like he had nothing to prove. That's gone now.

Stanford Routt takes over the role of the team's top cornerback for the departed Nnamdi Asomugha. Third-round pick DeMarcus Van Dyke, who has impressed and can hold his own in man coverage, could be an early contributor. He's a young guy with talent who gets to learn the ins and outs of the game from a Hall of Famer in Rod Woodson, the Raiders cornerback coach.

Impact special teams can make

The third phase of the game is often overlooked, but the Raiders have a great punter (Shane Lechler), kicker (Sebastian Janikowski) and return man (Jacoby Ford).

Special teams can make a difference in close games, just ask the Chargers. The Raiders went 6-0 in the division last season in part because of what the unit provided.

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