Raiders hope offseason's positive energy translates into wins

Don't look now, but the Oakland Raiders seem to be doing things the right way.

They made draft picks that look sound and sensible. They didn't make any free agency or trade acquisitions based on name recognition or any other factor besides trying to build a winning football team. They've said goodbye to aging, expensive veterans who no longer were productive, and focused most of their investment on keeping their own free agents.

Perhaps the most telling part of the new leaf the Raiders have turned over is the decision to stick with Tom Cable as their coach, while also apparently giving him a strong voice in how the squad is being put together. The person responsible for that decision, managing general partner Al Davis, has not always displayed the patience that he has been showing recently.

Cable is happy with the Raiders' perceived progress since last season's 5-11 finish, the seventh consecutive year that they've lost at least 11 games.

Yet, he is fully aware it won't mean very much if it isn't followed by actual progress on the field.

"The next step is to be a playoff team," Cable said. "We have changed the attitude. I think we've cleaned up the locker room. I think we're all pulling for each other in the same direction now and we've become very competitive. OK? That's all we've done.

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"We're losing games that we shouldn't, we've got to win a little more on the road, we've got to win more, period. Those things, if that's what you accomplish next, then you become a playoff team. That's the goal, period."

Cable's to-do list for the Raiders goes as follows:

» Consistently play with confidence.

» Win the takeaway/giveaway battle.

» Stop big plays on defense.

» Improve the passing game.

The last one looks to be the trickiest because the Raiders first must find a starting quarterback. After his team's recent minicamp, Cable insisted there was a wide-open, five-way battle between Jason Campbell, JaMarcus Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Kyle Boller and Charlie Frye.

Campbell, who joined the Raiders from the Washington Redskins in a trade during last month's draft, is the presumptive favorite. He didn't have much success with the Redskins, but he does have some promise. In the proper setting and without the constant changes in offensive coordinators and systems with which he had to deal in Washington, Campbell could thrive.

Russell has been an enormous disappointment since the Raiders made him the top overall pick of the 2007 draft. Part of that is because he has been, well, enormous, struggling to keep his weight in check. However, during the recent minicamp, he did seem to be well below the 300 pounds to which he had blown up over the last couple of years. Russell also looked fairly sharp throwing the ball, but the damage seems to have been done within the rest of the locker room. The majority of his teammates simply don't seem to trust him to be a competent or effective leader.

If the Raiders are to have any hope of becoming a playoff team, they must get their quarterback position right, once and for all.

"Oh, in this league, I think that's very true," Cable said. "You've got to be able to play significant defense, but your quarterback -- what you can do in terms of scoring and moving the ball and all that is basically what your quarterback can do -- and what he's capable of doing."

Besides trading for Campbell, the Raiders' other major offseason move to help upgrade their offense was hiring Hue Jackson to be their offensive coordinator. Jackson was the highly regarded quarterbacks coach for the Baltimore Ravens. He should do plenty to help Campbell's development, and have an impact on the other quarterbacks who survive the competition.

But Cable points out that Jackson has a much larger role.

"His task obviously is to get all 11 guys pointed in the same direction and get us scoring more points," Cable said. "I'm excited that he's there."

The Raiders have plenty of other reasons to be excited. Their draft -- highlighted by first-rounder Rolando McClain, a standout middle linebacker from Alabama, and second-rounder Lamarr Houston, a star defensive end from Texas -- continues to receive high marks. That, along with how the rest of the offseason has unfolded so far, has created a wave of positive feeling that the Raiders haven't generated in recent years.

Now the challenge is to keep it going.

"I think we've done some things that move us forward and move us in the right direction, so I want to keep doing that," Cable said. "Let's just keep making good decisions based on winning, getting to a point where we all feel good about it and it's moving in a direction that allows us to succeed."

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