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Raiders' Jackson fills the void in front office, locker room

Just more than a week after Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis died, quarterback Jason Campbell went down with a broken collar bone. The loss of the organizational head and decision-maker, as well as the locker-room leader, created a void that no one envisioned, especially in such a short time capsule that also came as the team's early season success was cresting.

Hue Jackson became the point man.

It happened by default but the rookie head coach has taken the ball and run to daylight like Darren McFadden.

Over the past month or so, he traded for linebacker Aaron Curry, dealt what could amount to two first-round picks to Cincinnati for retired quarterback Carson Palmer and recently signed out-of-work wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Though Jackson insists he was not the sole decision-maker -- other people within the organization co-sign on that -- he had ties to Palmer and Houshmandzadeh when they played and he coached with the Bengals. At the least, he influenced the moves.

He's been more visible than any other recent coach of the Raiders and this has been over the course of maybe a month. Under Davis, no coach was bigger than him or the players -- at least post John Madden and Tom Flores and, to some degree, Art Shell.

Jackson's recent emergence has drawn widespread criticism from media and by some league sources that have hinted, but not outright said, he looks like an opportunist. Jackson shrugs off the heat by saying it's only coming down because his team has lost its past two games to fall to 4-4.

The criticism will keep coming if Oakland falls to hated rival San Diego Thursday night to drop below .500 for the first time this season.

Though Jackson couldn't have expected Davis' passing or Campbell's injury or McFadden's sprained foot that will sideline him against the Chargers -- a major reason for the offensive woes -- he's forced to deal with it. What's transpired could have happened to any coach.

It's uncharted ground on which Jackson is treading and it's up to him to navigate because he is the team's leader, whether he fell into it, desires it or has no other choice.

Though Jackson's recent personnel moves have drawn attention, the shaping of a roster devoid of players who could shoulder a leadership role can't be fully heaped on his watch.

Defensive end Richard Seymour is the most respected player in the locker room but can you name the last defensive lineman who could harness and inspire the remaining 52 players, help absorb locker-room issues and be the face of the team? Plus, the 32-year-old Seymour is significantly older than the other players deemed the nucleus -- except kicker Sebastian Janikowski -- and there is somewhat of a disconnect.

During the lockout, Seymour helped pay for more than three dozen players to travel to Atlanta for a team-building minicamp. His gesture was appreciated, but players gravitated more toward Campbell because he plays the position players gravitate to for leadership.

Palmer is trying to steadily work his way into that role, but he never was known as a locker-room cog in eight seasons with the Bengals. In addition, he won't garner respect until he gets his game and the offense turned in the right direction. He has six interceptions in six quarters this season, but he's still better than Kyle Boller and rookie Terrelle Pryor, the other quarterbacks on the roster who were acquired while Davis was calling the shots.

All this leads back to Jackson.

When he joined the team as offensive coordinator in 2010, players bought into his high-energy, brutal and sometimes painfully honest style. Before the season players were all about what he was about. When they were 4-2 -- and especially in the immediate aftermath of him having to coach and organize several other things after Davis' passing on the eve of a victory over Houston -- players were on board.

A blowout loss to Kansas City and then an unexpected thumping at the hands of spiraling Denver after a bye, with both games being played at Oakland, have prompted whispers that the Raiders weren't as prepared as they should have been. That's part of what happens when teams play poorly, regardless of outside circumstance. That gets dumped on the head coach.

Jackson has openly accepted the blame for his team's failures and in conversations with me, he has always cited his players only when things have gone well.

He labored for years to get this shot. Jackson's ambitions were rarely unclear. He felt he could motivate and win and nurture grown men.

He wanted this: All of it.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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