Russell, McFadden give Raiders reason for optimisim

2007 season recap

Another season in the abyss. First-year coach Lane Kiffin took the Raiders job amid criticism, but doubled the team's win total from the team's previous season. Of course, it was only four wins. The Raiders have lost a league-leading 61 games over the past five seasons.

Key camp questions

How far has JaMarcus Russell progressed during the offseason?
Russell missed training camp with an extended contract hold out. Kiffin held the first overall pick in the draft out of action until he was inserted into the lineup against Denver in Week 13. Russell played sparingly in Week 15 and 16 before getting the start against San Diego in Week 17 (the Chargers won 30-17). Russell now has full offseason under his ample belt that should help his development. The Raider will likely see many eight-man fronts because of the running game, so Russell will get his chance.

Will the offensive line continue to improve in 2008?
Offensive line coach Tom Cable revitalized the offensive line as the team ranked among the lead leaders in rushing, ranking sixth in the league with more than 130 rushing yards per game. The Raiders spent previous training camp learning Cable's system, so the team should be perfecting its roles. Cable also seems to have found a home for Robert Gallery at guard who has had to deal with numerous position and coaching changes during his career. The team also signed veteran tackle Kwame Harris to add depth and veteran leadership. The line does have some room for improvement in protecting the quarterback, but having Darren McFadden as a threat to score every time he touches the ball should slow down opposing rushers a touch.

Who will replace Warren Sapp?
The Raiders passed on Glenn Dorsey to select McFadden, meaning that Tommy Kelly will move over from defensive end. Kelly played in seven games for the Raiders last season before tearing his ACL against Tennessee. Kelly also signed a huge contract extension before hitting the free agent market, indicating that the Raiders are confident that he will be ready to play and contribute in training camp.

Key position battle

RB Justin Fargas vs. Darren McFadden: You almost have to feel for Fargas who rushed for a career-high 1,009 yards in 2007. The Raiders showed their gratitude by drafting McFadden with the fourth overall selection in the NFL Draft. But Fargas was more of a plodding running back who chewed up yardage. McFadden brings an added dimension with his ability to change the game with just one run. Kiffin will likely try to get both backs significant carries, so it will be interesting to see how the coach uses them.

Rookie spotlight

WR Arman Shields: The fourth-round pick out of Richmond struggled a bit during his senior season, but he's still tall and he's fast. He ran a 4.37 40 and also had impressive numbers at the combine. Keep an eye on him during the preseason.

Player on the spot

WR Javon Walker: The Raiders invested heavily in the enigmatic receiver who started only five games for the Broncos last season, making only 26 receptions and no touchdowns. The much-discussed signing received increased scrutiny when Walker was kidnapped, beaten and robbed while vacationing in Las Vegas. Walker has recovered from his injuries, but there will be many critical eyes on him during training camp.

Fantasy focus

RB Darren McFadden: Many fantasy football players see McFadden as this year's version of Adrian Peterson. And he very well could be. But McFadden will likely split time with Justin Fargas, keeping him from being a true No. 1 running back.

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