Camp Confidential: Raiders

August, 5, 2011
8/05/11
10:26
AM ET
NAPA, Calif. -- Hue Jackson doesn’t do anything slow.

He talks fast. He walks fast, and he coaches fast.

The Tom Cable put-your-toe-in-the-water-start-of-training-camp days are over.

There was no warm-up period to Camp Jackson. In his first camp as a head coach on any level, Jackson has not wasted any time. His team has been flying around the field and playing to the whistle on every play since the moment it stepped onto the pristine practice field in Wine Country last week.

Cable believed in getting into the groove of training camp slowly by holding glorified walk-through practices for the first few days while stressing the importance of the classroom. Jackson believes in teaching on the go.

Jackson sees a talented team in front of him, but he also sees a team that needs to block better on offense and tackle better on defense. It’s all about finishing plays on both sides the ball. If you don’t start, you can’t finish.

“It’s a fast game,” Jackson said. “We have to move fast. At all times.”

When they can catch their breath, Jackson's players can see the difference.

"This is totally different, totally different from last year," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly told reporters early in camp. "I mean, he made that plain and clear in the meetings when he was talking about what we had to do. … [Cable] wanted us to learn the stuff. But Hue ain't worrying about that. He just wants to go hard as you can. If you fall out, we'll put somebody else in there."

There is urgency in Oakland. The Raiders teased their fans with an 8-8 record in 2010 -- highlighted by an AFC West 6-0 sweep -- ending an NFL record of seven straight seasons of 11 losses of more. This young team has a chance to continue to improve. Jackson isn’t going to sit around and wait for it to happen.

“We got to go now,” Jackson said. “I talk to them every night about that.”

[+] EnlargeNnamdi Asomugha
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Raiders will look to Chris Johnson and a host of young players to replace Nnamdi Asomugha.
THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How to replace Asomugha and Miller? The Raiders have to spend training camp trying to figure out how to replace two of their best players. Not many teams are dealing with that this summer. But the departures of star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to Philadelphia and tight end Zach Miller to Seattle create holes for the Raiders.

The Raiders gave Stanford Routt, formerly a part-time starter, No. 1 cornerback money in the offseason and expect him to take over for Asomugha. Oakland has reportedly toyed with signing another cornerback. But for now, veteran Chris Johnson and a host of young players, including draft picks DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa (who is currently injured), will be in charge of replacing Asomugha, who is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. Safety Michael Huff, who just re-signed with the team, could also play cornerback in some situations.

The Raiders probably need to bring in a veteran receiver or a tight end. Right now, their starting tight end is Brandon Myers, who has 16 career catches. Miller was quarterback Jason Campbell’s favorite target, and he led the Raiders in receiving in 2010. He made the passing game go. A replacement must be established in camp. (Update: The Raiders added former Giants tight end Kevin Boss Friday.)

2. Is the offensive line ready? This has long been Oakland’s weakest spot, and Jackson vowed earlier this year to improve it. Finding a suitable unit will be a top goal in training camp. The team drafted Stefen Wisniewski in the second round, and he will start at center. Joe Barksdale was drafted in the third round, and he could battle Khalif Barnes at right tackle if he has a good camp. If second-year guy Bruce Campbell gets healthy quickly, he could make a push at guard, where the Raiders lost longtime starter Robert Gallery in free agency. The team wanted to sign left tackle Jared Gaither, but he is still dealing with back issues. This unit remains a work in progress.

3. Is Campbell ready to be consistent? This is Jason Campbell’s second season in Jackson’s system, and he is expected to make strides. He must show consistency in camp, and he must continue to grasp Jackson’s offense. He started slowly last season and was replaced. But he finished strong. Jackson is a believer in Campbell. Campbell needs to continue to build chemistry with his receivers and entrench himself as the leader of this offense.

CLEAN UP THE MESS

The Raiders have long been one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. It goes back to their golden era. Whether it is a cheap hit or a false start, the yellow flag is a familiar sight for the Silver and Black.

Jackson wants to end that part of Raiders lore.

The Raiders were ranked first in the NFL last season in accepted penalties with 604. It seems penalties have been overlooked in Oakland because it’s long been an issue. Jackson said he thinks that is nonsense. Playing clean football is an emphasis of this camp.

[+] EnlargeRaiders coach Hue Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREWhat does coach Hue Jackson think of the Raiders' penalty problems? "It's embarrassing. ... You can't win if you keep going backward," he says. "I've told the team it's got to stop. It's not cool at all."
“It’s over,” Jackson said. “It’s embarrassing. ... You can’t win if you keep going backward. I’ve told the team it’s got to stop. It’s not cool at all.”

DEFENSE STARTS UP FRONT

While the offensive line is still in flux, the Raiders are set on the defensive line. This camp is about establishing dominance for the group. If the Oakland defense improves despite Asomugha’s departure, the front four will be responsible.

There are several excellent pieces on the unit. It all starts with defensive tackle Richard Seymour. A likely future member of the Hall of Fame, Seymour is the best player on the team and the leader of his unit. Add Kelly, polished second-year player Lamarr Houston and run-stuffer John Henderson, and the Raiders are primed to dominate teams up front. Pass-rushers Matt Shaughnessy and Trevor Scott (if healthy) give this unit an important dimension.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Jackson has often lauded second-year linebacker Rolando McClain during camp. He said he thinks McClain has developed in the offseason, and McClain is expected to be a stalwart.
  • Running back Darren McFadden was spectacular during camp before he suffered a broken orbital bone. He is expected to miss two weeks. The Raiders expect him to make a serious Pro Bowl push. He and restricted free agent Michael Bush should be a good tandem again.
  • Second-year linebacker Travis Goethel could potentially push Quentin Groves at weakside, or Oakland could look for an upgrade elsewhere.
  • The team is excited about fifth-round receiver Denarius Moore. He is polished and very fast and has a chance to contribute. It will be interesting to see him in the preseason.
  • Seventh-round pick David Ausberry looks good as he makes the transition from receiver. He’s a project, but he has excellent size and speed.
  • Fourth-year receiver Chaz Schilens is finally healthy, and the Raiders think he can live up to his potential. But his health is the key.
  • Kelly looks tremendous. He is in great shape and looks primed to build upon his strong season.
  • Trent Edwards will be given every opportunity to beat out Kyle Boller as Jason Campbell’s backup.
  • Jackson said he thinks the Raiders fourth-round pick, speedster running back Taiwan Jones, could make his mark this season. It will be fun to watch him in the preseason.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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