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Monday, May 11, 2009
Five observations from Oakland's minicamp

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- After attending Oakland's minicamp on Friday, I came away with five observations about the team as it stands in early May:

 
  Kirby Lee/US Presswire
  Running back Darren McFadden stood out at last weekend's Raiders mini-camp.
Give McFadden the ball: The Raiders have won a league-low 24 games the past six years and they are very much in the rebuilding phase. But there are some nice players on this team. Second-year running back Darren McFadden is one who stands out. Just watching McFadden glide through the field, you can tell he can be a special weapon. He is likely never going to be an Adrian Peterson-like workhorse. That is not his game. But he can be a game breaker and give Oakland a Reggie Bush-like presence. With Justin Fargas and Michael Bush in the backfield, Oakland can afford for McFadden to be a specialized player. He was bothered by injuries often last season and he was never unleashed. Oakland has to find a way to make McFadden, the No. 4 overall player taken in the 2008 draft, a difference-maker.

Russell has a long way to go: The early portion of JaMarcus Russell's career has been blemished by his inconsistency. He showed those inconsistencies during the minicamp. On some plays, Russell appeared lost and others he seemed fine. He has a rocket arm, but he still has to work on his touch and his decision-making. The Raiders want Russell to work on all aspects of his game. He has a chance, but he is far from being out of the woods. He can still be a big draft bust.

The young receivers need to step up: The Raiders cannot count on Javon Walker helping them. He had another knee surgery this offseason and won't be ready until training camp. Three of the past four seasons have been disrupted by injuries for Walker. It would be unrealistic for Oakland to believe Walker will become an impact player for them. Thus, the youngsters have to come through. It begins with top pick Darrius Heyward-Bey. He was uneven in the minicamp. The book on Heyward-Bey is that he is inconsistent. He must prove otherwise and make a quick impact. Also, Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens must continue to develop or Russell is not going to have a reliable receiving group once again.

Asomugha is a bright light: He is the face of the franchise. Signing Nnamdi Asomugha to the three-year, $45 million deal this offseason was a big move by the Raiders. Yes, he is expensive, but Asomugha is worth it. He is a true shut-down cornerback and he is a smart player. The Raiders haven't won much, but it isn't Asomugha's fault. He is a top-flight player.

Neal will help: One of the best attributes Al Davis has had over the years was finding veteran players who still had enough in the tank to help Oakland. Lorenzo Neal may be the latest key veteran addition in Oakland. Neal, who signed with Oakland on Friday, is in his 17th season and eighth NFL team. He is known as one of the greatest blocking fullbacks in NFL history. Even though he is 38, he is still playing at a high level. The Chargers missed him last season and he helped Baltimore's offense. With Oakland's combination of strong running backs and a weak offensive line, this is a fine match.