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The Silver Lining Of Oakland’s Black Cloud

OK, so it’s been a bit of a dry spell for the Oakland Raiders since appearing in the 2002 Super Bowl. The outcome of that game is not important. Well, OK, it’s actually very important. 

Oakland
lost, and lost hard, 48-21, to their one-time coach Jon Gruden and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The result of that “Super” loss sent the once proud and dominating AFC West Raiders to a dismal 24-72 record in the following six seasons. However, with the spark of last season’s coaching change and two-game win streak to end the ‘08 season, things could be looking up. (Yes, I said win streak. Hey, like I said, it’s been a dry spell … drought conditions really. Two wins in a row. That’s a streak these days, baby). The last win knocked out, wait for it now …  Gruden’s
Tampa Bay Buccaneers from making the playoffs, as well as sealing Gruden’s removal from

Tampa
Bay
.

During the long

Oakland
drought, the Raiders have endured four coaching changes, from Tom Callahan to Norv Turner to Art Shell to Lane Kiffin and now, for his first full season, Tom Cable. Seasons of dismal records and coaching changes also went hand-in-hand with a rotating stable of QBs from Rich Gannon to Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, Daunte Culpepper and finally to the 2007 overall No. 1 pick, JaMarcus Russell, to help usher in a new era of winning ways in Oakland.

In the last few years the Raiders have also drafted the pounding RB Michael Bush and the electrifying RB Darren McFadden to help bolster their already solid run game, led by veteran RB Justin Fargas. Oakland also now posses a stout defense with the likes of shut down CB Nnamdi Asomugha, a solid linebacker corps led by Oakland native “Captain” Kirk Morrison and a strong defensive line anchored by the dominating DE Derrick Burgess.

With their young talent and veteran players starting to fall into place under the intense coaching of Cable, the Raiders began to show signs, toward the end of last season, of what looks to be a bright future in

Oakland
.

In last season’s 27-16 win over the Houston Texans, Russell threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, while Justin Fargas ran for 93 yards on 22 carries. In the final game against

Tampa
Bay
, Bush ran for an incredible 177 yards and two touchdowns in the Raiders’ 31-24 victory. Russell threw for another two touchdowns in their win over

Tampa
Bay
. Other players showed great promise last season, too.

While McFadden spent much of last year nursing an injury, in only his second regular-season game in his rookie campaign, the back ran for 164 yards and one TD in the Raiders’ 23-8 defeat of the Kansas City Chiefs. A healthy McFadden will surely post big season numbers improving an already solid Raider running attack, and helping to take pressure off Russell as he continues to improve and settle in as the Oakland Raider franchise QB, for what should be years to come.

While this will only be Russell’s second full season as the starting QB in Oakland, the addition of downright speed demon Darrius Heyward-Bey, who admittedly needs to develop his hands quickly, will surely stretch the playing field, creating deep routes to take advantage of Russell’s big arm. Lengthening the playing field will also create openings underneath for third-year TE Zac Miller, as well as running backs McFadden and Fargas, to assist in the Raiders passing game. While the Raiders still look to improve their pass protection for Russell, as well their WR corps, the strong run game and long field should go a long way in assisting Russell in the coming season.

With six very disappointing and difficult seasons behind them since their Super Bowl loss, the Raiders look to be on the rise as new and veteran players and coaches begin the 2009 season, looking to run with the momentum they left off with in ‘08. While the Raiders schedule in 2009 will certainly be challenging, presenting

Oakland
with the likes of the Super Bowl Champion Steelers and tough defenses from such opponents as the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Giants, one can now see the beginnings of the silver lining
starting to form around the Raiders’ six-season-old dark cloud.

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