Preseason has officially begun and the Oakland Raiders are eager to become the team to beat in the AFC West for the first time in years. Reggie McKenzie did a great job this offseason to acquire the experience and talent necessary to turn things around in Oakland. With important players being picked up on both sides of the ball, one of the smartest moves McKenzie made was picking up 2011 rushing leader, Maurice Jones-Drew.
Some may think this move was a sign that McKenzie doesn’t believe in the injury-prone Darren McFadden, which made a ton of sense to me. However, now that preseason has started I don’t see this being the case at all.
Instead, McFadden and Jones-Drew are going to build off of each other. One of them can pound away at the defense for two plays and then bring the other one in on third down to break open a 20-yard run. Oakland won’t need Matt Schaub to be an All-Pro with the two extremely talented backs catching passes out of the backfield and running all over defenses.
This of course is only possible of McFadden and Jones-Drew can stay healthy in a position that gets banged up quite a bit. Head coach, Dennis Allen was asked recently in a press conference about McFadden and how the Raiders plan to keep him healthy this season. Allen answered that they (as a team) have been tailoring workouts to specific positions lately for just this reason. Since McFadden has been prone to lower body injuries he has been working with Jones-Drew in the weight room on keeping that lower body balanced yet stacked.
Quarterback Matt Schaub will also be a major offensive game changer for Oakland this season as he already has been this preseason. Schaub’s teammate from Houston, who also came to Oakland this season, is defensive tackle Antonio Smith. Smith said he thinks Schaub didn’t lose any confidence after last season where Schaub threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Instead his confidence has been restored because he has been so well respected and accepted here in Oakland so far.
The combination of these two hard-working running backs and a possible franchise QB is what the Raiders’ offense has needed to have that breakout season that, to most Raiders fans, is way over due.
On the other side of the ball, Super Bowl XLII and XLVI champion Justin Tuck has already impressed coaches with his ability to hop right into the Raiders’ defensive scheme. With Tuck and Lamarr Woodley on the other end, the Raiders’ defensive line is going to give teams tons of problems. In fact, Jones-Drew mentioned in a press conference that by the end of this preseason, he and McFadden will be hard to stop because they are practicing against one of the best defensive lines in the league.
Now that the pads are on, Tuck and Woodley can only continue to lead the defense along with Charles Woodson. They’ll have to be ready to stop the Peyton Mannings, Colin Kaepernicks, and Tom Bradys of the league. They have come to Oakland to do one thing and that is change the game that the Raiders have been playing for the last 11 seasons.