Raiders’ offseason: What we don’t know


Things that remain a mystery as the Raiders go their separate ways before reporting to training camp in Napa on July 29, with the first practice the following day:

— Can Ted Tollner and Paul Hackett provide the kind of stability and teaching JaMarcus Russell needs to build on his final six games of the 2009 season?

Tollner, at the behest of Tom Cable, was said to have added deeper routes and that played to Russell’s strength, although there was little in the way of evidence to support that in public practices.

Russell went through three playcallers in his first year as a starter and needs to identify himself this year as a player who can carry not only a passing game, but an entire team.

— What is Cable’s plan for the ascension of Michael Bush? I know, wise guys, it’s Al Davis who decides. Not so fast. Cable is on what Lane Kiffin called the “honeymoon” afforded to new Raiders head coaches.

Lance was right on this one. New coaches get a lot of rope, just enough to usually hang themselves, in many cases. Getting the sort of performance out of Bush the Raiders got in the season finale is something Davis wants to see.

It’s up to Cable to make it happen and in the process de-emphasize Justin Fargas.

— Assuming Mario Henderson is the left tackle, when does Cable make the move with Khalif Barnes to the right side? He said at one point he could do it as late as preseason games and everything would be fine.

I’ll defer to his expertise along the offensive line, but that seems a little late in the game when the issue is protecting the franchise quarterback.

— How good is new line coach Jim Michalczik? The running game will carry this team, and Cable as a head coach appears to be much more of a delegator than the man who attempted to wear all hats as an interim head coach.

— Can the Raiders’ woeful run defense be repaired with more due diligence with regard to discipline, rather than a major change in personnel and philosophy? No way to tell during no-contact practices in the offseason.

You’re up, John Marshall.

— Jeff Garcia, Lorenzo Neal and Greg Ellis are in the house. Are their teammates listening? Warren Sapp has his doubts, as expressed to Peter King.

Sapp is fond of exaggerating to make a point, occasionally stretching the bounds of credibility, but it’s true a lot of young players simply don’t want to hear it.

Jerry Rice even attended the Raiders final OTA. If the receiving corps was stifling a group yawn, there was no mention of it on the Raiders’ Twitter account.

— Will Darrius Heyward-Bey and Mike Mitchell be healthy enough come training camp to make a run at being contributors in the first quarter of the season? They’ve both been hampered by bad hamstrings pretty much since their first minicamp.

— What roles do Javon Walker and Derrick Burgess have with the 2009 Raiders?

Walker has been around, and according to Florida rookie Louis Murphy, has even been helpful as he recovers from the knee surgery which surprised his employer. Burgess has been a no-show and in the final year of his contract.

Walker is getting his payday regardless on a renegotiated contract, the question is whether he can still be anything remotely approaching the receiver he once was. The Raiders may be waiting with Burgess to see if any team loses a pass rusher during training camp in order to get the maximum in trade value.

There appears to be no such mystery with Andrew Walter, who should be a camp arm along with Danny Southwick until the one-time quarterback of the future gets his exit visa.

— Can the Raiders get anything out of Michael Huff?

The No. 7 overall pick in 2006 is nearing bust status. Some say he’s already there. Huff remains an infuriating step late in coverage and isn’t the kind of physical presence Oakland likes in its safeties. Tyvon Branch and Mitchell push him further down the ladder.

— Will Nnamdi Asomugha get the chance to shadow the opponent’s top receiver? He seems to think there’s a chance it could happen on occasion.

— Is Chris Johnson too good to be true? Cornerbacks simply don’t identify themselves as elite at age 29. The Raiders are pinching themselves on this one, signing him to a lucrative four-year contract that they’ve never announced to this day, perhaps concerned Johnson’s performance after the DeAngelo Hall fiasco was a mirage.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer