By Steve Corkran
Monday, March 14th, 2011 at 6:11 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Note: The esteemed Jerry McDonald is on a mandated one-week furlough. I will do my best to fill the sizable void during Jerry’s absence. — Steve Corkran
Cornerback Stanford Routt uttered the words, but they might as well be plastered all over the Raiders year-round facility in Alameda for the 2011 season:
“We’re a lot closer to the making the playoffs than people think.”
That’s part of what Routt said in an interview with National Football Post earlier this month, yet it just as easily could have come from managing general partner Al Davis, new coach Hue Jackson or anyone else within the organization.
Routt cited close losses to the 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Arizona Cardinals as reasons for optimism heading into next season.
“You change the outcome (of those games) and we’re not 8-8,” Routt said. “We’re 11-5 and we’re in the playoffs.”
Never mind that two of Oakland’s victories came in games they just as easily could have lost – the first game against the San Diego Chargers and the first game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Let’s go with Routt’s line of thinking, which is something that Davis and Jackson apparently are comfortable doing.
How else do you explain the Raiders offseason moves to this point? Most teams fresh from an 8-8 season seek wholesale changes in hopes they can make the jump from mediocrity to Super Bowl contender.
Davis and Jackson are thinking like Routt, that the Raiders were talented enough to be an 11-5 team last season and few changes are necessary between now and the regular-season opener in September or whenever, depending upon how the collective bargaining mess plays out.
The evidence comes from the myriad moves made in the 71 days since the Raiders concluded their 2010 season with a convincing victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Davis and the Raiders tendered contract offers to tight end Zach Miller, running back Michael Bush, center Samson Satele and long-snapper Jon Condo, signed Routt, defensive tackles Richard Seymour and John Henderson, special teams ace Rock Cartwright and offensive lineman Daniel Loper to extensions, and designated outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley as their exclusive franchise player.
Fullback Marcel Reece and backup defensive tackle Desmond Bryant also likely were tendered one-year contracts – this hasn’t been confirmed yet — given their production last season, potential and the relatively cheap cost of signing them as restricted free agents.
Add it all up, and the Raiders of 2011 are going to look much the same as the Raiders of 2010. The glaring exceptions will be at left guard, with Gallery told to seek employment elsewhere, possibly right cornerback, unless three-time Pro Bowler Nnamdi Asomugha is dead-set upon being a part of the Raiders turnaround, be it in 2011 or whenever, and free safety. Michael Huff’s contract voided, and he isn’t a sure bet to be asked back.
Even so, the Raiders feel as if they are covered in all three areas. Loper filled in well for Gallery during a four-game stretch last season, and he received a two-year contract befitting a starter. Chris Johnson, Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware are eager for a shot at a starting job at cornerback. Stevie Brown and Hiram Eugene await the word to fill in at free safety.
Beyond that, the Raiders have taken steps to ensure that just about every other starter and key reserve will be back in 2011. Davis even found the time to re-sign seldom-used running back Michael Bennett and third-string quarterback Kyle Boller before the lockout took effect.
The only other position unsettled is at right guard, the domain of veteran Cooper Carlisle the past four seasons. Davis is high on second-year player Bruce Campbell, and he wants to see Campbell on the field and not with hands on hips on the sideline. This doesn’t bode well for Carlisle seeing a fifth season as a starter with the Raiders.
There’s a huge danger in the Raiders thinking they were only “three or four plays” away from being a playoff team last season, as Routt said. Just the same, there’s also a huge upside from the standpoint of the Raiders being much farther along in preparation for next season than other teams who haven’t made many moves and are waiting to see how the CBA situation unfolds.
Time will tell whether Routt, Davis and Jackson are correct in assuming that the Raiders are on the cusp of challenging for the Super Bowl.
Here’s a year-by-year comparison at how the Raiders starting lineup looked in 2010 and how it is projected to look for 2011:
QB – Jason Campbell Jason Campbell
FB – Marcel Reece Marcel Reece
RB – Darren McFadden Darren McFadden
WR –Louis Murphy Louis Murphy
WR –Darrius Heyward-Bey Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE – Zach Miller Zach Miller
LT – Mario Henderson Jared Veldheer
LG – Robert Gallery Daniel Loper
C – Jared Veldheer Samson Satele
RG – Cooper Carlisle Bruce Campbell
RT – Langston Walker Langston Walker
DE – Matt Shaughnessy Matt Shaughnessy
DT — Tommy Kelly Tommy Kelly
DT – Richard Seymour Richard Seymour
DE – Lamarr Houston Lamarr Houston
SLB – Kamerion Wimbley Kamerion Wimbley
MLB – Rolando McClain Rolando McClain
WLB – Quentin Groves Travis Goethel
LCB – Stanford Routt Stanford Routt
SS – Tyvon Branch Tyvon Branch
FS – Michael Huff Hiram Eugene
RCB — Nnamdi Asomugha Chris Johnson
K — Sebastian Janikowski Sebastian Janikowski
P — Shane Lechler Shane Lechler
KR – Jacoby Ford Jacoby Ford
PR – Johnnie Lee Higgins Nick Miller
LS – Jon Condo Jon Condo