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2011 Oakland Raiders preseason preview

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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If the Raiders can't open holes for Darren McFadden, Oakland figures to be in trouble. (US Presswire)  
If the Raiders can't open holes for Darren McFadden, Oakland figures to be in trouble. (US Presswire)  

2010 RECORD: 8-8 (third, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2002, lost to Tampa Bay, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII

COACH (RECORD): Hue Jackson (first season with Raiders, first overall)

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Al Saunders

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Chuck Bresnahan

2011 preseason
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OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 2nd rushing, 23rd passing, 6th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 29th rushing, 2nd passing, 20th scoring

KEY ADDITIONS: TE Kevin Boss (from Giants), OT Stephon Heyer (from Redskins), QB Trent Edwards (from Jaguars), C Stefen Wisniewski (second round, Penn State), OT Joe Barksdale (third round, LSU), CB DeMarcus Van Dyke (third round, Miami), RB Taiwan Jones (fourth round, Eastern Washington), CB Chimdi Chekwa (fourth round, Ohio State), WR Denarius Moore (fifth round, Tennessee)

KEY DEPARTURES: CB Nnamdi Asomugha (to Eagles), TE Zach Miller (to Seahawks), OG Robert Gallery (to Seahawks), QB Bruce Gradkowski (to Bengals), LB Thomas Howard (to Bengals), WR Johnnie Lee Higgins (to Eagles)

OFFENSIVE LINE SHUFFLE: The biggest battles of training camp will take place on the offensive line, Oakland's greatest area of uncertainty. Starting LG Robert Gallery left Oakland and signed as a free agent with Seattle, and starting RT Langston Walker apparently won't be re-signed. The Raiders drafted C Stefen Wisniewski in the second round and OT Joe Barksdale in the third. Wisniewski and returning starter Samson Satele, entering his fifth season, will wage a training camp fight for the top job at center. Barksdale, veteran Khalif Barnes and Stephon Heyer, a free-agent pickup from Washington, will contend for the starting job at right tackle. Wisniewski and Heyer will get some looks at guard, too. The Raiders added free agent G Justin Smiley to add depth and provide competition for LG Daniel Loper and RG Cooper Carlisle, but Smiley opted to retire before suiting up for a preseason game with Oakland. The physically imposing Bruce Campbell, a fourth-round pick last season, could be in the mix at guard or tackle. LT Jared Veldheer, who started as a rookie, looks like the closest thing to a lock in this group.

LIFE AFTER ASOMUGHA: The Raiders return 10 of 11 starters on defense, but the one loss is Pro Bowl CB Nnamdi Asomugha, who signed a megadeal with Philadelphia as a free agent. Veteran Chris Johnson will get the first crack at replacing Asomugha at right corner, but if he falters, rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke or one of the other young Raider cornerbacks could get a shot. Johnson has 27 career starts, including the final six games in 2008 and 15 games in 2009. He lost his starting job at left corner last year to Stanford Routt but didn't lose his confidence, no surprise considering his long-time mentor is former NFL great Deion Sanders. Johnson, of course, has great speed, a requirement when you play corner for Al Davis. That speed helped him intercept eight passes over the past three seasons. Van Dyke, a third-round pick out of Miami, is another burner. At 6-foot-1 and just 168 pounds, he's built on the spindly side, but he's not afraid to tackle. The Raiders added another corner in the fourth round, taking Ohio State's Chimdi Chekwa. Last year they drafted a pair of corners, Walter McFadden in the fifth and Jeremy Ware in the seventh. It could take the entire group to replace Asomugha.

CATCHING ON? The Raiders figured out how to get into the end zone more often last season under then-offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, now Oakland's first-year coach. They scored 410 points, more than doubling their total of 197 from 2009. This year, it will be up to Jackson and new offensive coordinator Al Saunders to get the wide receivers involved so that the offense can take another step forward. Last year, Raiders wide-outs combined for 107 catches and six touchdowns. Twenty-three NFL wide receivers made seven or more touchdown catches themselves last year. Atlanta's Roddy White and Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne each had more catches than the entire corps of Raiders WRs. WR Louis Murphy led all Raider wide receivers in catches (41) and receiving yards (366) and tied for the lead with Jacoby Ford in TD catches with two. WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, the seventh overall pick in 2009, had another disappointing season with only 26 catches and one touchdown. The addition of explosive rookie WR Denarius Moore, a fifth-round pick from Tennessee, could help. So could a healthy Chaz Schilens. What's more, QB Jason Campbell and his receivers are more familiar with each other and the offense after a season together.

DEFENSE STILL TACKLING A PROBLEM: Last year the Raiders were borderline obsessed with solving their problems stopping the run. They drafted a pair of run-stuffing rookies -- MLB Rolando McClain and DE Lamarr Houston -- and traded for physical outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. Yet they still finished 29th in run defense, allowing 133.6 rushing yards per game. In each of the past seven seasons, they've finished 25th or worst against the run. This year, finding a way to stop getting gashed by opposing running backs will be up to defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan, who returns for his second stint at the job he held from 2000-2003. During that span, the Raiders ranked fifth against the run in 2000 and third in 2002, their Super Bowl season. They also ranked 22nd in 2001 and 32nd in a disastrous 2003 season when the entire team melted down. Jackson has allowed more contact in training camp practices than the Raiders had under ex-coach Tom Cable, which should hone his defenders' skill at getting off blocks and making tackles. Jackson even put his players through the infamous Oklahoma Drill on the first day they practiced in pads.

FINAL WORD: Jackson's most pressing job this preseason will be to establish a starting offensive line and get it ready for the Sept. 12, Monday night opener at Denver. If the line struggles to open holes for Darren McFadden and protect Jason Campbell, the Raiders could get off to a horrific start. They open with road games against the Broncos and Bills then return to face the Jets and Pats, two of the NFL's elite teams. Most of the defense is set, but it still must adjust to the loss of Pro Bowl CB Nnamdi Asomugha.

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