|2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE|
Jerry Rice #80 of the Oakland Raiders will be all smiles this season, multiple starting caliber QB's, strong emphasis on defense with key personal should make the Raiders a contender in 2004.
Getty Images/Jed Jacobson
Notable Additions: Warren Sapp, DT (Tampa Bay), 6-2, 300; Ted Washington, DT (New England), 6-5, 365; Bobby Hamilton, DE (New England), 6-5, 280; Danny Clark, LB (Jacksonville), 6-2, 250; Ray Buchanan, S (Atlanta), 5-9, 185; Marques Anderson, S (Green Bay), 5-11, 210; David Terrell, S, (Washington), 6-0, 190; Ron Stone, G (San Francisco), 6-5, 325; Amos Zereoue, RB (Pittsburgh), 5-8, 210; Roland Williams TE (Tampa Bay), 6-5, 265; Kerry Collins, QB (New York Giants).
Notable Subtractions: WR Tim Brown, DE Trace Armstrong, LB Eric Barton, DT Rod Coleman, S Anthony Dorsett, RB Charlie Garner, LB Eric Johnson, OT Lincoln Kennedy, QB Rick Mirer, LB Bill Romanowski, TE O.J. Santiago, CB Terrance Shaw, OT Matt Stinchcomb, DT Dana Stubblefield.
Notable Returnees: Napoleon Harris, LB, third season, 6-2, 255; Tyler Brayton, DE, second season, 6-6, 280; Tyrone Wheatley, RB, tenth season, 6-0, 235; Zack Crockett, FB, tenth season, 6-2, 240; Langston Walker, OT, third season, 6-8, 345; Barry Sims, OT, sixth season, 6-5, 300; Adam Treu, C, 6-5, 300, eighth season; Frank Middleton, G, eighth season, 6-4, 330.
Offensive Overview: No more West Coast offense featuring short-to-intermediate passes. First-year head coach Norv Turner will employ the power-running game and vertical passing attack. The offense has the potential and its share of questions. The good news is that the Raiders addressed the offensive line needs by drafting tackle Robert Gallery and center Jake Grove and signing free agent guard Ron Stone. Oakland has experienced depth at quarterback behind its line in Rich Gannon, Kerry Collins and Marques Tuiasosopo. Tim Brown's release clears the way for fifth-year man Jerry Porter to be the go-to guy opposite Jerry Rice. Porter has the size at 6-2, 220 and speed to be the deep threat the Raiders have lacked recently but can he stay healthy and consistent? Which Gannon will the Raiders see -- the 1999-2002 edition or the Kurt Warner-like meltdown of last season? Turner likes the power-running game and one featured back but are any of the current guys a realistic fit? Can the combination of Tyrone Wheatley, Amos Zereoue and Justin Fargas be an effective replacement for Charlie Garner? Oakland had better hope so. Wheatley is the closest the Raiders have to a workhorse capable of logging 15-20 carries but he has not performed in that capacity since 2000. Most importantly, the Raiders need a healthy line. Left tackle Barry Sims was the lone starter not to miss a game due to injury. Gannon's season-ending shoulder injury and the line's rash of health problems helped last year go to hell in hand basket at 4-12.
Defensive Overview: The Raiders underwent a massive makeover on this side of the ball as only four starters return from last season. Oakland also has a new coordinator in Rob Ryan. The last time Oakland underwent this much change was 2002 when nine new starters came aboard and the team reached its first Super Bowl in 19 years. The current changes look good on paper but expecting a repeat of that trend is a longshot. The run defense and pass rush were very problematic last season and figure to be better in 2004. Nonetheless, the changes also come with their share risks. The Raiders addressed their defensive line needs by signing tackles Ted Washington and Warren Sapp along with end Bobby Hamilton. Oakland also welcomes back a healthy tackle in John Parrella. Defensive end Tyler Brayton figures to be much better in his second season. Which Washington are the Raiders getting? The difference maker that helped New England win the Super Bowl or the one that will get injured? Which Sapp is Oakland getting? The dominant one of his first six NFL seasons or the one that has declined the last three? Ryan is shaping the Raiders into a 3-4 defense but how quickly can it mesh? Another potential problem with the 3-4 is that a line backing corps that was average to begin with got weaker by losing Eric Barton to free agency. Can Ray Buchanan, a convert from cornerback, be a top-flight free safety in place of Rod Woodson? How soon can cornerback Charles Woodson be ready after a 33-day contractual holdout? Special Teams Overview: We know the Raiders can kick the ball and return kicks but will they be any better at covering them? That is a big reason why Bob Casullo is no longer the special teams coach. Joe Avezzano, who replaced Casullo, is a three-time winner of the
Special Teams Coach of the Year and will have little tolerance for players lacking discipline. Very few teams can surpass the Raiders kicker-punter combination of Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler. Oakland also boasts a dynamic punt returner in Phillip Buchanon and should be formidable in kickoff returns with Doug Gabriel and/or Carlos Francis. Extra linebackers on the roster, part of the coverage problem. Better tackling and discipline, however, need to happen as well.
Projection: The Raiders will make the playoffs if their rushing offense and defense against the run can finish no worse than in the top eight of the NFL. Oakland, however, underwent a lot of change and much has to go right to make the postseason. Keep in mind, the AFC West still contains Denver and Kansas City. The Raiders will be a much better club but will just miss the postseason.
|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
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