Raiders will rely on three stepping up

While Oakland's overall success will be a blend of many players contributing on a week-to-week basis, here are three players who could swing the Raiders fortunes by stepping up:

Ronald Curry
Age: 28
Height: 6 feet, 2 inches
Weight: 210
NFL experience: 6 years
Acquired: Seventh-round draft pick, 2002

Where you'll find him: One of Oakland‘s two starting receivers, Curry will generally line up wide but he'll also get a lot of work in the slot as well.

Why you'll want to watch: When he's healthy, Curry is arguably the best athlete the Raiders have on their entire roster and the guy can do amazing things with the ball, as he proved three years ago and again late last year when he had 62 catches for 727 yards. Imagine what he'll do now with a better quarterback and an improved offensive line to give the QB time to throw. Teams will have to pick their poison and decide who to double, Curry or Jerry Porter, and if rookie TE Zach Miller gets going, that could really open things up for the two wideouts.

What he does best: Curry is an athletic acrobat who makes the ridiculous catches look simple. His immense talent enables him to make plays other receivers can't make, and he still has enough speed to outrace defenders in the open field. He's also got great size for a receiver, which enables him to body-up on smaller cornerbacks.

Check back in: Early October. The Raiders figure to come out swinging in the first month of the season and we should have a clear indication of how well the passing game is going by then.

Fabian Washington
Age: 24
Height: 5 feet, 11 inches
Weight: 185 pounds
NFL experience: 3 years
Acquired: First-round draft pick, 2005

Where you'll find him: Starting left cornerback

Why you'll want to watch: With the emergence of Nnamdi Asomugha as a top-tier cornerback last season, opponents figure to do most of their passing in the opposite direction this season. That means more action and more pressure on Washington, the diminutive defensive back who had a solid rookie season and was off to a solid start last year before his performance fell off late in the season. Washington didn't have the strongest of preseasons this year, either, which is why the team left him in to get extra work in some games. If Oakland has to roll extra help his way, that could create gaps in the middle of the secondary for opponents to exploit.

What he does best: Despite his size, Washington does a good job in press coverage and rarely gets beaten because of bad techniques. His speed allows him to recover from mistakes, though he needs to get better at playing the ball.

Check back in: Mid-December. The Raiders don't face a slew of great quarterbacks this season but they do get Denver's Jay Cutler, Green Bay's Brett Favre and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning on three successive Sundays late in the year.

Johnnie Lee Higgins
Age: 23
Height: 5 feet, 11 inches
Weight: 185 pounds
NFL experience: Rookie
Acquired: Third-round draft pick, 2007

Where you'll find him: Kick returner/wide receiver

Why you'll want to watch: Chris Carr has been a good kickoff returner but he's a sub-par punt returner, which is one of the reasons Oakland went after Higgins. The rookie from UTEP can flat out fly and will make an immediate impact on Oakland's special teams. He had one punt return for a touchdown in the preseason, though it was negated by penalty, and Higgins also showed his quickness and speed when he sprinted 19 yards on a reverse. Whereas Carr needs a few strides to hit top speed, Higgins seems able to kick it into another gear quicker and can take it to an entirely different level.

What he does best: Run. Fast. The Raiders will be selective in how they use him but expect coach Lane Kiffin to try to find creative ways to get him the ball on offense in addition to his special teams work

Check back in: One month. Three of Oakland's first four opponents have mediocre offenses while the Raiders counter with one of the NFL's elite defenses. That should mean plenty of punt return opportunities for Higgins.


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