Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Raiders, Pt. 1

In Part One of our final preseason preview feature, Michael Wagaman of Silver & Black Illustrated answers five questions from NWFootball.net's Doug Farrar about the Oakland Raiders. What is the deal with Tom Cable, can JaMarcus Russell figure it out, and why was Rex Ryan shown the door?

DF: The obvious story following the Raiders through the preseason is the fight between head coach Tom Cable and assistant Randy Hanson. This is the kind of thing that prevents the Raiders from being taken seriously as a franchise these days, but this is also a bit more serious than the usual team goofiness. What really happened, and could Cable be facing criminal charges? Who would replace him in the short term if he is unable to continue for any reason?

MW: There's only a handful of people who know what really happened and only one appears to be willing to talk. Obviously there was a physical confrontation of some sort between the two men which resulted in Hanson going to the hospital with a fractured jaw. Cable easily could find himself staring at a felony assault charge, though as of yet nothing has materialized from the Napa Police Department's investigation. From the Raiders standpoint, that's not even an issue. You can lawyer up and get the case pushed back long enough to where if Cable has to do any jail time, it can be in the offseason. Given there's no guarantee he'll be back as head coach in 2010, there's no pressure on the Raiders from that side of the issue., Commissioner Roger Goodell is the one worth watching in all of this. The NFL's Conduct Policy is very clear in that it applies to both players and coaches alike, and given the Commish's hard-line stance dealing with players and misconduct on and off the field, you'd have to think Cable is looking at a possible two-game suspension. If that happens, I'd expect Willie Brown to take over as the interim head coach. He's a long-time assistant with the team and an Al Davis loyalist and has always had a  very good rapport with the players.

DF: On the field, the battle between JaMarcus Russell and backup Jeff Garcia would seem to be pretty solid given what we've seen of Russell. Is there any chance that Garcia could start down the stretch, or are the Raiders going to stick with Russell on a "no-matter-what" basis? What keeps Russell from being a good quarterback?

MW: Cable made it clear very early after the Raiders signed Garcia that the team's starting quarterback was Russell, no questions asked. That stance hasn't changed, and for good reason. While Russell hasn't been the overnight sensation everyone expected him to be, he's made definite strides in the last 12 months and is starting to show longer flashes of being an NFL quarterback. People tend to forget all that's gone on around him. He had two head coaches, three different play-callers, a terrible offensive line and a receiving corps that couldn't keep the same guys in the lineup for more than three weeks. Name any other QB who had to deal with that in his first full season as a starter. Now that being said, this is obviously a big year for Russell. He has to show significant growth, and the Raiders have upgraded the pieces around him to give him a legitimate chance. Garcia, despite his protests otherwise, will remain the backup as long as Russell is healthy because the only way Russell will improve is by playing. His biggest issue to date is his tendency to hold onto the ball too long, a carryover from his college days. He's also not the most mobile of QBs either.

DF: One of the few things Oakland has going for it right now is a dynamic rushing attack. Who are the principals, and what are their roles?

MW: Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush have all started games in the preseason as Cable and his staff figure out what to do. The likelihood is that McFadden will be the workhorse of the trio. He's the fastest, has the best moves and is easily the most versatile of the three, a player Oakland can line up in the backfield, in the slot or split out wide. He was slowed by a pair of turf toe injuries as a rookie last year but he's looked fine in the preseason. Bush was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason and right up until the trade deadline but the Raiders are in much better shape with him on the team. He's a powerful, strong runner whose legs never stop churning. Depending on how the Raiders use him, he'd be an ideal guy to bring in sometime in the second half when the opposing defense is tiring out. Fargas has been the team's leading rusher the past three seasons and is easily one of the hardest working players in the entire NFL, but he probably won't play as prominent role as he has in the past while the Raiders try to give the ball more to McFadden and Bush.

DF: The Raiders have spent a lot of money on their front seven without much in the way of results. Most people in Seattle would tell you that John Marshall is a pretty serious downgrade from Rob Ryan. Why did Ryan leave, and what has Marshall done with the gig?

MW: Ryan's five-year stay in Oakland was nothing to write home about. He couldn't improve a run defense that failed to finish higher than 22ndn during his time with the team and was a miserable 31st in 2008. His one claim to fame with the Raiders was coaching the No. 1-ranked pass defense in '06, a misnomer given that opponents shunned the pass because they were having so much success running the ball. Ryan stuck around five years because of one reason and one reason only: Al Davis. As one player put it, "This is Al's defense." Ryan played the role of loyal solider to perfection because he never resisted. As for Marshall, we're taking a wait-and-see approach. He appears to be more willing to blitz than Ryan was, but again, he'll be working with the specter of Davis looming over his shoulder so we'll see.

DF: The final preseason game is for those players trying to make a team. Who are some of the lesser-known Raiders who might impress against Seattle?

MW: The two players who have jumped out the most in training camp are fourth-round draft pick Louis Murphy and undrafted free agent Nick Miller. Both are wide receivers and both have looked good in the preseason, particularly Murphy who will likely start against the Seahawks. With Chaz Schilens out with a broken foot, Murphy has become a favored target of QB JaMarcus Russell, though he did have a terrible game last week against New Orleans (one fumble, two dropped passes). Miller is the classic tale of a longshot making the most of his opportunity. He flashed early in training camp then, made a big diving catch against Dallas in the first preseason game. He's can't relax heading into this game and he'll need a solid performance but he stands a good shot at the No. 6 wide receiver slot.


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