For all the crap I give the Raiders and Al Davis—at times a not inconsiderable amount—Oakland’s Silver and Black team intrigues me. I went to college at the University of Southern California during part of the last Raider tenure there and the fanbase was an interesting group. I then waited tables at a bar in El Segundo California, where the Raiders had their facilities and got to know some of the staff a bit, though I couldn’t recall who they were years later.
For all the madness and mythology that at times consumes the Raiders, there is a passion and dedication to the organization which is pretty impressive. I never hate the Raiders. They just bug me, probably because I have a grudging respect for the group and sympathy for a fanbase which has been through some really craptastic years of late.
Raiderfan doesn’t want your pity though (or, contrary to popular belief, your wallet. Most of the time) they want to, as Al Davis says ‘Just Win Baby’.
Unfortunately this isn’t something happening as much as they’d like. Many, many fans of many teams can empathize.
Today we try to pull back the curtain on a bit of the Raiders Mystique and to do that I asked Chris Hansen of RaidersBlog.com to answer a few questions. Hansen is the editor at Raidersblog.com and also Content Manager of a 32-team NFL blog network that is actively looking for team bloggers. If you’ve got a passion for writing, drop Chris an email at Chris@Raidersblog.com to find out more.
You can also find Raider Hansen on twitter at @RaidersBlog. The man has solid football takes, so do yourself a favor and sign on.
With that out of the way, here are my 10 Questions With…. Chris Hansen.
1) Despite the fact that the Raiders have struggled for some time, they’ve maintained intense rivalries with all three of the other teams in their division, especially the Chargers. Talk about the survival of the mystique and the intensity of these rivalries despite some pretty poor football in Oakland at times.
Chris Hansen: I guess the one thing the Chiefs, Chargers and Broncos fans can all agree on is a mutual hatred for the Raider Nation. It means the fans still enjoy kicking the Raiders when they are down as they have been and Raider Nation has never been shy when it comes to bragging. A good example is the Raiders sweeping the division last season.
The fans fuel rivalries and despite the poor play the hatred of the Raiders remained.
2) A big departure this off-season was that of tight end Zach Miller, who left for the Seattle Seahawks of all places. Lured away by former Head Coach Tom Cable when, according to those involved, the Raiders were just too slow and left him hanging. Miller accounted for the biggest bunch of the reception yardage in the offense. How did the Raiders let him go and where does that leave the passing offense?
Chris Hansen: Al Davis simply doesn’t value tight ends highly. Not to the tune of what Seattle will pay Zach Miller.
Davis waited, hoping Miller would drop his demands and got burned.
Thankfully for the Raiders, Kevin Boss was easily and more affordably plucked away from the Giants. He’ll actually fair just about as good as Miller in the passing game, but he will also help the Raiders weak offensive line run blocking.
The progression of the Raiders young receivers and Jason Campbell in his second season with Hue Jackson should make up for any additional loss in the passing game. Not only is Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders specialty receivers, but the Raiders may have a draft steal at receiver for the second straight year in Denarius Moore.
3) The Raiders are still looking for the answer at quarterback. What are your thoughts on Jason Campbell, his future with the team and the future of the position? Your thoughts on Terrelle Pryor?
Chris Hansen: This is the final year on Campbell’s contract. The Raiders brought in Trent Edwards as a backup and re-signed Kyle Boller as a backup as well. There was no quarterback signed past the 2011 season until the Raiders brought in Terrelle Pryor via a third-round selection in the supplemental draft.
The Raiders have a horrible track record of developing quarterbacks, but may have caught a break with a motivated Pryor joining Hue Jackson and Al Saunders in Oakland.
Campbell is an average quarterback, but the rules of the game are dictating the need for a great one to consistently compete. Campbell can only take a team so far even with an abundance of speed and talent on the offensive side of the ball.
4) With Darren McFadden busting his eye, Michael Bush will have a little time in camp to make an impression again. DMc is a more dynamic back, but Bush is often overlooked and a very solid player. How do you see this position falling out this year and what do you make of rookie Taiwan Jones so far?
Chris Hansen: Michael Bush is a very good back and could be a feature back for many teams, but Darren McFadden is the best offensive player on the Raiders and is one of the best backs in the entire league. Bush will get his share of carries to keep McFadden fresh, but it’s McFadden’s show. Taiwan Jones only recently started practices having sat out most of camp with hamstring injury. He wasted no time impressing his team with speed and surprising power at the goal line. A valuable insurance policy on McFadden.
Defensively, the Raiders were middle of the road for the most part overall. Interestingly, as I looked at the team for these questions, I noticed that while they were ranked second in the league against the pass (allowing a sick 189 yards a game) they allowed the fifth most touchdowns through the air while only generating twelve interceptions, ranking them 25th in that category. They ranked 29th against the run. Let’s take a look at that side of the ball.
5) Losing CB Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency was a blow, though not an unexpected one. What’s your take on how good Aso really is, and how the Raiders can replace him? How can the secondary generate more interceptions or at least staunch the bleeding in the area of touchdowns?
Chris Hansen: Asomugha is the best pure cover cornerback in the entire NFL, but he doesn’t have elite ball skills and isn’t the best tackler there is at the position. He fit well with the Raiders because of the heavy man-to-man scheme. The Raiders corners rarely are facing the quarterback and that’s why they don’t generate many interceptions. If the Raiders play more zone and blitz more this season they man generate more interceptions, but as long as Al Davis is alive they will be a man-to-man defense.
The Raiders are lucky enough to have Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt. Both players are starting caliber corners. Having them will help ease the loss of Asomugha, but the lack of depth on the roster forced Michael Huff to play slot corner when Asomugha missed time in 2010. Rookies Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa and sophomores Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware will have to step up and fill the nickelback roll.
6) Talk a little bit about the defensive scheme and how the Raiders might adjust it to shore up the run defense. Who along the front seven has the most to improve upon and who is the most vital coming into this season?
Chris Hansen: Rolando McClain enters his second year as the middle linebacker. Onus will be on McClain to shore up the run defense. Reviews from scouts haven’t been favorable of McClain’s play to this point.
The Raiders prefer to play Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour side-by-side. That leaves the Raiders a little weak in the middle against the run. To mitigate that loss the Raiders play Lamaar Houston at defensive end, huge by defensive standards at 305 pounds.
Big John Henderson was re-signed to help plug the run, but the Raiders will continue to be susceptible to the “Stop. Stop. Boom” as Tommy Kelly put it in 2010 in reference to the Raiders making stops and then giving up big plays on the ground. Without improved play from the linebackers the penetrating style of the Raiders defensive tackles open running lanes and put added pressure on McClain, Kamerion Wimbley and whoever wins the job at weak-side linebacker, likely Quentin Groves.
The key for the Raiders stopping the run may be jumping on opponents early.
7) Shifting focus back to the division, the wheels really seemed to come off the Denver Broncos under Josh McDaniels. The quarterback situation is a disaster (or at least terribly awkward with Tebow being outplayed not only by Kyle Orton but also by Brady Quinn), Knowshon Moreno hasn’t played to what they’d hoped, aside from Brandon Lloyd the receiving corps is banged up and the defense has not been consistent, especially on the line. What are your thoughts on Denver this year and whether John Fox can right this ship?
Chris Hansen: The Broncos will get back Elvis Dumervil and that alone should make their defense better in 2011. With the addition of Von Miller, the Broncos may actually be able to pressure the quarterback.
Kyle Orton will start again and continue to be solid but unspectacular. (editor’s note: Nagler and I would like to note that our Hard Count catchphrase is catching ON!) The addition of Willis McGahee may be the best move John Elway has made because Moreno simply wasn’t cutting it as the primary runner.
The Broncos will be improved in 2011 under John Fox, but just how improved and if they can improve their record is yet to be determined.
8 ) The Kansas City Chiefs were surprising to say the least last season. Matt Cassel seemed to finally come close to living up to his hype, as did Dwayne Bowe. Yet the team still seems to refuse to use Jamaal Charles nearly enough and they keep going through offensive coordinators. Can Kansas City repeat their success?
Chris Hansen: Kansas City benefited from an easy schedule in 2010. They will not repeat that success in 2011. Charles is a dynamic back, but Todd Haley seems content using him sparingly. I’m not sure if that is to keep him healthy or because of some other reason Haley feels he shouldn’t get more carries.
The Chiefs were a classic example of incremental improvement meets easy schedule.
9) The hated San Diego Chargers have a tremendous quarterback in Phillip Rivers and a Hall of Fame tight end in Antonio Gates, but the offensive line continues to be a problem, the run game has struggled and the defense needs to step up it’s game. They have a (sort of) happy Vincent Jackson coming back and wildly overpayed safety Eric Weddle. What are your thoughts on the Chargers this year and what they need to do to get over the hump and not only return to the playoffs but actually win a playoff game?
Chris Hansen: It came down to special teams for the Chargers in 2010. The Chargers were seemingly unable to grind out wins as well, maybe because Norv Turner runs such a soft training camp.
The Chargers window is closing, but the offense will continue to keep them in games and if they can avoid huge mistakes in other areas they remain the team to beat in the AFC west.
10) Finally, a question most non-Raider fans (and a few Raider fans) ask themselves when watching the management of this franchise: What is going on with Al Davis? Nobody can deny Davis is one of the reasons we have a NFL today, nor can you question the greatness of the franchise in years past. But increasingly this team’s management has made odd decisions, player moves and comments both publicly and privately that really make it seem as if the entire leadership has lost its’ collective mind. It’s certainly a franchise which has been ‘in transition’ at key positions for so many years, it’s hard to keep track. Where is this franchise heading, what do they need to do to recover their mojo and is Al Davis still the guy who should be running things?
Chris Hansen: Where to begin with Al Davis? He’s an icon. He’s borderline insane and until the 2010 draft most people had thought he was totally insane. There are a lot of hard-working scouts in the Raiders organization and while Al Davis takes he majority of the public relations hit, the scouts have taken it personally as well. The 2010 draft was a big victory for the Raiders front office and they hope 2011 is just as good with Denarius Moore and Taiwan Jones leading the way. More good drafts can return the franchise to prominence.
It really doesn’t matter if Al Davis should be running the team, he is and will continue to run the franchise. Hue Jackson was the right hire and seems to know exactly how to deal with and handle Al Davis. The first year is a honeymoon, we will see how Jackson handles year two if the Raiders aren’t winning.
The Raiders Nation rallies around Al Davis because he is an icon, but the casual fans that help fill a stadium have jumped ship vowing only to return once Davis is gone. Winning will surely bring many of them back and to Davis’ credit that’s all he cares about.
And with that, so ends out 10 Questions with…. Chris Hansen of RaidersBlog.com. I want to thank Chris for taking the time out of his busy preseason to get peppered with questions and urge you all to check his stuff out at the site and on Twitter. And again, drop him an email if you have an interest in writing some NFL content.