Football fans across the globe can come out of hibernation as football season is officially upon us. For Raider Nation, August and September has been a time for optimism over the last decade. However, this year, the hype has reached past the 510 area code and across the nation. Oakland has not made the postseason since 2003, yet they have been one of the most talked about teams this offseason.
The Raiders finished last season with a 7-9 record, an improvement from the 3-13 record in 2014. Also, 2015 saw the arrival of new head coach Jack Del Rio. Along with Del Rio, the team got help on the field as veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree joined the team from San Francisco. Crabtree led the team in receptions with 85 catches and scored a team high nine touchdowns for Oakland. Making an impact in 2015 was fellow wide receiver rookie, Amani Cooper. Cooper eclipsed his rookie expectations as the young receiver from Alabama caught 72 balls for 1,070 yards and added six touchdowns.
Those significant moves helped improve the Raiders, and this offseason General Manger Reggie McKenzie continued to be aggressive and smart. This offseason, Oakland added veterans to both sides of the ball.
Oakland’s defense finished the 2015 season as the 22nd ranked defense overall in the National Football League. To help improve the silver and black’s defense McKenzie brought in linebacker Bruce Irvin from Seattle, cornerback Sean Smith from Kansas City and safety Reggie Nelson from Cincinnati. This past April Oakland drafted safety Karl Joseph with the 14th overall pick.
“This is what I have worked hard for. This is what I have done my whole life. I’m just happy and blessed to be back on the field and doing my job,” Joseph said following the first day of training camp. “I feel like I am up to speed, as far as the playbook. Some of the guys have helped me out, prepare, and the coaches have gotten me up to speed this offseason.”
The rookie also expressed what it means to be a Raider: “It means the world to me to be donning the silver and black. The potential this team has, I am excited be a part of it.”
With the departure of veteran and likely future Hall of Famers Charles Woodson and Justin Tuck, Oakland will lean heavily on third year defensive end Khalil Mack to help lead the team on defense. Mack led the NFL in sacks last season with 15 and piled up 77 tackles in his second season.
“It’s the mindset. You know, we have the talent. I feel the work we put in this offseason has given us the confidence to go out there and win regular season games and compete at a high level. That’s what we are looking forward to doing,” Mack said.
On the other side of the ball, Oakland’s third year quarterback Derek Carr is also looking forward to the new season. Carr threw for nearly 4,000 yards (3,987) in 2015 with 32 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Carr was not limited to throwing the ball to just Crabtree and Cooper in 2015 but also connected 32 times with wideout Seth Roberts, who hauled in five touchdowns in 2015.
“That’s a great problem to have (multiple receiver options), but I need to be more efficient with my passes,” Carr said of the variety of offensive weapons at his disposal.
Protecting Carr and making holes for the backfield will be the responsibility of the offensive line. Alongside Rodney Hudson and Donald Penn the team added Pro Bowl guard and tackle Kelechi Osemele in free agency from Baltimore to help anchor the offensive line.
Expectations are running high for fourth year running back Latavius Murray, the team’s leading rusher in 2015. Murray ran for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns last year. The diverse back also caught 41 passes for 232 yards out of the backfield.
“We have a great group of guys on the offensive line and a talented backfield. I think our goal is to put up big yards as a unit, not so much one person, but to rack up the yards in the backfield as a whole. Like I said it is a talented backfield and we expect big things to happen this season.”