The Oakland Raiders thought 2012 would be their year to shine after finishing 8-8 and tying for first in the AFC West in 2011. Before 2012, the franchise hadn't seen a winning record or the postseason since 2002; but things quickly came crumbling down.
A new regime began in 2012 as Dennis Allen was named the new head coach in the post Al Davis era, but in their first full year without the Raider legend they finished 1-8 in the final nine games to end at 4-12.
“It has been a first step in a long journey so far during this training camp. These guys are all working hard to get those things accomplished and now is the time to develop the younger players,” Allen said at a press conference. “We got a lot of progress to make and a short amount of time to get it done, guys are working extremely hard to get to where we want to be.”
Less than two years ago the Raiders were tied for first place in the AFC West division, just barely missing the playoffs after losing in the final game of the season to division rivals the San Diego Chargers.
While the team saw a great deal of changes from last year to now, the front office and management made a complete overhaul from top to bottom for the 2012 season, hoping to turnaround a decade of losing.
It doesn't get much better up front, Jared Veldheer is a solid left tackle who started 42 consecutive games, but the Raider veteran sustained a tricep injury recently. He underwent surgery last Friday to repair a partially torn triceps muscle in his left arm. Now the Raiders must brave at least part of the season without him.
"It's strange. It's not something that I've ever been through," Veldheer said at a press conference. "First football related procedure that I've ever had done to me. It's disappointing, it's tough but the only thing that I'm focused on now is putting all my attention into getting after it and rehabbing and getting back on the field."
The typical timeline for a surgery of this nature is three months, which would have him back after week nine of the season. Dennis Allen said the team's intention was the place him on partial season injured reserve which would make him eligible to return as after week eight of the season.
"My goal's as soon as possible, obviously, but they have to check, I got another follow up appointment and they'll start learning more as far as dates and times to shoot for then," Veldheer said.
Outside of the banged up Veldheer, center Stefen Wisniewski is the top player on the offensive line. He didn't surrender a single sack last season. Unfortunately, he's surrounded by two struggling guards. Mike Brisiel had a rough year last season, while Tony Bergstrom, a third-round pick in 2012, made one start as a rookie and looked off in the brief moments on the field.
Veldheer’s torn triceps is forcing the Raiders to reevaluate their offensive plans for the seasons after offensive coordinator Greg Olson said that the team wasn’t able to fully install the power blocking scheme they had in mind for the running game this season before Veldheer got hurt. Even if Olson decides that the remaining offensive linemen can run their scheme effectively, he knows that the offense will not be the same without Veldheer on the field.
“I think it changes how we’re going to use everybody,” Olson said at a press conference. “It will impact how we use Darren McFadden; it will impact how I use Marcel Reece. You don’t lose a player like Veldheer and think you’re not going to have to change some things or do some things differently.”
Alex Barron and the rest of the line looked poor against the Saints last week; Veldheer’s absence is going to be felt in the passing game as much, if not more, than it’ll be felt in the running game. If the group doesn’t find a way to jell into a more effective unit quickly, it’s going to probably be another long season for the Raiders offense.
A big question is how Darren McFadden will fair during his final year of his contract year as the starting running back, while trying to stay healthy. McFadden has not played in more than 13 games in a season during his five year stint as a Raider which included a 1,157 yard rushing season in 2010 and only seven games played in 2011 due to injuries.
Veteran Matt Flynn and second-year man Terrelle Pryor will be battling for the starting quarterback position.
“Terrelle has to continue to develop as a QB. You see tangible evidence at times of what he does and he does it well. He’s got a great skill set and is an extremely athletic quarterback,” Allen said. “Matt needs to be consistent on the passing game and needs to improve but I think we all have a long way to go, but that’s why we have training camp to continue to grow.”
Losing over a dozen starters is no easy task to overcome, but the Raiders will need to do all they can to fill those gaps. Only two of Oakland's starting defenders from last season have returned for 2013, Lamarr Houston who tied for the team lead in sacks with four and the hard hitting strong safety Tyvon Branch.
Charles Woodson was brought in to replace Michael Huff at Free Safety, and will be playing alongside Strong Safety Tyvon Branch, to make up one of the best safety duos in the National Football League.
“The main thing I am worried about is getting these guys to come out here and work their tails off to be the best football players that they can be. Our focus is how we can be the best football team we can be this year,” Allen said.
The Oakland Raiders season opener will be on Sept. 8 against the Colts in Indianapolis.
QB Matt Flynn, RB Rashad Jennings, DE Jason Hunter, DT Vance Walker, OLB Kevin Burnett, OLB Nick Roach, OLB Kaluka Maiava, CB Mike Jenkins, CB Tracy Porter, S Charles Woodson, S Usama Young, P Chris Kluwe, KR Joshua Cribbs.
Early Draft Picks:
CB D.J. Hayden, OT Menelik Watson, LB Sio Moore, QB Tyler Wilson, TE Nick Kasa, RB Latavius Murray, TE Mychal Rivera. Raiders Rookie Forecast
QB Carson Palmer, RB Mike Goodson, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, TE Brandon Myers, G Cooper Carlisle, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Richard Seymour, DT Desmond Bryant, DT Tommy Kelly, OLB Philip Wheeler, ILB Rolando McClain, CB Shawntae Spencer, S Michael Huff, S Michael Mitchell, P Shane Lechler.