GLS Preview: Oakland Raiders

Hue Jackson has taken over the NFL’s most bizarrely-run franchise, but it’s clear that crazy old Al Davis is still calling the shots in Oakland.

In addition to selling another high 2012 draft pick for the enigma with speed that they call Terrelle Pryor, Davis’ most questionable decision of the 2011 offseason was made way back in January when he fired Tom Cable and replaced him with Jackson.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Jackson and the quick pace that he’s become synonymous with. But the players seemed to like Cable, and in 2010 he finally restored some respectability to a franchise that had been a laughingstock for nearly a decade.

The Raiders made progress on offense and defense last year, finishing without a losing record for the first time since they went to the Super Bowl in 2002. One year after finishing 31st in the league in scoring, they scored the sixth-most points in the NFL in 2011. But because Davis had a personal axe to grind, Cable’s gone.

Not only is the head coach that built them up gone, but so is their best player. And now, without Cable and Nnamdi Asomugha, the Raiders will have to prove to the world that 2010 wasn’t a fluke.

2010 in a nutshell: They sweep their AFC West opponents but go 0-6 against everyone else in the AFC. Despite making a lot of progress in the win column, they finish third in the division for the third consecutive season.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. The defense will take a big hit without Nnamdi Asomugha: The best cornerback in the league changed the entire defense by shutting down one side of the field and severely limiting the options of the opposing quarterback. Thankfully, the Raiders re-signed Michael Huff at safety (he’s very good in coverage) and have a decent corner pairing in Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson, but the league’s second-best pass defense in 2010 will take a hit without Asomugha. And unless youngsters in the front seven like Lamarr Houston and Rolando McClain take big leaps forward, expect the run defense and the pass rush to take hits, too. Losing a shutdown corner has a domino effect.

2. Jason Campbell will have a better year: Campbell was decent but inconsistent in his first year with the Raiders, and although the Raiders have been criticized for their lack of depth on offense, I think Campbell’s options will get better this year. Kevin Boss should replace Zach Miller, rookie Denarius Moore has been killing it in the preseason and you’d have to think that either Jacoby Ford or Darrius Heyward-Bey will emerge. The talent is there. The experience is not. And the brutal offensive line might remove itself from rock bottom territory if touted young guys Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, Bruce Campbell and Joseph Barksdale can progress.

3. Darren McFadden will be a Pro Bowler: With Asomugha gone, McFadden becomes the most talented player on the Raiders’ roster. He was tremendous despite receiving limited reps in a breakout 2010 campaign. In 2011, former No. 4 overall pick will finally become a star in a running game that tore it up last year and should only be better with a healthy McFadden and a promising set of complementary backs in Michael Bush and Taiwan Jones.

The final word(s): The defensive hit will hurt, but I really do see some serious light at the end of a long tunnel for the offense. This is an above-average team with the pieces in place to become a playoff team. But that might not happen until 2012.