Coach Tom Cable is fond of saying he can see the mountaintop and that the Oakland Raiders are on the verge of cresting the summit.
After seven years of scaling that proverbial mountain, it's enough to make one wonder if the mountain Cable is talking about keeps growing as the Raiders progress toward their goal of getting back to the Super Bowl.
"The next step is to be a playoff team," Cable said. "We have changed the attitude. We've cleaned up the locker room. We're all pulling for each other in the same direction now and we've become very competitive.
"We're losing games that we shouldn't. We've got to win a little more on the road; we've got to win more period. Those things, if that's what you accomplish next, then you become a playoff team. That's the goal, period."
There is a legion of people skeptical of the Raiders' chances of scaling that mountain. If the Raiders are to win more than five games for the first time since their 2002 Super Bowl season, it will be with many of the same players who played pivotal roles in last year's 5-11 season.
Offense: After finally talking owner/G.M. Al Davis into cutting draft bust JaMarcus Russell, Cable can move forward with new QB Jason Campbell. First-year offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a good feel for Campbell, and they are working every day to get up to speed with the offense. Jackson is credited with the rapid development of Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco in previous college and pro stints. Campbell is far more accurate than Russell, more mobile and has more experience.
Defense: The Raiders traded for outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, who will be used at the strongside spot in hopes of solving the revolving-door policy in place the past several years. Wimbley provides an upgrade at the strong side based on his experience, production and versatility.
Darren McFadden, RB. McFadden, the fourth-overall pick of the '08 draft, has 856 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons with the Raiders. But Justin Fargas is no longer around to take the bulk of the carries, and McFadden is finally healthy. Coach Tom Cable says he is committed to maximizing McFadden's potential as an all-around threat, and McFadden has been working on protecting the ball and getting past initial contact.
"Every time he's gotten himself going and had pretty good production, something has happened to either take him out of that game or not let him be as big a part in the next one. He's a fine player, and as he's able to stay healthy for longer periods of time you'll see more for what we all hope." — Cable
"The Raiders are one of those teams that make you scratch your head because their record never seems to match their talent level. This is a team that is loaded with first-round picks—and high first-rounders at that—the best cornerback in the game, one of the more dominant defensive linemen in Richard Seymour, and as much team speed as any other team around. Their problems transcend JaMarcus Russell, but he deserves as much blame as anyone else for their inability to realize their potential because of the importance of that position. Now you see why Rich Gannon was so valuable when he was the quarterback. ...
"You never look forward to playing the Raiders because of their speed and size, but they almost always find a way to beat themselves, so that part is nice. They haven't done real well with their first-round draft picks the past several years. One of these years, they're going to hit a home run and that will make a big difference. The bottom line is, they're still Al Davis' Raiders, so you know you're in for a physical game against a team with a lot of speed and a desire to go for the big play."
The AFC West remains the domain of the San Diego Chargers until further notice, and the Raiders are stuck in a group of three teams fighting for second place, at best.
QB: Jason Campbell, Bruce Gradkowski
FB: Oren O'Neal, Luke Lawton
RB: Darren McFadden, Michael Bush
WR: Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy
WR: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Johnnie Lee Higgins
TE: Zach Miller, Brandon Myers
LT: Mario Henderson, Khalif Barnes
LG: Robert Gallery, Langston Walker
C: Samson Satele, Chris Morris
RG: Cooper Carlisle, Erik Pears
RT: Khalif Barnes, Langston Walker
DE: Matt Shaughnessy, Trevor Scott
DT: Tommy Kelly, Chris Cooper
DT: Desmond Bryant, William Joseph
DE: Richard Seymour, Jay Richardson
OLB: Kamerion Wimbley, Ricky Brown
MLB: Rolando McClain, Slade Norris
OLB: Thomas Howard, David Nixon
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Stanford Routt
CB: Chris Johnson, Stanford Routt
SS: Tyvon Branch, Mike Mitchell
FS: Michael Huff, Hiram Eugene
K: Sebastian Janikowski
P: Shane Lechler
KR: Jacoby Ford, Tyvon Branch
PR: Jacoby Ford, Johnnie Lee Higgins
LS: Jon Condo, Chris Morris
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
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