This is my Sunday article on the Raiders. 49ers’ fans — feel free to skip this.
For the Raiders, training camp is about becoming mediocre.
The Raiders have been plain bad since Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen took over in 2012. Back-to-back 4-and-12 seasons. Win one, lose three. That pattern needs to end this year. McKenzie’s job and Allen’s job are on the line.
With that in mind, here are five key questions the Raiders will face in training camp:
1. How hard can the Raiders practice?
The past few months, McKenzie acquired seven veterans in their 30s — Matt Schaub, James Jones, Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe, Justin Tuck, Antonio Smith and Carlos Rogers — and they’re supposed to make the Raiders competitive. They may, but Allen needs to pace them correctly during training camp. The Raiders are an old team. Grueling training camps do not suit old teams. Allen can’t work the old players too hard or they’ll lose their legs before Week 1. Allen can’t work the old players too lightly, either — many of them haven’t played together. They need to get a feel for each other on the field. Allen needs to balance all of this.
2. Does Maurice Jones-Drew have some juice left?
Jones-Drew had major juice not that long ago. He was the NFL’s leading rusher in 2011, gained 1,606 yards for the Jaguars, a terrible team. In 2012, he injured his foot and played just six games. In 2013, he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. He was terrible. But he’s only 29. Jones-Drew is young enough to have a bounce-back season. He certainly will add toughness and maturity to the Raiders’ backfield. Jones-Drew is much tougher than Darren McFadden.
3. Will Matt Schaub revive his career?
Compare Schaub to Eli Manning. They’re the same age; 32. Manning’s career passer rating is 81.2. Schaub’s career passer rating is 89.8. Since Schaub became a full-time NFL starting quarterback in 2007, he has posted a higher passer rating than Manning every single season. Even last season. Schaub was bad — 14 picks in eight games, passer rating of 73. But Manning was worse — 27 picks in 16 games, passer rating of 69. Schaub lost his job and Manning didn’t. Schaub was humiliated. He needs to forget all of that, needs to focus on 2012 when his passer rating was 90 and he made the Pro Bowl. He needs a positive mental outlook.
4. Will the offensive line give Schaub a chance to revive his career?
Schaub will fail if the offensive line stinks. It’s hard for a quarterback to have a positive mental outlook when he’s a piñata. Schaub’s left tackle is Donald Penn, who gave up 12 sacks last season on the Buccaneers. Schaub’s right tackle is Austin Howard, who gave up 10 sacks two seasons ago on the Jets. Who knows what the Raiders will get from Howard and Penn? They could be decent, or they could be turnstiles.
5. Will Dennis Allen give Schaub a chance to revive his career?
Last year, McKenzie traded a fifth-round pick and a conditional pick to the Seahawks for Matt Flynn. McKenzie renegotiated Flynn’s deal so that the Raiders paid him $6.5 million in 2013 no matter what. Flynn threw two interceptions Week 3 of the preseason — Allen panicked and benched him. The Raiders cut him a few weeks later. Flynn signed with the Packers, played in five games and posted an 86 passer rating. Matt McGloin, the quarterback Allen preferred, played in seven games for the Raiders and posted a 76 passer rating. Good going, Dennis.
This year, McKenzie traded a sixth-round pick to the Texans for Schaub. McKenzie renegotiated Schaub’s deal so that the Raiders will pay him $8 million no matter what in 2014. Is last season repeating itself? Will Allen panic and bench Schaub if he throws a couple of interceptions during the preseason?