Certainly, there is reason for optimism.
After two consecutive seasons of 4-12 and 11 straight non-winning years, it’s easy to see why Raiders owner Mark Davis is pumped up about his team.
General manager Reggie McKenzie had a busy offseason, bringing in an impressive crop of veteran free agents and a draft class headlined by perhaps the best defensive player in the draft, linebacker Khalil Mack.
Going into the first practice of training camp this Friday in Napa, the feel surrounding this Raiders team is different than the past few seasons. Davis, in fact, told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group this week that the offseason rebuilding of the roster has been “phenomenal.”
Davis told McDonald he wants to see results on the field this season that the franchise is headed in the right direction, and he trusts McKenzie.
“This is the year,” Davis said. “There are no more excuses.”
But despite all the moves and the optimism, there are huge question marks hovering over this team that won’t be answered for many weeks. On paper, most of McKenzie’s moves look good. Taken as a whole, it would seem the Raiders couldn’t help from being much better in 2014.
But the Raiders could be better and still not be able to climb out of the basement in the AFC West. The reasons:
* The division looks formidable. Denver, San Diego and Kansas City all went to the playoffs in 2013, and each was active in the offseason, adding key pieces. If the Raiders are to climb the division ladder, one or two of those teams will need to stumble.
* Even though the supporting cast on offense is better – a strengthened offensive line, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wideout James Jones – if quarterback Matt Schaub doesn’t rebound from a horrible 2013, Oakland could be doomed.
* It may take awhile for all the Raiders’ new players to create a winning chemistry, which would be an impediment to a fast start – seemingly a necessity to get the momentum rolling on a turnaround season.
As Davis excitedly awaits the start of training camp Friday, he believes this roster is significantly upgraded. But he told McDonald this team must have much more heart than last year’s team.
He points to blowout losses to Kansas City and Philadelphia as examples of a team that simply wasn’t built to win.
“There were times last year when we didn’t show up,” Davis told McDonald.
It doesn’t sound as if Davis will tolerate performances such as those this year, after all the money he spent upgrading the roster.
As NFL.com analyst Chris Wesseling wrote this week, Davis’ days of patience are over.
“The excitement in Oakland has been palpable this offseason,” Wesseling wrote. “The roster is considerably deeper and stronger than it was entering training camp a year ago. There is even talk of a long-awaited return to the playoffs in a division currently dominated by the Broncos.
“Anything less than that could end up costing McKenzie and (head coach Dennis) Allen their jobs.”