In recent days, the optimism has been flowing out of Raiders camp like a roaring river.
With training camp under way, veteran quarterback Matt Schaub is looking better than his woeful 2013 version, running back Darren McFadden is still healthy, new left tackle Donald Penn has been dominating and a revamped defensive line – filled with free-agent veterans – is drawing praise.
After Schaub led the offense on a 10-play scoring drive late in practice Wednesday, connecting with wideout Denarius Moore in the end zone, it was obvious his Raiders teammates have bought into Schaub.
“He’s been very impressive, completing a lot of passes compared to what we were last year,” wide receiver Rod Streater told reporters. “It’s looking way better. His two-minute drive ended with a touchdown, so I think we’re way ahead of where we were last year.”
And, the optimism may be justified. A busy offseason has definitely upgraded the Raiders roster – on paper.
After spending time in Raiders camp, writer Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback says it’s easy to watch the team and believe it’s going to be significantly better than the 4-12 teams of 2013 and 2012.
Klemko noted that the feeling at Raiders camp is one of enthusiasm, and it’s easy to believe that “this lugubrious streak of 11 seasons without a winning record” will come to an end.
But predictions that this team will have a winning season and go to the playoffs – or fail miserably – are impossible at this point.
As Klemko noted, it’s just as easy to explain how the Raiders can go 12-4 as it is to detail how they can go 4-12.
On the positive side, the mix of young and old players could be exciting if the veterans are healthy and motivated and players such as linebacker Khalil Mack prove to be as good in games as they are on the practice field. And, their depth is better this season than in recent years, so an injury or two may not be devastating. Klemko even can see the Raiders leading the AFC West in sacks and quarterback pressures with a much better group of pass rushers and the creativity of defensive coordinator Jason Tarver.
On the negative side, this is a group that hasn’t played together, Schaub remains suspect and nobody yet knows if veterans such as Justin Tuck, Maurice Jones-Drew and LaMarr Woodley will be similar to their 2009 selves … or their 2013 editions.
“There’s a curious mix of old and new in Napa, and the task of uniting this group in one purpose will be difficult,” Klemko wrote. “Schaub is a guy who can keep this train on the tracks if he’s truly put 2013 behind him.”