The Raiders have made dramatic changes to their roster, scored well in the draft and are coming off a preseason victory in which rookie quarterback Derek Carr flashed the talent that made him a high second-round draft pick.
So, there are many in the Bay Area and beyond who believe the 2014 version of the Oakland Raiders will be much better, and that general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen will turn the corner and be on their way to rebuilding the franchise.
But not everyone agrees.
In his preseason preview of the Raiders for NFL.com this week, Gregg Rosenthal doesn’t buy into the optimism. He predicts another fourth-place finish for the team in the AFC West and another season at the bottom of the NFL power rankings by the end of 2014.
“We’ll be talking about a new Raiders coach and general manager,” wrote Rosenthal of what people will be saying about the team after the season. “Allen and McKenzie were dealt a bad hand, and owner Mark Davis’ expectations are unrealistically high.”
Rosenthal acknowledges that the team has much more talent going into 2014 than it did the past two seasons when it had back-to-back 4-12 records. The offensive and defensive lines are stronger and deeper, No. 1 draft choice Khalil Mack could be a playmaker at linebacker and Carr could eventually breathe new life into the franchise.
But for now, Rosenthal sees way too many problem areas: Matt Schaub has been shaky at quarterback in two exhibitions, running backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew are trying to rebound and the secondary is a giant question mark because of Charles Woodson’s age, D.J. Hayden’s injury and the infusion of two former 49ers corners in Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.
Schaub, in particular, is a worry, he says.
“Schaub has reportedly been solid in practice,” wrote Rosenthal. “But the book is out on him as a quarterback. He never trusts his arm to go deep and defenders sit on his routes. That’s especially frustrating because the Raiders have a nice group of vertical receivers. We’d expect to see Carr start sometime in October.”
Schaub is expected to play all of the first half this Friday night in exhibition game No. 3 vs. the Packers, so Raiders fans should get more of an indication of his level of play.
Schaub told reporters this week that he’s confident in the offense and in himself, and just needs to settle in, have success on first down to keep away from third-and-long situations and play smart football.
“I think we have big-play ability on the outside,” Schaub said. “We have big, fast, physical receivers and in one-on-one situations they have shown they can catch the football at the high point and outjump a defensive back or go up and get it when you give them a chance.”
The question is, is Schaub the guy to give them the best chance to make those plays?
Allen, who watches Schaub every day, believes he is – even as many observers such as Rosenthal don’t.
“I’m confident with where we’re at offensively,” Allen told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “I know our group is confident with where we’re at. I know Matt Schaub is confident with where he’s at.”