JASON CAMPBELL: STEAL OF THE OFFSEAON

Was Jason Campbell the most talented aquisition in the league this offseaon? No. Will he be a Pro-Bowler in Oakland? Most likely not any time soon. But was there a greater upgrade made at any position this offseason? Definately not.

      Filling Jamarcus Russell’s shoes in Oakland will be like sitting in for Bernie Madoff while he polishes of his life sentences. Anyone will do.  The same is true in Oakland. Just surviving the Jamarcus Russell era means moving in the right direction.

        Last I checked, Jason Campbell can count with his fingers and do coherant interviews. In fact, Campbell actually brings everything to the table that Al Davis drafted Russell for 3 years ago. He has a huge arm and a small ego. If Santana Moss actually kept his route 30 yards downfield, he could have added 300+ yards and 4-5 touchdowns to his season stats. Don’t believe me? Check the tapes. As a member of the live and televistion audience for every Redskins game last season (my wifes a ‘Skins fan), I know this to be fact. Moss put it in cruise control when he didn’t think the ball was coming. When released the ball, he downshifted and couldn’t catch up. If you wonder why Campbell overthrew so many receivers last season, try throwing a 40 yards bomb and trying to guess which gear the receiver wants to go after the ball with.

       At this point, Oakland doesn’t have any receivers of the proven caliber of Santana Moss, but there is more than enough capable wide receiver talent on the team.

      In 12 games last season, fans watched Jamarcus Russell play in 12 games. The Raiders should not have won any of those games. The fact that they battled with San Diego on the opening Monday Night Football and every game after (minus weeks 4,5,7) was a testament to the other 23 men on the field those days. How could any team win after turning the ball over twice inside the 10 yardline to the New York Jets in the first quarter. Jamarcus Russell stole the $200 per seat I paid to sit in the front row of the Black Hole that day. Who could forget the Redskins game when Bruce Gradkowski left with the score close? What an awful feeling watching Jamarcus jog out to rally the troops. Who will forget Raider lineman stomping on the ground in frustration – never knowing how many steps Jamarcus would drop back.  He was never more than a turnover waiting to happen.

Meanwhile, Jason Campbell has a reputation of just the opposite.

       Until last season, he never threw more than 11 interceptions in a season. Even last year he averaged less than a pick per game. In 52 games, he has fumbled 24 times. That seems like alot until you compare it to Russell’s 22 fumbles in 31 games. Oakland’s line has been far from reliable, but the Redskins didn’t exactly have the Hogs blocking for Campbell the last 3 years.

        Imagine the Raiders chances last season if the quarterback position would have turned the ball over 50% less. Consider the Raider defense being given the opportunity to rest on the sideline for more than 4 plays. The trickle down effect of Jason Campbell will reach every man on the roster. 
        The Raiders don’t need an All-Pro at quarterback this season. They need competence. At 28, Jason Campbell is seasoned enough to learn yet another offense and young enough to still give the Raiders a career. With the young weapons he’ll have around him, the future should be something to look forward to.

        Its safer to not get carried away with the expectations, but in an apparently weak AFC West its okay to dream big.  The Bears, Ravens, Dolphins and Jaguars may have spent big bucks in the offseason, but for the price of peanuts, the Raiders grabbed the guy that will make the biggest impact.

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DID THE JAGUARS RELEASE A WASHED UP JOHN HENDERSON?

Maybe the biggest surprise release of the 2010 off season was Jaguars DT John Henderson.

After being released, speculation emerged that Henderson was washed up and no longer a Pro Bowl caliber tackle. Reports suggested Henderson had character issues and coach Del Rio didn’t want the distraction any longer.

Is he washed up? The truth may be hidden in the details.

Because none of us actually know how much Henderson has left in the tank or what went on behind closed doors in Jacksonville, lets look at the facts of the off season.

Beginning in March, the Jaguars set out to improve on their league worst 14 sacks last season. (In fact, the Raiders were 2 sacks away from being in the top 10 in sacks with 37) They signed Aaron Kampman to a contract worth over $5 mil per season – not to mention a hefty signing bonus.

The Jags followed up this move by drafting California DT Tyson Alualu with their 10th overall selection and DT D’Anthony Smith with their next pick. Both are listed under 300 lbs and reflect the emphasis the Jags are placing on athletic interior lineman to get after the quarterback.

While Alualu isn’t signed, his contract will most likely amount to about $4 million per season based on where he was selected. The Jaguars are still paying Derrick Harvey whom they selected 8th overall 2 years ago. He is guaranteed $17 million and has 3 years left on his rookie contract.

With John Henderson set to make $5 million in 2010, the Jaguars had entirely too much money invested in a young unproven line. To keep Henderson would only force their young talent to watch from the sidelines. Thats a good plan for young quarterbacks – a bad plan for young lineman.

The Jaguars weren’t getting any quarterback pressure out of Henderson (about 3 sacks per season over the last 5 years) so at 31, he simply wasn’t a part of their future.

It’s rumored that Jacksonville tried to get picks for him on draft day once they had gone ‘all-in’ on tackles, but prying away picks from teams on draft day can be difficult. Decisions to trade for an expiring $5 million contract are generally not made in a draft room particularly if it had not previously been discussed.

Of the teams Jacksonville reportedly called, its unlikely any of them knew if Henderson would be interested in their city and scheme in time to be comfortable making the expensive trade.

With the potential that often lies in rounds 4-5 combined with the near league minimum salaries they receive, it makes perfect sense why no one pulled the trigger on Henderson during those rounds.

After the 5th round passed, Jacksonville may have remained on the fence and been unwilling to part with him for a 6 or 7 round pick, but ultimately their hands were tied.

On April 26, just 2 days after the final round of the draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars cut John Henderson.

In the coming days nearly every team was rumored to take a look at Henderson.  Most were just that – rumors, but ‘Big John’ realistically had his choice of teams depending on the money he was willing to take.

As for his character, Henderson was reportedly willing to play any scheme his new suitor wanted. That’s a far cry from another University of Tennessee DT making nearly $40 million guaranteed on a resume very similar to Henderson.

Both Albert Haynesworth and John Henderson came into the league in 2002. Since then, Henderson has 29 sacks to Haynesworth’s 28. Albert’s big contract came the year after he posted his career high in sacks – 8.5.

While its true Haynesworth has played in 22 fewer games because of injuries and suspensions, what good is a player on the sidelines on Sunday afternoons? John Henderson has missed 4 games in 8 seasons.

The Raiders aren’t in need of pass rushers, but last season they were arguably the worst in the league at stopping the run. John Henderson can stop the run. And with Jamarcus Russell spending most of his time in the court room and off the football field, the Raiders offense may actually give their defense a few moments to rest between each series.

It’s hard so say where, when and how John Henderson will be used this year, but it should be something to look forward to. In terms of his age, 31 is not too old to be effect at DT – particularly one whos responsibility is to hold the line rather chase the quarterback.

Theres reason for optimism in Oakland this year and Henderson could be a big part of this team slapping around some teams in the AFC West.

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WHO WILL GET THE LION’S SHARE OF THE CARRIES?

This off-season featured the Raiders releasing fan favorite and former 1000 yard rusher Justin Fargas. Fargas earned the job with hard nosed running despite a lack of size and breakaway speed. In the past three years Fargas has accumulated over 2300 yards on the ground despite the Raiders running back by committee approach.

Where will the nearly 800 additional rushing yards come from this season?

The logical answer is that Michael Bush and Darren McFadden will split those yards right down the middle. McFadden was the apple of Al Davis’ eye 3 years ago he certainly hoped to see the second coming of Adrian Peterson.

Despite his rumored character flaws, the Raiders gambled on the versatile McFadden to be their newest home run hitter. His character has been the least of their concerns. To his credit, by NFL standards McFadden has been a saint. The only real comparison to Adrian Peterson has been in terms of ball control. Darren McFadden had 3 costly fumbles in a 23-3 loss to Denver in their first meeting. He fumbled 5 times last season on only 104 carries. His yards per carry dropped to 3.4 and he failed to display the ability to keep his feet after a hit. To make matters worse, McFadden has yet to show the top end speed and shiftiness to outrun and avoid the second tier of defenses.

Common sense should tell us Darren McFadden will not be the featured back in Oakland.

But does Al Davis base his decisions on common sense? He’s always been a sucker for physical freaks.  In this case, I don’t think Al calls the shot. Darren won’t be the featured back.

This assumption comes not only from McFadden’s shortcomings, but from his strengths as well.  McFadden is an outstanding receiver and has shown the ability to be the versatile athlete that is such a trend in the NFL the past 2 years.

He can throw and run out of the “razorback” formation and can become a dangerous 3rd down change of pace to Michael Bush. He can move around pre-snap and be flanked out wide to force coverage with a linebacker. His size makes makes him a solid target for Jason Campbell.

My guess is we’ll see McFadden used as a decoy more often than not. Whether he’s earned it or not, he will be a marked man by defenses and will likely be used to keep defenses off balance.

In fact, training camp has only solidified this theory. He has more training camp grabs than most of the receivers to this point.

The real thunder in this years rushing attack should be Michael Bush. In two seasons in Oakland, Bush has never averaged less than 4.4 yards per carry and torched opponents for a 4.8 YPC last season.

While, McFadden’s longest rush last season was 28 yards and 48 the year before, Bush has taken a handoff 60 or more yards each of the past 2 years. In over 250 career touches, he has only 3 fumbles. He’s a bruiser and will soften defenses to make McFadden that much quicker when he touches the ball.

They both have a history of injuries – Michael Bush has played in 31 of 32 games since his rookie season and McFadden has seen action in only 25 of those games.

For fantasy owners its a tough pill to swallow, but for whatever reason neither of these two have been particularly lethal around the goal line. At times, McFadden has shown the ability to hit the hole a little quicker and get his nose into the endzone better than Bush. Tom Cable is still searching for his short yardage guy, but you can bet Michael Bush will have every opportunity to earn it.

For Raiders fans there is every reason to expect the offense to fun more smoothly this season. With no number 2 at the helm, there should be more respect given to the passing attack and open up more room for both running backs.

Assuming there are no injuries, look for a 1000 yard season out of Michael Bush with around 30 receptions while McFadden stays around 500 rushing yards and maybe 50 receptions.  Look for McFadden to have more yards in the air than on the ground. After all, he averaged 11.7 yards per reception last season.

If you’re playing fantasy football my money is on Michael Bush. If you just like watching Raider football they should neither one disappoint.

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