There was a common theme to the players the Oakland Raiders brought in this offseason.
Discarded or unwanted by their former teams, players with a history of success in the NFL talked about the motivation of having a “chip on the shoulder” when they arrived in Oakland.
“Everybody here has something to prove and they’re going to work and we all know we have something left,” new running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. “If it was from a bad year last year or just things didn’t work out with the other team or whatever it may have been. As a whole, we’re fighting for the same thing, which is respect.”
Jones, no longer wanted in Jacksonville, is one of many veterans with Pro Bowl or Super Bowl experience looking for a fresh start in Oakland.
He’s joined by quarterback Matt Schaub, run out of Houston; pass rushers Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, too expensive for the New York Giants and Pittsburgh, respectively; and cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers, no longer needed in San Francisco.
While almost all the notable additions are at least 29 years old and likely on the downside of their careers, they discount talk the Raiders have built contender for 2009 instead of 2014. They believe Oakland can end a run of 11 straight non-winning seasons and become this year’s surprise team.
“I see no reason why we can’t be that team this year, and that’s what our focus has to be,” Tuck said.
Some things to watch during training camp for the Raiders:
SCHAUB’S COMEBACK: Schaub went from a 4,000-yard passer to the bench in Houston after setting an NFL record by having an interception returned for a touchdown in four straight games. That led to his offseason trade to the Raiders, who immediately anointed him the starter. But second-round pick Derek Carr was impressive in the spring and could push to start if Schaub can’t put last year’s struggles behind him.
“It’s in the past,” Schaub said. “I’ve moved on. That’s stuff that’s history. What we’re in control of is what we do moving forward and I’m into preparing for 2014.”
OFFENSIVE LINE: The Raiders have overhauled their offensive line, with center Stefen Wisniewski likely the only returning starter. Left tackle Donald Penn and right guard Austin Howard were signed as free agents, rookie Gabe Jackson could step in at left guard, and last year’s second-round pick Menelik Watson is being counted on at right tackle. Khalif Barnes and Kevin Boothe provide depth that was sorely lacking last season.
MAULING MACK: The Raiders were ecstatic when pass-rushing linebacker Khalil Mack lasted until fifth in the draft, giving coach Dennis Allen a potential game-changing defensive star. The bar is set high for Mack, with the Raiders making comparisons to Von Miller, who was an immediate star in Denver when Allen was defensive coordinator of the Broncos. Mack brushes aside any comparisons but is confident he can step in and be a star right away.
RUNNING BACK ROTATION: Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden were two of the top running backs in the league as recently as 2012. But they both have struggled with injuries and production the past two years. Oakland brought back McFadden as a free agent and signed Jones-Drew in hopes at least one of them can have a rejuvenation.
“I know what I did last year wasn’t anywhere near what I’m capable of doing, and so this year I’m doing everything I can to get back to the form I’m used to, and I know Darren is as well,” Jones-Drew said.
HAYDEN’S HEALTH: Last year’s first-round pick DJ Hayden had little impact as a rookie as his recovery from a near-fatal heart injury slowed his start to the season. He then struggled on the field before his year was cut short by a sports hernia. Hayden then missed critical offseason time with a sprained ankle, raising questions whether he will ever be healthy enough to be the shutdown cornerback the Raiders seek.
Updated July 21, 2014