COMMENTARY | With less than a week until the Oakland Raiders open up training camp in Napa, Calif., there are still several unanswered questions surrounding a prideful team that has now gone over a decade without tasting postseason greatness.
Yes, general manager Reggie McKenzie has made plenty of moves this offseason. Between contract dumping and free-agent signings, this Raiders team is a completely different one from the team that took the field last year.
But that’s a good thing.
Tyvon Branch and Lamarr Houston are the only two remaining starters from last year’s defense and with only 18 percent of the starting defense coming back, it really is unpredictable to see how this unit will turn out. The only thing anyone knows is that it really can’t get any worse than last year when they gave up at least 30 points in seven games.
But defense aside, here are a few things to look out for in training camp:
When McKenzie brought in Matt Flynn after dumping Carson Palmer and his heavy contract, he made it known that Flynn was the guy he wanted for the future.
Then he drafted quarterback Tyler Wilson in the fourth round of the draft and now nothing is certain.
The Seattle Seahawks brought in Flynn last year to right their ship, but then they drafted Russell Wilson and the rest of the history. Now, another Wilson has made some offseason noise to give Flynn a sense of deja vu.
Head coach Dennis Allen already said Flynn is his starter, but that was over a month ago. Why did Allen say that three months before the season even started? Maybe it’s because he didn’t want to start a quarterback controversy so early while the team is finally trying to find some stability.
But if Wilson continues to impress and Flynn fails yet again to outshine another rookie quarterback, things could get very interesting in Oakland.
D.J. Hayden’s Health
McKenzie threw everyone a curve ball when he decided to draft Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden with the 12th-overall pick in the draft, but he seems very confident in his decision.
By now, everyone knows about that freak injury that sent Hayden to the hospital toward the end of his senior season. I mean, the guy nearly died. And even though he’s been cleared by doctors, that sort of injury has to linger in the mind of the front office at some point in time.
Let’s not forget the fact that Hayden is still feeling the effects of an abdominal surgery he had back in May and might not be at 100 percent by the time training camp begins.
So between life-threatening heart surgery just eight months ago and another surgery to remove scar tissue six weeks ago, Hayden’s health will be a huge concern for the Raiders. Given the fact that many thought McKenzie reached for Hayden in the first place, it will be very interesting to see if he was worth the gamble.
At least for this year.
Wide Receiver Watch
Darrius Heyward-Bey is out of the picture, so it’s up to Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Rod Streater to help the passing game work in Oakland.
These three receivers are all coming off completely opposite seasons.
After a hot start where he caught 34 passes for 575 yards in his first eight games, Moore struggled mightily toward the end of the year and caught just 15 passes for 166 yards in his last seven games. He’s now the No. 1 in Oakland, and he must hit his stride and find some consistency if this team is going to be any good.
Streater was a pleasant surprise as a rookie in 2012 after the Raiders signed him to an undrafted free-agent contract. He averaged 15 yards per catch and finished with 584 yards and three touchdowns.
Not bad for a guy who nobody wanted in the first place.
If Streater can continue to fly under the radar and be a solid No. 2 option, it will alleviate the pressure off of Moore knowing that whoever the quarterback is can spread the ball around.
Ford, on the other hand, has immense talent and he has displayed it sporadically during his first two years in the league. Unfortunately, his inability to stay healthy has made him more of a casualty than anything else.
Ford has missed 24 out of 48 games since the Raiders drafted him in 2010 and didn’t play a single game in 2012. The talent and speed are there, but, unfortunately, the health is not.
Steven Slivka is a freelance writer for the Oakland Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter @stevenslivka.