For me what Raider Football is was set in my mind in the late seventies and early eighties. A smashmouth defense that brutalized opponents playing to the very edge of the NFL rulebook, and an offense that wasn't always the prettiest. Nightmares of a Jim Plunkett scramble ball held by the knee are now a fond memory. Some say Al never adapted to a changing NFL but this isn’t true. He was always adapting somewhat.
Many fans of my era feel like the Raiders lost something when they moved to Los Angeles. The truth is Al was adapting to the new flashier NFL at least offensively. The NFL rulebook, however, had cut away the physical edge defenses used to be able to use to brutalize an offense.
Today we are beginning a new era of Raiders football. An Era that is led by three men that are in many regards mysteries. Mark Davis the son of Al and whom even in the modern age of google and the internet reveals scant clues to his nature. Reggie McKenzie an old Raider and well respected veteran of NFL front offices whom is enjoying his first stint as The Man. And a young untested head coach who rose quickly. None of them have such histories that you can be certain where they will take us.
Mark Davis is intriguing. It’s impossible to fathom being the son of Al, and inheritor of the Raiders, and not knowing a good deal more about football than he lets on. For now what we know is he appears fully willing to let Reggie lead. As quietly as he stood behind his father over the decades this should not surprise us. We also know he stands for his father’s legacy and won’t treat tarnishing it lightly. Nor should he, Al did as much for the modern NFL as anyone and his legacy is not simply what was. It is also what will be for Al lives on in the raiders and in the very fiber of the NFL itself. I do sense in mark a bit of the rebel, A man willing to bend popular convention to accomplish what needs to be done. Perhaps it’s the prince valiant haircut, but I think it is his choice to wear white so often in stark contrast to his father’s black. A Raider color to be certain, however, it seems to me, a way of expressing that he is his own man. A man perhaps cut from a slightly different if not similar cloth to his father. It will be fascinating to see his effect on the team as his personality is revealed over time.
Reggie is also a largely closed book. We know Green Bay was successful. We know they had good success in the draft finding and building a great team. Yet we don’t know exactly what Reggie contributed to that. What part of it was him and what part those around him. With a single year under his belt largely making salary cap moves and hiring what he could afford he remains an enigma. He clearly looks at character, values linebackers and is flying in some direction of we don’t know exactly where. This year with wholesale changes to the defense of what should be players who fit his skill mold we should start to get an idea.
Dennis Allen is really no better. A defensive coach thrust into a head coaching job where he will sink or swim. Last year wasn’t extremely impressive other than appearing to pull the defense together near the end of the year a bit. On the other hand it was a trial by fire of epic proportions. He showed promise in his punishments of the lazy. He brought discipline but he was at times clearly out of his depth and lacking options. His job will not be easy but he just may have the fire in the belly to get it done.
As fans I don’t think any one of us can really say where this team is going this year. Our "star" is a running back that can’t stay healthy and on any other team would already be declared a failure with a replacement taking touches. We need to develop so many positions we have to hope this year he stays healthy. And hope he makes the best of an opportunity he probably wouldn’t get on any other team. Our quarterback is either a possession finesse career back-up getting his second shot, A strong armed rookie who shows promise, or Al’s last draft pick and walking proof of how Al continued to adapt despite those who say he couldn’t. After all Al went and got a running QB before last year made them all the rage. Ahead of the game as usual but whether he chose the right one remains to be seen.
Defensively someone said we can rebuild him. Better stronger faster…. It’s a new unit and it has to jell and work quickly for us to have a respectable year. Reggie Built a low name recognition line and went heavy on linebackers while functionally remaking the defensive backfield. What this unit can do together is anyone’s guess. I have high hopes we can clog the middle and roach can QB the defense while Woodson has the DB’s in the right place at the right moment to make game changing plays.
If I was a fan of any other NFL team I could tell you what to expect this year from that team. I honestly cannot be sure what Raider football will be in 2013. Only Davis, McKenzie and Allen can for now. And they are keeping quiet. I am looking forward to getting the first glimpse of what Raider football will be in this decade. I still want that rebellious edge, I definitely want the emotional fireworks of the past great teams. Most of all I hope to again watch players who love the game playing because they love it and not just for a paycheck. Warriors putting in the work off the field to again dominate their enemies between the white lines of the gridiron. If I see that team or the beginnings of that team I’ll know we are again on the right track. The track Al always wanted. Win ugly, win pretty, Just win baby!