So, this is the final part of this series, where I wrap up all the individual positions and get into what I see regarding the big picture on each side o the ball. Again, I will try to make sure that I point out what I think, as opposed to what I think the team will do. Oddly enough, the team doesn't do everything I think is right... hmm.
Offense: This side of the ball looked worse than I really thought it was during the last season for two simple reasons: first, we were starting two raw, inexperienced QB's. Yes, each had their own strengths and weaknesses, but the bottom line is that they were not coming in as seasoned vets in any way, shape, or form. That doesn't mean that each didn't have some good moments, but not enough to carry the team. Not knocking either of them, just pointing out a fact. Second, the plain fact that injuries wrecked the offensive line made the first point more of a problem. Starting second-, third- and even fourth-string guys on the offensive line, and shuffling them around to boot, is not a recipe for success for most any experienced QB, or offense. With an upgrade at OG, and some health from what appears to now be a potentially fairly deep OT group, the offense will look to be ready to step it out, regardless of the QB, as long as there is the improvement that is an expectation of every player, every year.
The WR position seems to be shaking itself out, and even without a major move there, it appears that there is enough to at least be effective, and probably more. The TE position is the same; Ausberry coming back, with Rivera and possibly another player brought in, seems to be capable of more than last year, which wasn't all that bad. RB will look to be in good hands, assuming that Jennings is re-signed, and Murray could do some nice things as well. One more RB to round out the group, and another FB to spell Reece, or to allow him to split out, or line up in the backfield, and I think that the running game will be fine.
I do not expect that we will necessarily be a top offense, but I do see us being more efficient, more effective, and more capable of not only long drives, but some big plays as well. And, as Kansas City showed last year, an offense can be effective even without a 'franchise QB'; that doesn't mean that I don't want one soon, but not at the expense of improving the team overall, on both sides of the ball. I want that guy to step into a situation where the team is ready to explode, not still looking for important pieces.
Defense: A strong early showing, but injuries exposed our weak depth, and put players into starting roles that just weren't up to it. With the salary cap situation clearing up, I expect a number of signings to address that, certainly more 'solid' guys than 'marquee' players. We have a decent group of starters, although we need true impact players, but solid consistent play can us in position to win games, as we saw through the season.
We need more pressure on the QB, which means OLB and DE, and more depth/power at DT to stuff the run better. LB play is steady, although not spectacular, and the DB and S starters are good enough, especially with any kind of pass rush, to get the job done. Yes, time will need to see us find impact players, but building a solid team first allows time for that, without struggling in the meantime. Dallas is an example of a few 'star' players that have too many holes around them to really contend; Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Arizona are examples of using solid players with a few 'stars' to build a strong unit. Impact players are good, but the other guys are just as, and in a sense more, important in the long run.
Special Teams: Although we improved in kickoff and punt coverage, our own return units really didn't improve as much as I would have hoped. I look for quite a bit of competition, and likely turnover, in this unit, as we try to improve to become if not elite, at least much more dangerous on returns and smothering on coverage. There are only two players here that I will address specifically.
King: Nice year, with solid numbers in net average and hang time, and improved as the year went along with touchbacks. I don't know why teams have gotten away from kicking for the 'coffin corner', but as long as he is hanging them high to prevent returns in that area, I suppose it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Still, I'd love to see that skill make a comeback... Anyway, I am happy with the punting, and while I was sad to see Lechler go, as a longtime Raider, I am not sad with the play that resulted from that move. More time spent with he and Janokowski getting more comfortable with each other will only help.
Janikowski: Not a great year, but I'm sure that he will get a mulligan from the Raiders. It may be time that he works more on his conditioning and flexibility to keep his body ready to play, rather than whatever else is being done. He still has a cannon, but it doesn't matter if he can't use it fully. I was disappointed more by the amount of kickoffs that were returned than anything else, as that is a key part of his game. Long FG attempts are what they are; love to see them go through, but the percentages are not there for a lot of guys. If he is going to miss, I'd rather it be wide than short. I think that this year will not be how he will be judged, but next year; if he struggles again, then it may well be time for another decision regarding a longtime player.
Special teams was not a weakness for us, but not a strength either, for the most part. I was surprised at that with April having come in, but it is also something that I think can and will be addressed. If we can get better coverage, and returns that give us some better field position, we will only be that much better as a a team.
Overall, I like the way that things are shaping to work out this offseason; we have the makings of a decent offense and maybe more, a solid if not crushing defense, and special teams that will at worst at least not be a liability. With a good offseason of work by the players, the coaches, and especially the front office in procuring talent, this is a team that is ready to step up become a factor.