It's time to finally begin our look towards Oakland Raiders training camp and the 2009 season. And I've begun our series of training camp primers by putting together a list of the 10 most important Raiders to the upcoming season. Please note that I've stressed "upcoming" because that's what this poll is focusing on right now. Some might say the 2009 season is just a stepping stone to the 2010 season and beyond and this is true, but with a weak AFC West, the Raiders have a shot for the division if the below list of key players steps up their game in 2009.
So this list is about the most important players to the team's 2009 success - not their possible future success. Yes, football is a team game so they are all important, but they are all important in an order of ranking and that is what the poll is asking you. This is my ranking, if you have a different ranking, please explain it in the comment section.
The 10 most important Raiders for the 2009 season:
||He is only 23 years old, but JaMarcus has started this offseason displaying some of the leadership qualities that you want to see from the face of your franchise. Clearly, the QB position is the key to any teams success, but even more so with the Raiders and what they have invested in Russell. Russell has all the elements to succeed in 2009: improved offensive line, a running game, improved receivers and a system that he can thrive in with competent, experienced coaching. The success or failure of the 2009 Raiders will largely fall on Russel's shoulders.
||Garcia is pivotal to the 2009 Raiders because he will either be pushing Russell to his potential or he will be replacing Russell as the starting QB. Either way, Garcia's experience is what has been sorely lacking on this team and his presence has already been felt.
||The Raiders could have drafted a premiere left tackle or could have gone after an elite one in free agency. They did not primarily because of their belief in Mario Henderson. The entire Raiders O-line will need to be good this season, but it will have to start with the play of Henderson.
||Kelly was recovering from major knee surgery last year and was inconsistent as a result. It is also possible that the Rob Ryan defense did not properly utilize the talent that he had. Now, 2009 is the year for Kelly to earn the bucks of his big contract and be a force in the middle. Stopping the run and making an impact on the field by making opposing offenses have to game plan for you, is what I am expecting from Kelly for the 2009 season.
Thomas Howard has huge talent and great speed, both of which probably made him the most misused player by Rob Ryan. John Marshall is said to love Howard and will use him a lot in blitz packages. If Marshall finds a way to unleash Howard, then opposing QB's will be running for their life.
||Playing his rookie year with a variety of injuries that limited his effectiveness and playing time, DMac now his healthy and is expected to be on the field a lot. His great talent will allow the Raiders to employ McFadden as not just a running back, but often as a receiver and also the wildcat. McFadden's threat to score from anywhere on the field will be a key to the success of the 2009 Raiders.
||His combination of speed and strength make Branch a potential enforcer in the secondary. His rapid development would completely change the make-up of Oakland's defense, which as lacked an impact safety for years.|
||Experience, ability and leadership are all of what have kept Neal in the league for 16 seasons. He will help protect Russell, open huge holes for the running backs and be an on field coach for the offense. Oren O'Neal is the Raiders future, but Lorenzo is 2009.
||With no clear cut #1 wide receiver on the Raiders, Schilens has all the abilities, including size, weight and speed to be the #1 WR for the Raiders in 2009. On the whole, the Raiders have upgraded the position through the draft, but Schilens is in position to raise his game an become an impact player for the 2009 offense.
||How can any top 10 Raiders list not have Nnamdi Asomugha on it? The answer is because he is so good, that he hardly sees any action at all on game day. Of course, Nnamdi is essential to the team, but that means if Nnamdi goes down, whoever steps in will be a downgrade anyway. That leaves the other side, with Chris Johnson and his new contract, Johnson have to maintain his success of 2008 and bring it to 2009 if the Raiders have any hope of being a top defense against the pass.