With any NFL team, the questions start with the quarterbacking — and that is emphasized with the Raiders, who haven’t had championship-caliber quarterbacking since Rich Gannon took them to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season.
This year, they have three quarterbacks and there are different questions about each of them.
In the offseason, they traded for Matt Schaub, who had some strong seasons with the Houston Texans and a disastrous one in 2013 with four straight games in which he threw interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
The Raiders gambled that he could return to his winning form, without last season tormenting him. He had some problems in early exhibition games but it always takes time for a new quarterback to assume control.
The second quarterback is Derek Carr, who may have been the steal of the draft with the Raiders’ second-round pick. The brother of NFL bust David Carr, he has a much stronger arm and the confidence that goes with it — as he showed in Thursday’s exhibition finale with an ailing Schaub out.
The third quarterback is fan favorite Matt McGloin, who took over late last season. McGloin is a gutty competitor, but he’s short, listed as 6 feet tall but probably shorter.
My opinion: Schaub will be the starter going in but it would not be a shocker if Carr takes over by midseason because he’s clearly the one the Raiders want to go forward with after this season. McGloin will remain as the third quarterback, one who could always be used in an emergency.
A team that has been down so long, with only two 8-8 seasons breaking up the monotony of losing seasons, obviously has a lot of questions. Chief among them: Can the rebuilt offensive line give the quarterback enough time and also block for the running game? Coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie both say publicly that they’re satisfied with what they’ve got, but we won’t really know until the regular season comes. The exhibition games are just scrimmages, with players who won’t even be on the regular season roster. The results are meaningless.
McKenzie has tried to strengthen the defense with his top draft picks of the last two years. Linebacker Khalil Mack should be a star in the NFL, with the big-play capability that McKenzie was seeking, and he’s looked good in practices. But cornerback DJ Hayden, last year’s first-round pick, has been slow to recover from a stress fracture in his foot and will miss at least the first six weeks, following a series of health problems that sidelined him last year. He remains a big question mark.
Most of his offseason acquisitions aided the defense, but McKenzie also brought in veteran running back Maurice Jones-Drew to alternate with Darren McFadden. Jones-Drew has been listed as the starter, but coach Dennis Allen said he expected both backs to get substantial playing time. McFadden is an exciting runner, but he’s been injury-prone throughout his career. Allen obviously hopes that fewer carries will also mean better health for McFadden.
The NFL did the Raiders no favor with their schedule, which is regarded as the toughest in the league, including a home game in London. So, even a .500 record would be big improvement, and would also save Allen’s job.