Marcio Jose Sanchez/APRaiders rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden will miss the rest of the season.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/APRaiders rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden will miss the rest of the season.

Raiders have made changes, but will they be better in 2013?

They fashioned it a “new era.” And in part, it was.

Decades of one man's rule yielded to football modernity, and boastful coach Hue Jackson — whose most profound legacy was pioneering the most penalized team in NFL history — was ousted in favor of a reserved disciplinarian.

But “new” as they were, last season's additions of coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie continued still the tired tradition already a decade in the making — losing.

The Raiders, behind the pair of then rookies Allen and McKenzie, limped and labored their way to four wins last year, extending the franchise's nonwinning-season streak to 10.

And in entering 2013 with a rookie-riddled roster, a regularly wounded running back, critical questions at quarterback and an unfamiliar offensive scheme, it is in the opinion of many that the Raiders are headed for yet another losing season in their rebuilding project.

But Allen cares for none of that.

“I don't pay any attention to it,” Allen said. “These guys aren't going to listen to anything anyone on the outside world has to say. We're worried about the guys in the locker room, the coaches on the staff and we've got a mindset that we're coming out here to compete.”

And what a different locker room it is.

Of the 53 names that inhabited last year's roster, only 23 are returning. The coaching staff is a bit different, too. Oakland replaced offensive coordinator Greg Knapp with Greg Olson and named former Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano as the assistant head coach and offensive line coach.

Despite ranking eighth in passing offense last season, the Raiders were otherwise dismal — they ranked 28th in rushing with 1,420 yards and were almost as bad on third-down conversions, ranking 26th at 35 percent.

“I think both Tony and Greg — just from a mindset of the type of team we want to be — I think both of those guys were great additions to our staff,” Allen said. “I think both of them are going to help us be a better running football team.”

But being better in the run game may not fall upon said coaches. Since his breakout season in 2010 when he rushed for 1,157 yards and added 507 receiving yards, Raiders running back Darren McFadden has been wrought with injury. McFadden, who will be a free agent at the end of the year, played in just seven games in 2011 and 12 games last year while rushing for 707 yards on 216 attempts.

Yet McFadden isn't the only one who's grown familiar with the sideline. Cornerback D.J. Hayden and offensive tackle Menelik Watson, Oakland's first- and second-round draft picks, both had limited time on the practice field during camp, Hayden because of the effects of a near-fatal practice collision in college and Watson because of a calf injury.

Although Hayden's impact in the secondary is uncertain, Oakland's reunion with veteran safety Charles Woodson and signings of cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter will help stabilize a defense that ranked 20th against the pass.

But in the end it may be the Raiders' passing game, and not their opponents', that may decide if this year truly is the rebirth of Raider Nation.

Matt Flynn is the most experienced quarterback on the Raiders' roster, but Terrelle Pryor will begin the year as the starter after Flynn struggled this preseason.


A McFadden resurgence

The Raiders finished a disappointing 28th in the NFL in rushing last year, averaging just 88.8 yards per game. Running back Darren McFadden was hurt once again, missing four games, and ineffective when he did play, averaging a career worst 3.3 yards per carry. If the Raiders have any chance of winning this year, they need McFadden to perform at his best. If not, Run DMC could soon be Done DMC in Oakland.

Defensive identity

Coach Dennis Allen was brought in with a defensive background, but his first season at the helm did little to reflect that. Oakland once again was among the worst defenses in the league, giving up 27.7 points per game and allowing more than 118 yards rushing per game. With a slew of new players in the mix, the Raiders need to find a way shore things up, otherwise the offense will consistently be trying to play catch-up.

Offensive consistency

The quarterback is gone. The leading pass catcher is gone. The offensive coordinator is gone. But will the offense be any better? That's one of the big questions for a team that has been searching for a franchise QB for seemingly forever. The Raiders were able to find success at times passing the ball last season, but still struggled mightily to put points on the board. It is time for question marks on offense to turn into exclamation points.


Menelik Watson

With offensive lineman Jared Veldheer sidelined with a torn triceps, the second-round pick out of Florida State will likely be asked to contribute immediately at offensive tackle. Watson is raw, having only played 19 college games and battling a calf injury most of the preseason, but he will have to adjust quickly to the speed and schemes of the NFL.

D.J. Hayden

The Raiders opened plenty of eyes with the selection of the rookie cornerback out of Houston at No. 7 overall in April's draft. Hayden is talented but the near-fatal heart injury he suffered in college was, and still is, a major concern. The Raiders are depending on a healthy and productive year from Hayden.

Lamarr Houston

One of just two returning starters on the Oakland defense, the defensive end is coming off a year in which he notched a career-high 69 tackles, including four sacks. Houston has made strides in each of his three seasons. He entered camp in fantastic shape and after battling through an injury early, he is poised to make an even bigger impact in 2013.

Denarius Moore

The Raiders need the receiver to develop into a consistent option for quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Moore has shown glimpses of brilliance — he scored seven touchdowns in 2012 — but has also disappeared at times. He clearly has the big-play ability that can make opposing defensive coordinators lose sleep, but he has to take the next step in his third year in the league. Otherwise, he could end up losing time to young up-and-comers.

Charles Woodson

With the Raiders' defense in the midst of wholesale changes, the reunion with the veteran defensive back could pay huge dividends. The 36-year-old Woodson still has the ability to make a difference at safety in pass coverage and in run defense if he can stay healthy. Woodson should be motivated after not receiving too much interest from teams in the offseason and his leadership qualities could prove to be invaluable.

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