NFL camp preview: Expectations low for budget-conscious Raiders

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NAPA, Calif. -- There is no confusing this Oakland Raiders roster with those financially-burdened squads full of overpaid, aging stars that long-time owner Al Davis assembled.
When the Raiders report to their Marriott training camp Thursday, then have their first full-squad workout Friday, the roster includes the results only of some bargain-basement shopping by general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen.
It certainly was a financial decision to trade veteran starting quarterback Carson Palmer to the Arizona Cardinals despite the fact he managed to throw for more than 4,000 yards, 22 touchdowns and only 14 interceptions on an otherwise impotent offense last year. Palmer, who had that ability to pass deep that intrigued Davis for so long, is replaced, for now, by Matt Flynn, who was unable to win the job from Russell Wilson last year in Seattle.
Not coincidentally, expectations are at an all-time low as the Raiders embark on the 2013 season, courtesy of a 2012 season that had a 4-12 record following back-to-back seasons of .500 at 8-8.
Any optimism that the Raiders could climb to .500 and beyond is solely within the building and among players on the roster who have voiced the opinion that Allen's approach of being direct and holding players accountable will yield results.
Job 1 during camp will be implementing a new offensive system that will ostensibly put the Raiders in the end zone with more frequency after finishing 26th in scoring offense last season at 18.1 points per game.
Under the direction of offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who replaces one-and-done Greg Knapp, Oakland will return to the kind of power and gap blocking in the running game that was successful under Hue Jackson in 2010 and 2011, with an emphasis in getting running back Darren McFadden back into top form.
Overseeing the blocking change is new line coach Tony Sparano, who will sort out that unit and determine who starts along with left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski.
In offseason camps, the passing game with Flynn was inconsistent at best. Part of that was because Olson eschewed seven-on-seven workouts in favor of dealing with the kind of pressure that will come from opposing defenses in 2013.
But it's also true that Flynn occasionally missed open receivers, and the Raiders have decided to rely on a very green crew of wide receivers, none of whom have a proven track record.
Flynn was rated by former quarterback and ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski as the worst starting quarterback in the league, No. 32. Unless Flynn begins to impress somebody, he may be pressed by athletic Terrelle Pryor, who is among several untested quarterbacks in camp.
Defensively, the Raiders are in the second year of a system installed by Allen and coordinator Jason Tarver, but will have an almost entirely new cast. It's conceivable the only two returning starters will be strong safety Tyvon Branch and defensive end Lamarr Houston, two players expected to be cornerstones of the unit.
The secondary seems to have been upgraded with the signings of Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter as well as the return of Charles Woodson, who will play free safety alongside Branch.
Finally, except for kicker Sebastian Janikowski, special teams will be a complete do-over and necessarily so after the one-year run of coordinator Steve Hoffman. In his place is Bobby April, whose job it will be to coax something out of the coverage and return units.
The loss of punter Shane Lechler hits the team even beyond those booming punts that pushed him above even the great Ray Guy in the Raiders' record books. He was a great holder for Janikowski, who gave Lechler much of the credit for his hitting 31 of 34 field-goal attempts last year.
Lechler's replacement, at least at punter, is Chris Kluwe, whose impressive work as a punter in Minnesota may have been overshadowed by his controversial and active participation in social comment and media, which he says he has no intention of cutting back.
After all, even with all the changes, these are still the Raiders and they are in California.

--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.

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