“We’re going to build a bully here,” boasted former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson at his introductory press conference. And a bully he delivered. The 2011 Raiders led the league in penalties by a whopping 219 yards, with the type of brutal physicality that results in topping the NFL in personal fouls. However, leading the league in illegal contact, offsides and running into the kicker are consequences of this sort of ferocious play. Building a bully, unfortunately, came packaged with a bully’s brain.
They were a flawed unit, but the 2011 Raiders at least had a clear identity. They were violent, they were provocative, and they didn’t care. This aggressive attitude produced an exciting 7-4 start before a catastrophic collapse resulted in missing the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
The 2012/2013 teams have been insipid on their way to 4-12 records, particularly the 2012 team. There are amnesiacs who know more about themselves than the 2012 team knew about their own identity. The question for the 2014 Raiders – in fact, for Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie – is how will the 2014 Raiders team identify themselves? Training camp will provide a hint, but the answer, it seems, is as the Revenge of the Rejects. Every team has players with something to prove, but not quite on the scale of the Raiders.
“We have a lot of guys with chips on their shoulders, a lot of guys coming from teams that didn’t want them, didn’t want to pay them a certain amount of money, didn’t think they were worth it, didn’t think they had enough gas left in the tank,” wide receiver James Jones said in April.
It’s like wanting to get back at an ex-lover, to show them what they’re missing out on. From Super Bowl-winner Justin Tuck repeatedly stating his confusion and bewilderment by the Giants’ weak offer to re-sign him, to Darren McFadden proving his body isn’t made of cheap condoms past their use-by date, to DJ Hayden crushing the bust-sayers.
LaMarr Woodley, Maurice Jones-Drew, David Ausberry, Juron Criner and even Khalil Mack – whose high draft position brings lofty expectations – all have something to prove. But nobody on this roster is so hell-bent on making a statement to his former team than quarterback Matt Schaub, who needs to show 2013 was an outlier, not an indication of his decline.
“You hear these reports about how this is a great team for 2009,” Jones-Drew scoffed, during offseason workouts. “Whatever. Everyone here has something to prove and they’re going to work and we all know we have something left.’’
This “something to prove” label trickles down from general manager through to head coach through to the players. Allen and McKenzie need to prove that they can build a team capable of a winning record. This may be their last season to do so.
We don’t yet know what the 2014 Raiders’ identity will be. This is an old school Raiders roster made of veteran castoffs and grudge-bearing rejects. But if they can channel that frustration, that anger, and that desire to prove doubters wrong into motivation, this team has the potential to claw its way to a winning record.