Oakland Raiders: Five Burning 2015 Questions

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Apr 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Rams fan Tyler Funneman (left) and Oakland Raiders fans Anna Cornwell (middle) and Jesse Cornwell cheer at DraftTown in Grant Park before the 2015 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2015 season approaching in just over two months (it is closer than you think), we have presented five burning questions that will impact the Oakland Raiders this season and in the future to preview the upcoming season in the Bay Area.

1. Why Should Fans Get Our Hopes up About this 2015 Team?

Raider fans are a hopeful bunch. Every year, we tell ourselves that this is our year, this is the different year, we’re gonna break through this year, and, aside from some exciting but mediocre 8-8 years in 2010 and 2011, we end up losing 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 games and just generally being miserable.

So why get our hopes up for 2015? The team went 3-13 and fired the coach after four games, then let interim man Tony Sparano walk after he posted a 3-9 mark. Much to the chagrin of fans, Reggie McKenzie didn’t go after the big-ticket, coveted free agent names like Ndamukung Suh. Much to the chagrin of a certain blogger, he didn’t draft sure-fire defensive line stud Leonard Williams, and instead took can’t-miss wideout prospect Amari Cooper then used a second-round pick to add a defensive lineman out of Florida State with some big question marks. Why should we expect to do better in 2015?

Well for one, primarily because Reggie McKenzie has built this team doing the exact things that fans have hated him for since he arrived. For decades, Al Davis ran the team by simply signing big names and throwing money at big talents. And while that worked for a couple of years (think of the 2000-2002 teams), that style of team-building is to blame for running the franchise completely into the ground due to dead money, large amounts of cap space spent on underperforming and older veterans, and massive commitments to players who were never really that good.

McKenzie learned how to build a team the Green Bay Packers way, which ironically is the Ron Wolf way, which is influenced by the old Al Davis way of doing things. McKenzie’s emphasis is to build through the draft, while using free agency to fill positions of immediate need. That said, McKenzie will spend on a free agent from time to time: like this year when he added center Rodney Hudson, a younger player who could be a potential cornerstone on the offensive line for years to come.

McKenzie’s vision might just finally be realized for the 2015 season. He now has a young potential franchise passer, a defensive cornerstone, a roster full of players he drafted and believes in as well as quality role-playing veterans he acquired relatively cheaply in free agency. And he also has a veteran coaching staff to put them in the right positions to succeed.

Since the Jon Gruden trade after the 2001 season, the Raiders organization has been a merry-go-round of coaching experiments, some more successful than others. Since 2002, the Raiders have gone through eight different head coaches, including Tony Sparano’s 12-game run as the interim man. New head coach Jack Del Rio is now the NINTH head coach in fourteen years. Of the past eight, only two have ever been NFL coaches for any other organization (Norv Turner and Tony Sparano). Only one was a head coach AFTER leaving Oakland (Turner). Lane Kiffin was hired as the Raiders head coach after being a successful college offensive coordinator and had never coached in the NFL at any level. Kiffin, along with Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen and Bill Callahan, had never been head coaches at any level of football prior to becoming Raiders head coaches.

Jack Del Rio is a whole different brand of head coach. Del Rio is a veteran NFL coach, having started his coaching career in 1997 after the end of his successful playing career. He was an assistant for the Super Bowl Champion 2000 Ravens team. He was head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars for nine years, where he led the team to two playoff appearances and three winning seasons, logging a 68-71 overall record as a head coach. He most recently was the defensive coordinator in Denver, which has had very solid defenses over the past few seasons.

Del Rio brings with him quality NFL coaching experience, including a long up and down stint as a head man in Jacksonville to learn from. He also brings  with him a roster of incredibly experienced assistants, including offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who worked with him in Jacksonville to build one of the NFL’s most impressive rushing offenses and was recently a quarterbacks coach for Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Jack Del Rio’s NFL coaching staff is one of the most experienced and impressive in the entire league, and a far cry from previous Raider coaching staffs that were really just collections of inexperienced assistants and veteran Al Davis yes-men.

The Raiders coming into 2015 resemble a competently staffed, competently-run NFL franchise for the first time in well over a decade. There is a quality, experienced head coach and a very competent coaching staff, a roster of players who are legitimate NFL starters at most key positions, an actual quarterback, and a GM who made it all happen and an owner who mostly stays out of football operations. There’s legitimate reason to look forward to 2015 as a breakout year for your Oakland Raiders.