X Factors for the Oakland Raiders Improvement


The Oakland Raiders have made some obvious improvements this season, but there are some less obvious factors that will help key their improvement in 2016.

The Oakland Raiders are in the midst of their third week of organized team activities (OTAs), and a few things have stood out thus far. JBB’s own Austin Gayle breaks it down nicely in this article here.

With Jihad Ward showing positive signs, Gabe Jackson enjoying his seamless transition to the right side and young players like undrafted WR Joe Hansley making plays, it’s been an enjoyable start to OTAs, last week’s tussles aside.

The Raiders are a trendy pick to make vast improvements in 2016, and while there are lots of articles espousing the need for Carr to make the leap, for the defense to improve, for the secondary to shore up and make up for the loss of the great Charles Woodson, there are other factors that are key to success.


Derek Carr and Khalil Mack both took steps forward as players and leaders last season, and are the unquestioned alpha males in both meeting rooms. They are, however, both quite young, and while Carr seems like he’d be as comfortable evangelizing to a million viewers as he is in the pocket, Mack does not come by vocal leadership easily.

Not only did the Raiders add talent during their offseason bonanza, they also added quality people and leaders to their clubhouse, players with experience and success ready to take the team up a notch.

More from Just Blog Baby

Bruce Irvin and Sean Smith were both brought in to improve the Raiders’ pass defense, but they have both brought much more than on-field talent with them.

Irvin has been a vocal supporter of both the Raiders franchise, trying to lure in free agents after signing his contract and dubbing himself “Baby Reggie,” and his new teammates, but he isn’t shy about voicing his opinion or getting on someone when he feels it’s needed.

“They didn’t bring me here to be a follower,” said Irvin at OTA’s, per Silver & Black Pride’s Jim Vickers. “I’m a very outspoken guy. You guys will learn that about me. I’m coming to be a leader. I’m not stepping on any toes, but if I have something to say, I am going to say it.”

Teammates have loved Irvin so far, and though Khalil Mack is unquestionably the leader of the defense, he is still young and isn’t above some help. Irvin looks poised to provide it on the field and off.

Smith sees himself as a sort of big brother in the backfield, and relishes the opportunity to work with what he sees as a talented but young and sometimes unsure group of defensive backs.

“We have a very, very young team back there, especially in the secondary,” Smith said at OTAs, per ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez. “I guess my job is to come in here and make them better mentally, because they have all the talent and all the tools to make plays. Just have to get them up to par with me from a football IQ standpoint.”

More from Las Vegas Raiders News

Add in the energy and leadership of defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr., and the steady hard work and no-nonsense mentality of Del Rio and this team is building depth, character, and a sense of pride and accountability throughout the roster that helps foster success as much as physical talent.


Perhaps one of the least talked about aspects of the Raiders mystique is the cannon-legged punters they have found throughout the years to help them win the field position battle. Ray Guy and Shane Lechler are the most obvious, but Marquette King is quickly joining them in that club.

It is extremely important to have a punter who can turn the field on its head and even more important to have one athletic enough to get himself out of trouble and who practices his craft enough to cause problems for opposing returners due to spin and trajectory.

King talks frequently about his love of punting, the art, and his affinity for practicing coffin corners, a lost art in today’s NFL. It’s not like he just kicks it far – the man loves his craft and hones it constantly. The Raiders know this, and rewarded the former undrafted free agent with a five year, $16.5 million dollar deal in February.

King proved himself to be major weapon last year, and no game saw that more obvious than the victory over Denver. King’s soaring, end-over-end punts confused Emmanuel Sanders into a muff, and forced another misplay for miserable field position that helped announce the arrival of Mack on his epic safety just plays later.

It’s not just those special plays. He led the league in gross punting average in 2013, and last year he put 40 of 83 punts inside the 20 (48%) which was good for second in the league behind Johnny Hekker of the Rams. He’s one of the best punters in the NFL, and it looks like he’s about to get better.

As Eddie Paskal reported, during the Raiders’ fifth OTA open to the press, King made the entire team stop and take notice with a Dee Reynolds-esque bomb that traveled nearly 80 yards IN THE AIR and forced the return man to run backward into his own end zone.

With the additions of talent and leadership to a young and talented defense, King’s booming, accurate kicks will be a major factor in helping the Raiders win the field position battle and putting the defense in position to make big plays deep in enemy territory.

The Raiders will only go as far as Carr, Mack and the rest of their superstars take them, but having a few new voices in the locker room adding some swagger and leadership, and an underrated punter who can bail out the offense and consistently help out the defense when needed give the Raiders a couple of x factors that are often the unseen keys to improvement.