We initially didn’t plan to put the No. 30 team at No. 30.
But then the team that has landed at No. 30 proved why it continues to reside in the NFL’s nether regions.
The Oakland Raiders.
Recent reports of head coach Tom Cable cold-cocking defensive assistant Randy Hanson clinched it for us. Despite any strides the team has made, jettisoning personnel mistakes of 2008 and locking up cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for the next few years and building a potentially stellar three-headed tailback attack, the Raiders are still the Raiders.
Another discouraging development, apart from the training-camp smack-down, is the fact that newly-arrived quarterback Jeff Garcia has been injured (he started practicing on August 17) and thus unable either to push quarterback JaMarcus Russell or unseat him.
Between Russell and Bruce Gradkowski, five interceptions were thrown during a joint practice with the 49ers.
Concerns remain that the Raiders reached considerably for rookie receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. Meanwhile, veteran wideout Javon Walker has essentially fallen off the face of the earth.
So while we want to think the Raiders will be much more competitive than they’ve been in the recent past, this once-proud franchise seems to be on track to continue to deliver frustration and embarrassment.
And here’s the part where we list stuff.
Key player: Russell. In his third NFL season, he must become a true leader, and he must commit himself to maximizing his talents. If he can’t or won’t, the Raiders will have a hard time avoiding the basement of the AFC West.
Rookie to watch: DHB. He already has climbed to the top of the depth chart. Owner Al Davis needs him to be another Cliff Branch. Most expect him to be another Troy Williamson.
Best veteran acquisition:
Garcia. Defensive end Greg Ellis. The aging former first-rounder made it much easier to trade Derrick Burgess, and Ellis adds to the defense a guy who is (sort of) used to winning into a defense without many guys who know how it feels to pin pelts to the wall.
Key game: Week Three, vs. Denver. Assuming a Week One loss to the Chargers and guessing that they’ll fall Week Two at Kansas City, beating the Broncos at home will be crucial to getting things on the right track before a stretch of five straight pre-bye games that could easily be lost.