Thursday Oakland Coliseum plays host to two long-time rivals that are searching for the answer to the same question: how do you turn around a franchise that’s entrenched in losing?
The Oakland Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks were one-time division foes that faced each other 50 times during a 25-year stint in which both played in the AFC West.
The Raiders haven’t taken the field for a playoff game since 2002. In that time, the team’s gone through five coaches and 11 starting quarterbacks. Complicating things is the fact that picking atop the draft board in the annual rookie Draft hasn’t paid the kind of dividends one would hope for. The team’s former quarterback of the future, JaMarcus Russell, is out of the league. The team’s game-changing running back coming out of college, Darren McFadden, has failed to eclipse 500 rushing yards in his two seasons as a professional. The team’s newest offensive threat, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, inked nine catches in the record book during his rookie season in a Raider uniform.
Seattle hasn’t been much better in recent years. After claiming the NFC West Division Championship for four consecutive years, the Seahawks have fallen to the bottom of barrel. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, along with his offensive line, have seen their better days. Both have aged and become riddled with injuries. Hasselbeck alone missed 11 games over the past two seasons.
The 2010 season will showcase new names for both teams that could change the tide of recent performances.
Oakland traded with the Washington Redskins to bring in quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell, with his ability to make plays out of the pocket when necessary and his strong arm, provides the Raiders a quarterback that should meet owner Al Davis’ penchant for big plays.
On the other side of the ball, the Raiders spent their top pick in April’s Draft on a run-stuffing middle linebacker. At Alabama, Rolando McClain earned several honors including the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate linebacker. Behind the on-field direction of McClain in his final season in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide ranked fourth nationally in total defense and second in rush defense.
Seattle also drafted a defensive anchor in 2010. Former Texas safety Earl Thomas showcases a reported 4.45 40-yard dash time and hands that dismiss and gobble up passes, be them on target or errant, with ease.
Helping to solidify the other side of the line of scrimmage, the team spent its first draft choice in April on a left tackle that was tabbed the team’s starter from day one. Oklahoma State product Russell Okung was one of the nation’s top prospects along the offensive line in this year’s Draft. Known as a protector from early on in his life when he helped stabilize his family, Okung will be looked upon to keep quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s blind side stain free and to help open up holes for a running game that hasn’t featured a 1,000-yard rusher since 2005.
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