- Matt Williamson, ESPN.com
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A weekly look at a player whose performance must improve in 2011.
In some ways, I have been a Jason Campbell apologist. Going through that many coaches and system changes will stunt just about any young quarterback's development. He certainly wasn't bad for Oakland last season. His impressive physical tools suit the way Al Davis wants his team to play on offense: run the ball and take deep shots downfield. I think Hue Jackson is a fine mentor and the right person to develop Campbell into a solid starting quarterback.
But I still have a lot of doubts about how well this will all work out next season for Campbell and the Raiders. I see Campbell as a quarterback who needs too many things to go to script and needs too many supporting pieces in place to ever truly succeed at this level. Quarterbacks need to make those around them better, not the other way around, and so far I haven't seen that ability in Campbell. He has never thrown for more than 20 touchdowns in a season. He had only two big statistical games last year and they came against Seattle and Jacksonville, teams with very poor secondaries.
Campbell just doesn't play fast enough from a physical or mental standpoint. He is slow to get out of the way of the rush, slow to decipher defenses and he doesn't throw on time consistently. In fact, I believe he needs great pass protection, a very strong run game and an exceptional stable of pass-catchers. Of course we haven't yet gotten to the draft or free agency, but as things stand today, I see the Raiders with only one of those three components.
The run game is there -- no question about it. Even against stacked boxes, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush could consistently gain yardage on the ground and keep Oakland in manageable down-and-distance situations while also wearing down opponents. I don't expect that to change in 2011. But Bush might leave town as a free agent. Still, this run game could set up Campbell to move the chains consistently while also taking some shots deep off play-action.
I love what Zach Miller brings to the table as a receiver, and McFadden has a lot of pass-catching ability that might even improve going forward. But Miller is a free agent-to-be, and the Raiders are going to have a tough time keeping their own. Losing the reliable Miller would be a huge blow to this passing game. Miller is far and away the Raiders' best receiver. Jacoby Ford is another intriguing playmaker who can get deep with his amazing speed. But I see Ford as a complementary piece and not a featured wideout. In fact, I don't see a featured wide receiver on Oakland's present roster. That's a concern for Campbell.
But pass protection is even more worrisome. The Raiders are among the worst in the league at protection. Only five teams allowed more than Oakland's 44 sacks in 2010. And only seven offenses attempted fewer passes. That isn't a good ratio. Jared Veldheer could take a big step forward in his second season -- he'd better -- but I don't see a lot to get excited about with the other offensive linemen. The line is littered with sub-par players. Robert Gallery probably will not be a Raider next season. Langston Walker, Samson Satele, Khalif Barnes and Daniel Loper are also up for free agency. Some changes up front might not be a bad idea, but those are quite a few bodies to potentially lose. The Raiders don't have a first-round pick and could be in tight financial restraints when pursuing other teams' free agents.
All of this could put a lot of stress on Campbell, which should worry Oakland fans. Can the Raiders win with a strong running game and a potentially excellent defense? Maybe. Can Jackson take Campbell's game up another level or two? Maybe. I have my doubts.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
5hEric D. Williams
1dSharon Katz & Hank Gargiulo