The Oakland Raiders have been on the outside looking in at the NFL Playoffs dance for 12 seasons running, but the pieces are in place for a major Raider Nation come-up in 2015. Here are three things to watch for during training camp and could determine their success this season:
1) Can the secondary step up?
The fate of the Raiders' defense lies in the evolution of three key, young defensive backs -- DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill. The brightest spotlight will be saved for Hayden, who new defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. is banking on to be the unit's far-and-away #1 corner. The front seven should be in good-to-great shape in year two of Khalil Mack's path of destruction, but it's the defensive backfield that will make or break the close games for Oakland this year.
2) How improved is the running game?
We're not worried about Derek Carr in year two, nor do we have reservations about 2015 first-rounder Amari Cooper on the outside. We are, however, interested to see just how Oakland's overhauled running game will spell a passing attack that was stretched beyond its limits last year. Latavius Murray has all the tools to be a true feature back, Roy Helu Jr. is a hell of a change-of-pace option, and Trent Richardson? He's still young and not far removed from running roughshod over the SEC at Alabama. If the Raiders' running game can even climb its way to the middle of the NFL pack, the offense becomes that much more dangerous as a whole.
3) Derek Carr's progression
Carr’s rookie season is on the very shortlist for all-time best campaigns for a first-year quarterback, and that was with a extremely inconsistent rushing attack forcing him to chuck it and hope more often than not. With a rebuilt backfield and a revitalized receiving corps that now features Amari Cooper, it’s blue skies ahead for the most talented Raiders quarterback since Rich Gannon.