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Though Tom Cable has been coaching the Raiders since about a month into the 2008 season, in the offseason he officially removed the “interim” tag from his title. Additionally, there was enough turnover on Cable’s support staff that the Oakland situation at least warranted a look-see.
Al Davis reportedly flirted with Kevin Gilbride and Winston Moss before opting to stick with Cable, who closed his 4-8 campaign with a pair of wins. “He took over a team last year in the middle of the season, and I thought he did well,” Davis said during the press conference to announce Cable’s hiring. “There were peaks and there were valleys there. There were things that came up from time to time, but he’s young. He loves it. He loves football, and I admire the passion for it where I’m not so sure all the other [former Raider coaches] had that passion.”
Davis also cited Cable’s loyalty to the franchise as well as his leadership and play-calling. And Cable reiterated that the Raiders were his team growing up and that this is his dream job.
But enough with the warm and fuzzy; what, if any, chance does Cable have of turning this franchise around?
Truth be told, until Al steps back from football operations there’s only so much Cable will be able to do. And Davis doesn’t look as if he’s going anywhere, at least of his own volition. But Oakland’s 84-point outburst over the final three games of the season—more than the team scored during Lane Kiffin’s four games before his firing and more than Oakland tallied in its first seven outings under Cable—demonstrates that the Raiders do have some offensive firepower at their disposal.
Cable called the plays last year and will handle the same duties in 2009, though new passing game coordinator Ted Tollner and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett will have input. And those hires, as well as the addition of Jim Michalczik to replace Cable as the offensive line coach, bode well for the development of Oakland’s young talent.
There’s no question JaMarcus Russell has the physical tools to be an NFL quarterback, but in Oakland the concern was whether or not he was being “coached up.” Russell certainly didn’t help himself with a holdout to begin his rookie season, but he should be caught up by now. It’s no coincidence that the Raiders’ late scoring surge matched Russell’s strong finish; three of his four multiple-touchdown games and two of his three best passing-yardage performances came in the final three weeks of the season.
The addition of Hackett, a former college head coach and NFL coordinator, is a solid one. However, Hackett’s most recent work has been done with the likes of Chris Simms in Tampa and Chad Pennington in New York. Russell has a much bigger arm than either of those quarterbacks, and it would be a mistake to turn Russell into a dink-and-dunker. Plus, there’s no way Al Davis would allow it to happen. But just having a guiding hand to steady Russell and point him in the right direction is a positive.
Tollner will also be tasked with Russell’s development, and like Hackett his recent resume lacks a real go-to guy whose development would inspire confidence. Still, Tollner worked with Jeff Garcia in San Francisco and Joey Harrington in Detroit, improving the numbers of each. While the vertical pass is still the staple of the Oakland offense, at least in Al Davis’ mind, you can expect both Hackett and Tollner to work on increasing Russell’s completion percentage by encouraging throws to the tight end; thus, Zach Miller—who caught more balls than any two teammates combined last year—is slated for another solid PPR season.
As for how much either Tollner or Hackett will contribute to the play-calling, one would think that this is still Cable’s show to run—with the occasional owner’s box call for a long pass. And Cable has demonstrated success with the Raiders’ zone blocking run game and stable of talented backs—though it’s worth noting that in Oakland’s three-game point orgy at the end of the season it was Michael Bush who posted a 177-yard game and Justin Fargas (and not Darren McFadden) who received the majority of the carries in the other two outings.
The arrival of Michalczik means Cable won’t be spread too thin and the development of the offensive line won’t be ignored. And with Cable left to focus on running the show (emphasis on “running”) it’s unlikely an offense that ran the ball 38 times more than it threw—despite being roughly doubled-up in the points department—will change its spots.