The 2012 NFL season is just weeks away, with all the teams poised to begin training camp shortly. In the coming month we're going to take the time to focus on each individual starter on the Oakland Raiders and discuss them in depth concerning what they mean to the team and how they should be expected to perform in the upcoming season. Today we'll start with the most important member of any team, the quarterback. The Raiders enjoy the finest quarterback they have had since the halcyon days of Rich Gannon, as Carson Palmer is under center for the Silver and Black this year.
Last Season: Then-coach Hue Jackson, in a swift and decisive reaction to what was ultimately a season-ending injury to Jason Campbell, acquired disgruntled Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer in a trade. The cost was steep: a first-round pick in 2012 and a second-round pick in 2013. Many fans felt the price was too high, as there were no other suitors for Palmer's services at the time. However, the next week against Kansas City fans were forced to sit through exactly one half game of the Kyle Boller Experience and that was enough for any of the Raider Faithful to stomach. After watching Boller mess the bed, it was clear the Raiders had made the right decision in acquiring Palmer no matter the cost. Palmer was forced to play the entire rest of the season without Darren McFadden, but statistically had an excellent second half of the year while nearly leading the Raiders to the playoffs.
Big Question: Can Carson Palmer cut down on his interceptions? While the Raiders defense clearly was a weakness last year, Palmer did turn the ball over 16 times, killing drives and causing the defense to be on the field more than they ought to have been. The Raiders have a lot of quality weapons this year, but all of them will be useless if Palmer throws the ball to the other team. This season, Palmer will have the luxury of a full training camp and will have the opportunity to develop timing with his receivers, who are the best corps of wideouts he has enjoyed since Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were in their respective primes.
Projection: Carson Palmer needs one thing and one thing only to be successful: time to throw the ball. The less time in the pocket he has to work with, the less accurate he becomes. The Raiders made their biggest free- agent splash with right guard Mike Brisiel, who is a terrific player who happens to play the least important offensive line spot. The linchpin of the line will be left guard Cooper Carlisle. He is a decidedly average player who will be filling the shoes of Stefen Wisniewski, who this year will play center, and Robert Gallery before that. We know that Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer will play at All-Pro levels, because they have shown the ability to do so. Carlisle has shown nothing but the necessity that Oakland one day replaces him with something better.
Provided the line stays as stout and dependable as it was last season, there is no reason to suspect Palmer will have less than an outstanding season. If you extrapolate his numbers from his half-season in 2011, he threw for over four thousand yards and twenty-six touchdowns. Those are big-boy QB numbers without a doubt. I expect his stats to ultimately resemble more those from his 2005 season when he led the Bengals to the playoffs, rather than from his 2010 season in Cincinnati where he was unhappy with management and had a down year. I anticipate 4,000 yards passing, 28 TDs, and for Palmer to be once again mentioned in the upper echelon of AFC quarterbacks.