ALAMEDA -- After seeing the inconsistencies, witnessing numerous hearings in the courts of public opinion and debating the capabilities of the Raiders offense, we have a judge who can render a verdict.
If Greg Olson pays no other immediate dividends as Oakland's offensive coordinator, he will reveal the truth about one of the NFL's truly perplexing units.
Is it talented and teeming with potential, as it was in 2011?
Or is it barren and irreparable, as it seemed in 2012?
Few NFL narratives changed faster in 2012 than that of Oakland's offense. One season after it ranked ninth in total offense (15th in scoring) under coach Hue Jackson, it fell to 18th (and 26th) under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
Suddenly, the perception spread that the Raiders didn't have enough good players to form a decent offense.
How could that be true when the line underwent only subtle changes and added one new starter, guard Mike Brisiel, acquired because he had a solid grasp of the zone-blocking schemes preferred by Knapp?
Moreover, the skill-position cast was much the same as a year earlier. The quarterback was Carson Palmer, the lead running back was Darren McFadden and the primary receivers were Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey and tight end Brandon Myers.
As I prepared to question Olson about this discrepancy, he anticipated my question.
"So you want to know what happened?" he asked.
No. We know what
"To sit and blame it all on the previous coordinator is naive," Olson said, referring to Knapp, fired last month. "Players change, year in and year out. There are changes in philosophy and scheme. Injuries become a factor. The schedule becomes a factor.
"But whoever the quarterback is going to be, let's make sure he's comfortable. And after that, let's talk about McFadden because he's probably our most explosive player. Let's get back to doing what he does best."
Insofar as McFadden's acute regression in 2011 was an obvious case of a runner ill-suited to a new scheme, Olson's solution is logical. Put him back in his comfort zone. Construct schemes to suit talent, rather than requesting talent to adjust to the schemes.
What may be trickier, though, is reviving the passing game, for Palmer, in some ways, regressed nearly as much as McFadden. The quarterback was less accurate and surely less reliable, throwing more careless passes, many of which were intercepted.
And his receivers, well, they also were less effective than they'd been a year earlier.
While conceding the Raiders don't have an established No. 1 receiver, Olson cites an example of why that should not be an excuse: the New Orleans Saints.
"I look at a guy like Drew Brees," Olson said of the quarterback he coached at Purdue. "I don't think in New Orleans that there is a true standout (receiver), so he does it by spreading the ball around. We'll have to find a way to spread the ball around, share those touches.
"Everyone would love to have a Calvin Johnson, but most teams don't."
No doubt the Saints have more offensive talent than the Raiders. Brees is elite, a Super Bowl winner. Jimmy Graham is a top-5 tight end. Darren Sproles is as good a wild card playmaker as there is. The wideouts are very good, but Olson is correct about the absence of a true No. 1.
The key question here is whether Palmer, age 33, will play his best football in Oakland.
Olson clearly comes to town with his eyes wide and his mind open. He has studied video from each of the past three seasons, seen enough to believe 2011 was more reflective of the true potential of his roster than the disastrous 2012 season.
There is, however, an additional twist that seems to stir the scientist within Olson. He longs to see what kind of tricks he would resort to with Terrelle Pryor at quarterback.
The coordinator implies Pryor, an unused rookie in 2011, should be able to compete to be the starter while suggesting he more likely will be utilized in specific packages.
"There has to be competition at every position; I don't ever think you hand anyone a position from season to season or year to year," he said when asked if Pryor would be given a chance to start.
"We know what kind of an athlete he is. We need to find out what kind of decision-maker he is. And we need to find out (if he is) a guy that can also sit in the pocket and deliver the ball from point A to point B accurately and on time."
Those who look at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and visualize Pryor making a similar ascent should stop. Kaepernick's passing skills at Nevada far exceeded those of Pryor at Ohio State. Pryor would need to make a quantum leap to be mentioned in the same conversation.
Yet Olson sees Pryor as one of many tools for his tinkering.
And Olson should know a tool when he sees one. He has worked with running backs Steven Jackson and LeGarrette Blount, as well as quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, Marc Bulger, Josh Freeman and the young Brees. Olson in 2010 arranged for Brees to spend a couple weeks tutoring Freeman.
Olson doesn't need to work a miracle in Oakland. We saw enough in 2011 to realize the possibilities. He gets to be the swing vote, deciding whether the offense is the productive unit it was in 2011 or the joke it was last season.