Overview Of Our Raiders...

Angry Pope

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Mike Carlson


This week C2C travels into another dimension, where strange humanoid creatures show zombie-like devotion to an inter-galactic warlord with glasses on a silver chain. It was odd that they left the ‘silver’ out of the title of the movie ‘Men In Black’, because I was sure most of those creatures Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith encountered were Raiders’ season-ticket holders, only not in costume. Yes, we’re heading to Oakland, and if Gertrude Stein said of the city, ‘there’s no there there,’ well, she never met Al Davis.

After experiments with Chucky’s west-coast style game, and Norv’s modified Zampese attack, Al has returned to Raider roots. Recognising over a decade too late that he probably never should have fired Art Shell in the first place, he brought back the former Raider great as head coach. In as offensive coordinator comes long-time Davis crony Tom Walsh, who goes back to those Sid Gillman-LA Charger days in the early AFL, and who signifies the return of vertical football to Oakland. Davis’ version of what was the original west coast offense has always been less concerned with timing patterns and more with getting deep. This should be OK with Shell, whose Raider teams featured Tim Brown and James Jett on the flanks. Of course this year’s version will feature one R. Moss, and getting him the ball will be Aaron Brooks.

Seemingly born to wear the modern version of silver and black, the one where you get all of the attitude and none of the results, Brooks might be best remembered from his antics last season as he clowned for the cameras as New Orleans lost on national television. There’s no question he possesses the attributes of a top-flight NFL QB: good arm, quick feet, and the ability to make things happen. But he’s never shown the ability to make good decisions consistently. Of course a Raider good decision is drop back and throw to Randy. You could think of Brooks as a more mobile version of Kerry Collins, who had some success with Oakland when they protected him, or a somewhat softer version of Daunte Culpepper. Either way, he could make things happen, or he could provide opponents with enough gifts to make their Sundays.

Backup Marques Tuiasosopo seems to have proven he’s not an NFL starter, so presumably last year’s draft pick Andrew Walter, born to play vertical football, will be groomed as Brooks’ eventual replacement. If he’s not ready, the Raiders will pay the price for passing on Matt Leinart in the draft. They signed Kent Smith from Eastern Michigan to bring to camp, and he’s a good guy to bring along as a project: big with a strong arm but slow and very raw.

Any quarterback would love to throw to Oakland’s receivers, although route-running discipline is not one of their strong points. Jerry Porter, whose brief foray into politics left him wishing he had Jerramy Stevens to criticise instead of George W Bush, has a size/speed combo that would make anyone other than Moss or TO jealous, while Doug Gabriel is a good sized athlete and Ronald Curry fits the mould. Both Moss and Curry are coming off injury-riddled seasons, and as we know, Moss plays only when he wants to play. Whether Shell’s kick-ass appeal to silver and black glory will have any effect on generation X remains to be seen. I really like Carlos Francis, both as a slot receiver and kick returner. If he doesn’t fit the Raiders’ plans I can think of half a dozen teams he might help, starting with Jacksonville. Interestingly, the Raiders used the last pick in the draft to make Kevin McMahan of Maine Mr. Irrelevant: McMahan is a 6-2 196 receiver who’s run a 4.35 40. You’d think he’d be worth a flyer for most teams, but he’ll run into a logjam here.

Plus, Oakland went out and signed three more wideouts with potential: Jason Boyd of UTEP is the son of CFL Hall of Famer Jeff Boyd, and goes 6-3, 205 with a 4.47 time and attitude problems. Born to be a Raider? Jacob Brown is the son of former NFLer Monty, and was Smith’s favourite receiver at Eastern Michigan, but as a 6-2, 215 tight end. Perhaps they’ll try to build him up into an H-back, which is what they’ve been doing with James Adkisson, a former NFL Europe bench player with size and speed: though I doubt he’s got the lower-body foundation to carry tight end weight. Finally, they signed John Madsen, who at 6-4 ½, 225, brings basketball skills for conversion to TE/H-back; maybe they‘re trying for a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates of their own.

If they are, that isn’t really the way to do it. The point is to find one in-line tight end with downfield receiving skills. The Raiders’ Courtney Anderson and Randall Williams are primarily blockers, and they signed Marcellus Rivers who’s another H-back type. This is typical of the Raiders’ philosophy, which always seems to be getting stuck between things.

To play vertical football you do need a running game, and although much was made of Lamont Jordan’s 1,000 yard season, Oakland ranked 29th in the league in rushing.
Backup Justin Fargas is better known as Huggy Bear’s son, but is an injury waiting to occur. They signed Rashard Lee and Walter Williams from the Packers and Rod Smart from the Panthers; rumours that Smart will wear ‘He Hate Al’ on the back of jersey are definitely untrue. Though Smart could help on special teams none is likely to ignite a ground game. Undrafted rookie JR Lemon from Stanford is a guy they didn’t have to travel far to see, and spent most of his senior year injured. He could be an effective back, especially in a one-cut system, but he’s doesn’t show any special elements to his game.

Of course a big part of their run problems were traceable to the offensive line, and if you can’t pass-block you can’t throw downfield. This is probably the year Robert Gallery finally beats out ex-Claymore Barry Sims at left tackle; Sims could shift inside to guard, as injuries have really hurt his mobility. They say Jake Grove will stay at center this year, which is where he is much more effective, which leaves utility man Brad Badger and Langston Walker to fill the other two spots. They drafted for offensive line help, though it’s hard to see Paul McQuistan or Kevin Boothe being ready to play this year. McQuistan may remind them of Sims, and might be tried at right tackle; Boothe looks to be a guard in the NFL. Chris Morris of Michigan is an over-achieving center who might well be an emergency measure that forces Grove back to guard. They also signed a massive under-achiever in Jabari Levey of South Carolina, who’s got the physical attributes at 6-5, 315 but plays lazy and soft. If Shell and line coaches Jackie Slater and Irv Eatman don’t have every possible style of play and attitude adjustment fully covered, then no one does. But I suspect this line is a year away from getting a solid run game down.

Defensively, the Raiders are tweener heaven. The team can’t decide on a base defense: Rob Ryan tried to make them a 3-4 team: which failed because Warren Sapp wasn’t a 3-4 end and Tyler Brayton isn’t a linebacker. They tried 4-3, and though they got an NFL-leading 16 sacks from Derrick Burgess, they didn’t have three linebackers who could play, so they wound up in 4-2-5 which, if you play two pass-rush ends, leaves you vulnerable against the run unless your tackles can clog the middle and linebackers can both fill the holes and move side to side. The rover back is key, and with Renaldo Hill and Charles Woodson both gone, they drafted Michael Huff to play the ‘5’ rover position. To a certain extent, in a division with Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, this formation makes sense, and Ryan, who’s more a Bill Belichick than Buddy Ryan type guy, will vary looks. Since Huff is the key to the defense, he was probably a pick you can justify passing on Leinart for, especially once you’ve signed another quarterback, even if that is Aaron Brooks. Huff certainly can play.

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Huff can also line up at corner or safety in more conventional fronts, and gives them loads of flexibility, which is something they need because their personnel seems caught between stools. They used Tommy Kelly, whom I’d popped as an undrafted rookie a couple of years ago, as a defensive tackle, but if he and Sapp play together it’s hard to hold the point of attack. Kelly, in fact, would be a decent 3-4 end. Terdell Sands is their designated space eater. They signed Lance Johnstone from Minnesota, who’s very similar to Burgess, and Bryant McNeil from Tampa, who is ditto only less effective. Then they added another clone in Javon Nanton, undrafted out of Miami, But since, as mentioned above, you can’t really play with two undersized ends, ageless Bobby Hamilton, whom we saw in Amsterdam more than a decade ago, faces another long season of watching teams run the ball away from him.

If they stick with two linebackers they need guys who are mobile. Last year’s draft steal Kirk Morrison is one. Danny Clark is a serviceable inside guy, perfect for a 3-4, but doesn’t have ideal range for the 4-2. Sam Williams is better suited for the 3-4 outside role, and can’t stay healthy anyway, which leaves Robert Thomas, signed from Green Bay, and second round draft pick Thomas Howard as prime contenders. Maybe they thought Robert Thomas Howard would be one good linebacker. Thomas played better than he had in St Louis, which isn’t saying much, but whether he’s ready for so much responsibility is questionable. Howard is another guy with an NFL father (as well as the same name as Jesse James used when he was shot in St Joseph Missouri) and has the sideline-to-sideline speed and hitting ability, but showed questionable instincts in college. Ryan’s system is likely to ask his two backers to make lots of fast and smart reads as they go chasing off. They signed two small, fast linebackers after the draft, Timi Wusu and Ricky Brown, who will likely help on special teams but aren’t likely to be in this mix any more than Ike Ekejiuba was last year. One of them will likely replace former NFL Europe linebacker Tim Johnson, a special teams ace. They also drafted USC safety Darnell Bing with their seventh round pick, with the intent of making him a linebacker. Bing is another guy whose instincts (as well as attitude) can be questioned, though there’s no question his potential made him well worth a seventh round pick.

The Raiders have also drafted cornerbacks who are tweeners, looking for that size/speed combination to cope with big receivers like their own. Nnamdi Asomugha was their first round pick in 2003, and is 6-2 210, while nickle back Stanford Routt (a great name for a player at Cal-Berkeley) taken in the second round last year is 6-1 195. This actually makes a bit of sense if you’re playing a five-man secondary all the time, but hasn’t been ideal so far. Last year’s first pick, Fabian Washington is a more normal corner with great speed, and had a decent rookie year. They signed Tyrone Poole and Duane Starks who both flopped with the Pats as free agents last year, and have last year’s surprise Chris Carr hanging around too. Does this remind you of their strategy at defensive end and running back? It ought to. At safety Derrick Gibson will wind up playing close to the line, and Stu Schweigert will be the center fielder. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Asomugha lining up as a safety in this defense, especially if one cover corner steps forward. They also signed Alvin Nnabuite from SMU, apparently to become the only team in the NFL with two players who have names beginning with double-n.

To call Oakland a team in transition would be a polite way of describing a rudderless ship with its masts broken and sails on fire as a ship in transition. Art Shell might have kept the Raiders’ pirate ship on course, unspectacularly; for years had he remained as head coach. But right now he looks more like a figurehead attached to the front of the vessel so it’ll look impressive as it enters the harbour, while the problems of getting it to harbour remain. If the Raiders make the playoffs in 2006, well, then I’m Paul Simon and you can call me Al.
 
For you wrestling fans, it appears that Jacob Brown is the son of Monty Brown who played in the NFL and wrestles for TNA Wrestling.
 
The conclusions about why we played a 4-2-5 I think is pretty accurate.

How our linebackers look and play in training camp will tell the story what we do next year. Wouldn't be surprised to see us in that 4-2-5 to start the year.
 
I don't know if we'll start with it, but with Huff, we'll use it as part of our standard package. We won't be afraid to get "caught" in it.
 
Rupert said:
I don't know if we'll start with it, but with Huff, we'll use it as part of our standard package. We won't be afraid to get "caught" in it.
Don't forget Bing. He could play a huge role in that 4-2 set.

We have enough speed now in the back 7 to make the 4-2 a viable alignment.
 
They key to Bing will be getting him on the field. I really think he's the future at Will. I don't think he'll be a big impact this year unless Clark or Morrison goes down.

In the future Morrsion will move inside and Bing will take the Will spot. Huff will be the true SS. If we want to shift into the 4-2-5 Bing will man the true SS and Huff will shift over to the rover. It will give us great flexibility in formation.

There is another way Bing gets in there. If Gibson really sucks.

The problem we had last season with the 4-2-5 wasn't speed, it was size. Even though our front four were much better against the run, we still ranked 29th because we lacked size.
 
Rupert said:
In the future Morrsion will move inside...
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Personally as much as I like Clarke I think Morrision will be better for us in the long run at MIKE. Now may not be the time but eventually that probably is what will happen!
 
CrossBones said:
Personally as much as I like Clarke I think Morrision will be better for us in the long run at MIKE. Now may not be the time but eventually that probably is what will happen![/QUOTE]
I totally agree. Clark is nails, but his speed is dropping off. If he keeps his contract demands reasonable, we could keep him until he McDaniels, which would not entirely be a bad thing.

But if Howard comes along fast this year, or Sam Williams finally stays healthy, Clark is the most likely guy to be off the field in the big nickel.
 
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