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News » Oakland Raiders Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28

Oakland Raiders Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28

Oakland Raiders Strategy and Personnel 2008-08-28
The Raiders have done a lot of blitzing during training camp, something they don't normally do a lot of in the regular season. Historically, teams with Davis as the owner have preferred to bring natural pressure from the front four and play man-to-man coverage in the secondary.

Oakland opened its first preseason game against San Francisco with several blitzes, and blitzed the 49ers repeatedly during their joint practice session.

Much of it had to do with preparing Russell for what he will see when the regular season begins. It's worth watching to see if the blitzing carries over as part of their defensive personality, with swift and aggressive defenders such as Gibril Wilson and Thomas Howard being utilized as pass rushers.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Johnnie Lee Higgins - Higgins caught just six passes for 49 yards in a disappointing rookie season, but could end up being the lead kickoff returner, the punt return specialist and the third receiver. Shows signs of being an explosive player, but is inconsistent with ball security issues.


Rd. 1/4, RB Darren McFadden, Arkansas -- Expected to add immediate flash to Raiders offense as a running back, receiver and even occasionally as an option quarterback.

Rd. 4/100, S Tyvon Branch, Connecticut -- A cornerback in at UConn, the Raiders looked at his size, tackling ability and willingness to hit and made him a safety. He'll contribute immediately on special teams.

Rd. 6/169, DE Trevor Scott, Buffalo -- Listed at 6-feet-5, 256 pounds, in reality he's having trouble keeping on 250. But he has shown a quick outside pass rush in the preseason and could develop as a nickel rusher.


QUARTERBACK: Starter - JaMarcus Russell. Backups - Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo.

Other than a sore elbow which cost him a few practices after clipped it on the shoulder of teammate Darren McFadden, Russell has played the part of the No. 1 quarterback, perhaps even more in terms of presence than performance. He is being drilled extensively to play it safe, rely on his running game and avoid turnovers. He's more mobile and agile than most anticipated, and he appears to be heeding the no-turnover mantra. Walter, drafted as a drop-back passer in the previous coaching regime, won the backup job by proving he could operate outside the pocket. Tuiasosopo's mobility is as good as ever, but his decision-making remains a problem.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Justin Fargas, FB Justin Griffith. Backups - RB Darren McFadden, RB/FB Michael Bush, FB Luke Lawton.

Fargas rushed for 1,009 yards despite being a starter for little more than half a season. He will be pushed aside at some point, but came to camp in terrific shape and retained his hold on the top spot despite the fact that the Raiders drafted someone who will eventually take his place. Griffith, a smallish cut-blocker and above-average flat receiver, will get more work than he bargained for after second-year FB Oren O'Neal was lost with a severe knee injury. Kiffin's biggest worry regarding McFadden is spreading him too thin -- his rushing and receiving skills, plus his ability to return kickoffs,=

bring myriad possibilities. He is the most explosive Raiders back in years. Bush is an intriguing tailback who weighs 240-plus pounds and can lower the boom as a runner or receiver, even if he doesn't exactly fit Kiffin's profile as a third-and-short and goal line runner. Lawton's skills are on special teams and as a lead blocker.

TIGHT END: Starter - Zach Miller. Backups - John Madsen, Tony Stewart.

Miller's 44 receptions for 444 yards led all NFL rookies and set a Raiders rookie record -- and it could have been more had he not been held in as a blocker so often. In training camp, Miller has been the Raiders' most sure-handed receiver, with the look of a third-down target rivaling Todd Christensen. He has been that good. Madsen is a converted wide receiver who has built himself into a tight end but whose skills will always be better suited to a slot receiver and a get-in-the-way blocker. Stewart is a solid leader and blocker who did not catch a pass last season but contributed on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - SE Javon Walker, FL Ronald Curry. Backups - Johnnie Lee Higgins, Todd Watkins, Chaz Schilens, Arman Shields.

Walker, whose offseason problems have been well-documented, looked as if he didn't care on some days and as if he had lost his skills on others. He rallied late, giving the Raiders hope that he can recapture some of the skill which they paid for in a big way during free agency. Curry has been the Raiders' leading receiver for the past two seasons, and was being challenged as the starter by Drew Carter. But Carter is out for the season with an ACL tear, meaning Curry, an excellent third-down slot receiver who seemed to wear down physically last year, will be on the field more than the Raiders bargained for. Higgins was on and off throughout training camp, alternating big plays with becoming invisible. Watkins, a street free agent, was the camp phenom who had the most sure hands of anyone in camp and has jump-and-catch capability as a target for Russell. Schilens, although raw, is also the sort of big, physical receiver the Raiders hope can be a good match for Russell. Shields was a fourth-round pick who missed so much practice time with a sore knee he could be destined for injured reserve.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Kwame Harris, LG Robert Gallery, C Jake Grove, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Cornell Green. Backups - C/G Chris Morris, C/G John Wade, T Seth Wand, G/T Paul McQuistan, T Mario Henderson, G/T Fred Wakefield.

Line coach Tom Cable is convinced Harris can not only protect the blind side of Russell, but be an effective second-level blocker in the zone blocking system. On the second count, Cable appears to be right. The pass blocking remains an issue. Gallery is emerging as a ruthless cut blocker who can be beaten by elite powerful defensive tackles but could become an upper-echelon guard should he avoid penalties. Carlisle, a zone blocking guard in Denver, was the Raiders best lineman last year in terms of avoiding mistakes and penalties. The hope was the occasionally-injured Green would be a sage backup tackle but it appears he will be miscast as a starter. Morris is one of those smallish, late-round picks who could only flourish in a zone-blocking system, and his ability to play center and guard make him worth keeping around. Wade, an 11-year veteran who has played only center, will stick only if he can also play guard. Wand is a relatively thin tackle with experience in a zone blocking system with Houston. McQuistan will be played exclusively on the left side as a reserve guard and tackle to try and avoid the struggles which occurred when he played on the right side. It was hoped Henderson, a third-round pick last year, would push Green on the right side. He never made the move and his future is in doubt. Wakefield's appeal is in his versatility -- he not only can play guard and tackle, but has played tight end and opened training camp as a defensive end.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Derrick Burgess, T Tommy Kelly, T Gerard Warren, RE Jay Richardson. Backups - DE Derrick Burgess, DT Terdell Sands, DE Trevor Scott, DE Kalimba Edwards, DT Josh Shaw.

Burgess showed up with an additional eight pounds of muscle and was the most un-blockable defensive lineman on the team. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been toying with using him on the right side occasionally and even as an outside backer in the 3-4 to reduce the amount of double teams and chip blocks. Kelly's gigantic offseason contract was the subject of much debate, but he has looked the part of a dominant "three-technique" player. One problem -- his conditioning is still an issue. Warren's ability to knife through double-teams and be a playmaker is more suited to a three-technique, but he can be effective at times while disappearing at others. Richardson has promise as a point-of-attack base end, and his rush ability seems to be improving in his second year. Sands has dropped some weight since last season, but hi=

s calling as the Raiders run-stopper is still on hold as his conditioning and a knee (he has had fluid drained) are not up to par. Scott couldn't find his way around bigger tackles earlier in camp, but came on late. A converted tight end, his size (under 250 pounds) remains an issue. The hope is Edwards shows up as the nickel rusher to replace Chris Clemons, who had eight sacks last year. Shaw's ability inside keeps showing up, as he occasionally outplays higher-paid linemates such as Kelly and Sands

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Ricky Brown, MLB Kirk Morrison, WLB Thomas Howard. Backups - MLB Isaiah Ekejiuba, WLB Jon Alston, LB Sam Williams, LB Adam Archuleta.

Brown won the starting job because of his ability to carry out assignments as well as being a core special teams player. He will be the first player off the field in nickel and dime defenses and his primary function will be to hold an edge and turn the running game toward the middle. Morrison is one of the NFL's top pass defenders at his position but there are legitimate questions as to whether he can fit gaps and be a solid run defender. Howard is an explosive talent who may be the pass defending linebacker in the NFL, yet he too has yet to prove he can fend off a guard and make a big play against the run. Ekejiuba is a wedge-buster supreme and may never be a viable every-down linebacker, but his speed and heart will keep him on the roster for special teams. Alston also plays special teams and is a 'tweener as to whether he is truly a safety or a linebacker, but coaches like his versatility and speed. Williams is a favorite of the owner who is a classic strong side backer but hasn't been able to stay healthy. Archuleta is trying to make the conversion from safety to linebacker, where he insists he is more comfortable.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: RCB Nnamdi Asomugha, SS Gibril Wilson, FS Michael Huff, LCB DeAngelo Hall. Reserves: CB Stanford Routt, CB Chris Johnson, S Tyvon Branch, S Rashad Baker.

Asomugha signed his exclusive franchise tender the eve of camp and was instantly the best player on the team, breaking up passes, making interceptions and inspiring with his very presence. Wilson, in theory, lends the physical presence the Raiders haven't at strong safety in years -- a key in slowing the charge against their run-challenged defense. Huff, liberated from coverage responsibilities against tight ends and in the box, has shown the kind of playmaking abilities at free safety the Raiders expected when was the No. 7 overall pick in 2005. Hall will get plenty of opportunities to make plays opposite Asomugha, and if camp is any indication, he'll get give up his share. He also has the skill to lay in wait and make some plays of his own. Routt, an on-and-off performer, seems to be warming to the slot corner position after earlier troubles. Johnson's speed makes him a classic Raider and a special teams performer. The organization is hoping that Branch evolves by the end of the year as a potential starter. Baker has a nose for the ball and special teams skills.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Sebastian Janikowski, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Condo, KOR Johnnie Lee Higgins, KOR Darren McFadden, PR Johnnie Lee Higgins.

Janikowski remains an accurate kicker inside 40 yards and a good kickoff man but not quite the force the Raiders expected on long field-goal attempts and touchbacks. Lechler's name ranks along with Ray Guy and he'll be a Raider for as long as he wants to be. McFadden may win the punt and kickoff return jobs by default. McFadden will be saved for special circumstances on kick returns until Branch is healthy enough to give it a try. Condo was flawless in replacing Adam Treu as the long-snapper last year and is excellent at covering after the snap.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 28, 2008

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Robert Thomas Name: Robert Thomas
Position: LB
Age: 28
Experience: 7 years
College: UCLA
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