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News » Oakland Raiders Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Oakland Raiders Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30

Oakland Raiders Strategy and Personnel 2009-01-30
The Raiders did a lot of things with their 53-man roster to make sure special teams were covered, and it paid off.

Oakland had its best coverage teams ever for punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski, and two excellent return men in Johnnie Lee Higgins (punts) and Justin Miller (kickoffs).

Miller's in-season acquisition helped enhance Higgins' role as a receiver late in the year.

Also signed was linebacker Marquis Cooper, who became a core player alongside Pro Bowl alternate Isaiah Ekejiuba.

It appears, however, that special teams coordinator Brian Schneider, who orchestrated everything, will move on, and it remains to be seen if Davis and the 2009 coach will have the same commitment to special teams.


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

Russell survived three play-callers, shaky pass protection and injuries to some key teammates to have an encouraging year in his first season as a starter. He threw only eight interceptions in 368 attempts (with 13 touchdown passes). Toward the end of the season, particularly in the last two games, Russell began to throw touch passes he wasn't throwing earlier in the season. His work ethic was questioned in a subtle fashion by Tom Cable late in the season, as was his conditioning. It's a big offseason in that regard. Tuiasosopo is an unrestricted free agent who happily served as a backup for the final three games of the season. Walter is under contract for another year at a bargain rate and has no desire to stick around.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Justin Fargas, FB Luke Lawton. Backups -- RB Darren McFadden, RB/FB Michael Bush, RB Louis Rankin, FB Marcel Reece. Injured reserve - FB Justin Griffith, FB Oren O'Neal.

As much as the coaching staff would love to replace him, Fargas (218 carries for 853 yards) remains the beating heart of the running game. He struggled through much of the season then in the last few games averaged 4.5 yards per carry, running into tacklers as much as trying to avoid them. Lawton played well in the last two games as a lead blocker after being signed following ACL injuries to Griffith and O'Neal. McFadden's season was derailed by injuries, but after a superlative training camp and flashes of his running/receiving skills, he looks to be a game-breaker (think in terms of a bigger, faster Charlie Garner) unless he can't stay healthy. Bush balked at being moved to fullback because of injuries to others, which didn't endear him to the coaching staff. But when he rushed for 177 yards in the season finale, he may have made his point. He's a 240-plus-pound load, perfect for killing the clock in the fourth quarter. Rankin and Reece were late-season call-ups from the practice squad who don't figure to be primary players. Griffith seemed to be recovering from his ACL tear a lot faster than O'Neal, who as a rookie looked to be a promising power lead blocker.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Zach Miller. Backups -- Tony Stewart, Darrell Strong.

Miller, with 56 receptions for 778 yards, was the most productive Raiders tight end in terms of receptions since Todd Christensen was going 90-plus in the 80s. He was the first Raiders tight end with more than 50 catches in 18 years -- despite the fact that he was clearly the most reliable receiver on the team and drew the attention of opposing defenses. He also got downfield much more than as a rookie, averaging 13.9 yards per catch. Stewart was a core special teams player, the team's union rep, and caught 11 passes for 81 yards. Strong had a strong training camp as an undrafted free agent out of Pittsburgh, turned heads during practice and was activated at the end of the season. He stands a legitimate chance of making the 2009 roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Johnnie Lee Higgins, Chaz Schilens. Backups -- Ronald Curry, Jonathan Holland, Todd Watkins. Injured reserve -- Javon Walker, Ashley Lelie, Drew Carter, Arman Shields.

Higgins led all wide receivers with 22 receivers for 366 yards and four touchdowns. That's not a misprint. Twenty-two receptions and 366 yards led the team. The Raiders seemed to find the plays that best suited Higgins at season's end. Schillens came on strong at the end of the season, scoring touchdowns in each of his last two games, but battled injuries throughout the middle of the season. He needs to add some muscle but had promise. Due $3.5 million in salary in 2009 and on the record as expecting to leave, Curry, who caught 19 passes for 181 yards and was plagued with drops, appears at the end of the line as a Raider. Holland was promoted from the practice squad and earned a game ball in the finale for his special teams play. Watkins was made the 53-man roster but wasn't reliable enough to catch even a single pass. If Walker is paid a $5 million roster bonus -- and probably will be since he was injured and has an injury guarantee -- the Raiders hope to recoup some of their $16 million investment. There wasn't a lot of confidence in that regard in 2008. Lelie had 11 catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns, but would probably only be considered if the Raiders can't find someone else in free agency. Carter is an unrestricted free agent and has had four ACL surgeries -- two on each knee -- meaning he only comes back for the minimum, if at all.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Mario Henderson, LG Robert Gallery, C Jake Grove, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Cornell Green. Backups -- T Kwame Harris, C/G Chris Morris, C John Wade, T James Marten. Injured reserve -- G/T Paul McQuistan, T Mark Wilson.

The much-maligned Henderson (by his own coaches, no less) finished with three progressively better performances over the final three games and should be a starter either on the left or right side. Gallery, if the Raiders were a contending team, would probably be getting Pro Bowl consideration. He cut his penalties dramatically and has proved to be a nasty cut-blocker in a scheme that suits him. Grove is an unrestricted free agent and voted by his teammates winner of the Ed Block Courage Award because of his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. Chances are he only returns if Cable and the zone-blocking concept are retained. Same goes for Carlisle, who was Oakland's best lineman in 2007 but slumped in 2008. Green was meant to be a capable backup but instead has started for two years. Harris was a disaster after being signed as a free agent, and due $2 million in salary and $6 million in a roster bonus, will almost certainly be free to find a new team. Morris' value is as a capable backup at both center and guard. Wade has one more year left at $1.5 million and could remain if Grove signs elsewhere. Marten was thought to have zone-blocking skills when signed off the Dallas practice squad but was never active for a game. McQuistan, who struggled with zone blocking in 2008, was lost to ACL surgery in preseason. Wilson is also the sort of smallish tackle who sometimes flourishes in the system.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Derrick Burgess, DT Tommy Kelly, DT Gerard Warren, RE Jay Richardson. Backups -- DE Kalimba Edwards, DE Trevor Scott, DT Terdell Sands, DT William Joseph, DE Greyson Gunheim.

Burgess, who missed six full games due to a triceps tear and was below par in others, had 3.5 sacks -- his lowest total as a Raider. The good news -- he's in a contract year and if healthy, could return to his 10-plus sacks form. Kelly's $18.125 million in guaranteed money caused jaws to drop around the league, and there was little the Raiders did during the season up front to justify the money. Warren did nothing to change his on-again, off-again reputation as an interior lineman in Cleveland and Denver, and Sands was better than he was in 2007 after signing a big-money extension, but still not the force the Raiders expected when they gave him a $4 million signing bonus. Richardson is supposed to be a point-of-attack run defender but had his best moments against the pass. Edwards, signed to a two-year deal before last season, started off with five quick sacks and faded into oblivion as a pass rusher. Scott was a rookie find who needs to put on some weight (while retaining his quickness) and tied all NFL rookies with five sacks. Joseph, a training camp cut, was added to the roster late in the year and could merit another training camp look. Gunheim's sack of Jeff Garcia was the Raiders' last defensive play of the season. He was an overachiever in the practice squad rewarded with a roster spot.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Thomas Howard, MLB Kirk Morrison, SLB Jon Alston. Backups -- Isaiah Ekejiuba, Marquis Cooper, Sam Williams. Injured reserve -- Ricky Brown.

After intercepting six passes and defending 11 in 2007, Howard had just one pick and five passes defensed. His tackles went up by two, from 95 to 97, but it's fair to say he didn't develop into the Pro Bowler the Raiders hoped and must prove he can be stout in terms of filling gaps and stopping the run. The same goes for Morrison, who has led the Raiders in tackles for four straight years -- the last three as a middle linebacker -- but the Raiders have been subpar against the run each year. Moving him to the outside, where he played as a rookie, could be considered. Alston, a safety/linebacker in college, is a special teams player and weakside linebacker pressed into duty at the strong side due to injury. A valuable player who was out of position. Ekejiuba and Cooper will probably never be linebackers but were key components of Oakland's best coverage teams in several years. Williams, a Davis favorite who has never developed as a linebacker, also has special teams skills. Brown ended up the season on injured reserve after missing eight games with a severe groin injury following a training camp in which he won the starting strongside linebacker job.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Nnamdi Asomugha, LCB Chris Johnson, SS Gibril Wilson, FS Hiram Eugene. Backups -- CB Stanford Routt, S Rashad Baker, S Michael Huff, CB Darrick Brown, CB Justin Miller. Injured reserve -- S Tyvon Branch, CB John Bowie.

Asomugha will cost upward of $11 million to franchise for a single year and doesn't seem all that interested in negotiating a long-term deal. It's doubtful he'll appear at camp this year and the Raiders may have to consider dealing a valuable commodity. Johnson, at age 29, was the surprise choice to start opposite Asomugha when DeAngelo Hall was cut after eight games and played very well, intercepting three passes and playing better man-to-man defense than Hall did. He's an unrestricted free agent, but Davis loves his speed. Wilson was more stout as a run defender than strong safeties of recent years for Oakland, but had no signature plays or game-changing moments. Eugene was an upgrade over former No. 7 overall pick Huff, but mostly as a run defender and not as a center fielder against the pass. Routt was de-emphasized not long after Cable arrived due to lack of hustle on special teams -- never a good sign. Baker picked off three passes and justified Cable's decision to get him more playing time. Huff's contract could mean he sticks around for another year, but he's neither a safety nor a corner, and may be a wasted high draft pick. Brown is one of those intriguing physical specimens the Raiders love without the requisite football skills. Miller, an unrestricted free agent, is worth retaining for his kickoff return ability, and he also filled in at corner capably late in the season finale.

SPECIAL TEAMS: P Shane Lechler, PK Sebastian Janikowski, LS Jon Condo, PR Johnnie Lee Higgins, KR Justin Miller.

Lechler probably only stays unless Davis offers him the moon -- a distinct possibility -- because Asomugha is also an unrestricted free agent and the Raiders can franchise only one. Interesting to see what the NFL's premier punter will get. Janikowski enters the last year of his contract and was reliable from 50 yards and in. He probably won't get any competition for the third straight year at camp. Condo's snapping was flawless and he is good in coverage after the snap. Higgins and Miller were two of the NFL's best return specialists.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: January 30, 2009

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Michael Waddell Name: Michael Waddell
Position: CB
Age: 27
Experience: 4 years
College: North Carolina
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