Tuesday, May 27, 2008

JL Rants!

We've all heard more Spygate than we care to hear. The fact of the matter is that the Patriots cheated and got caught. The only one's who don't want to hear about it anymore are Pat's fans. If it wasn't blatant the Pat's wouldn't have been slapped with a $500,000 fine and have a 1st round draft pick ripped from them. As bad as that was there is a bigger issue going on.

The Pat's have been practicing players on the IR. This is worse than Spygate. Former NFL player and former Patriot Ross Tucker wrote a article stating that the Pat's did this while he played for them. Are the Pat's the only team doing this?

We now have two examples of the Pat's cheating 1) Spygate 2) Practicing players on the Injured Reserve list.

How many other ways have the Pat's been cheating? Practicing players on the IR gives gives a team an un-fair advantage, especially the Pat's an older team. You've got guys who are normally in the weight room or rehabbing out there getting reps. I like Coach Bill Belichick as a coach but I'm not buying what he said in a interview that he didn't understand the rules. That is an insult to our intelligence. Say goodbye to any dynasty talk Patriots fans the legacy is forever tainted.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Oakland Raiders: Improving a Defense

Raider Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, son of infamously feisty defensive guru Buddy Ryan is a proponent of the 3-4 defenses, although he isn’t married to the scheme. He was much maligned in 2007 when the Raider defense regressed from making a great amount of progress in 2006 and it was rumored that he would be fired until Al Davis intervened.

It can’t be overstated that Rob Ryan’s knowledge of defense is vast. He spent three years in New England as the Outside Linebackers coach learning the system under Bill Belichick & Romeo Crennel. He probably knew more X’s and O’s as a teen that some assistant coaches absorb.

The defense needs to become more versatile. The Raiders tried to employ a Hybrid 3-4 defense when Rob Ryan arrived in 2004 and failed miserably due to a combination of things, players not having a grasp of the defense and the lack of the proper personnel.

That has now changed and don't be surprised to see the Raiders implement a 3-4 defense. I wrote a story titled "Change of Defensive Philosophy" months ago saying that it was coming.

It was mentioned that the Raiders had tweaked the defense which could be interpreted several ways. I feel that some of those tweaks will improve the Raider defense; they could be using a fair amount of formations to keep offenses guessing. The use of multiple looks that will show one look and then shift to another prior to the snap. One option could be more blitz packages out of their 4-3 defense. Another option could be implementing the vaunted Bear 46.

The Raiders have added veteran additions to shore up the secondary in Gibril Wilson & DeAngelo Hall. The most recent additions were way under the radar but are ones with small risk that could bring huge rewards.

The Raiders have added veteran DE Greg Spires and veteran SLB Edgerton Hartwell. The team has had a huge need at the two positions for quite some time. The Raiders have used the combination of Robert Thomas & Sam Williams at SLB and as much as I like both players the position could be upgraded.

LB Ed Hartwell if healthy will solidify the SLB position. He has played MLB and could get a shot there moving Kirk Morrison to the SLB position. Either way if healthy he would help improve the defense by helping to improve the SLB position.

He is 6’1” 250lbs. He has good lower-body strength, takes excellent pursuit angles and reads and reacts quickly. Plays with good leverage; rarely is knocked down. Active in the box, stacks and sheds well and is an explosive hitter. Bottom line is he is a solid run stopper capable of making plays from sideline to sideline.

The Raiders needed to replace DE Chris Clemons who left via free agency; the Raiders have accomplished that task by signing Greg Spires. Greg Spires is a 10 year veteran who has chalked up 39.5 career sacks and has forced 11 fumbles.
He plays smart and understands blocking angles. He does a good job of not letting blockers get into his body. Has a variety of moves and does a good job of setting up blockers.

He may not be as gifted physically as most ends, but his instincts, intelligence and aggressiveness makes him a good fit for the Raiders. These two veterans bring to the table attributes that the Raiders haven’t had at these positions in a long time. I know it is early but my bet is on both being defensive starters one opposite Derrick Burgess and the other as the SLB in week one.

The DE position will now have a tremendous amount of competition in training camp with Derek Burgess, Greg Spires, Jay Richardson, Kalimba Edwards, Trevor Scott, Tranell Morant, Greyson Gunheim, and Derrick Gray.

The team now has five veteran players in the defensive tackle rotation Tommy Kelly, Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands and William Joseph, Josh Shaw. These guys all have something to prove and 2008 is the time to do it. These guys aren’t the most feared DT rotation in the league but they do have the size and talent to be very effective.

It was mentioned that Terdell Sands lost a member of his family last year. As much as I wouldn’t want to wish that upon anyone, I don’t know if that is true. What I do know is that could be a reason for the lack of focus last year but not for the poor technique displayed after showing so much promise in 2006.

This isn’t being mentioned as an excuse but like Javon Walker and anyone else who has lost a family member or close friend when something like this happens it is very difficult to keep your mind on football while grieving.

Going into training camp this is a good snap shot of the two deep depth chart on defense. The competition at every position will be intense. A successful training camp will provide the defense with good mix of youth and experience and an aggressive unit that will stop the run and get after the QB and make noise in 2008. The hope is that a few free agents make the team and at youth to the special teams as well.

DE Derrick Burgess, Trevor Scott
DT Tommy Kelly, William Joseph
DT Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands
DE Jay Richardson, Greg Spires, Tranell Morant
WLB Thomas Howard, Sam Williams
MLB Kirk Morrison, Robert Thomas
SLB Ed Hartwell, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila
LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, Stanford Routt
SS Gibril Wilson, Tyvon Branch
FS Michael Huff, Stuart Schweigert
RCB DeAngelo Hall, Chris Johnson

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oakland Raiders Undrafted Free Agents that could stick

Every year several college juniors and seniors leave school with the desire to be drafted and play in the NFL. After promising college careers several play in all-star games and are even invited to the NFL combine and some of these guys still go undrafted. There are no guarantees that if you’re invited to the NFL combine or play at a FBS school you will be drafted.

The Oakland Raiders had several needs going into free agency and the draft that weren’t completely addressed. Contrary to popular belief some of these needs were addressed with the team signing several undrafted players. Some have the belief that when an undrafted free agent is brought in he is just there as training camp competition and have no chance of making the roster.

That belief will be put to the challenge during this training camp. The Raiders success will depend heavily on Offensive Line coach Tom Cable who did a phenomenal job with the offensive line last year. The 2008 season will be the players second year in his effective zone blocking system. The Raiders in need of offensive line help, signed two undrafted guys that could stick.

Guard Brandon Rodd, Arizona State 6’ 4” 303 lbs. 40-time: 5.22
He was the starting Left Tackle for the Sun Devils. Rodd is a solid lineman that is very versatile. He can play either guard or tackle. He’s a very smart player and student. Rodd was given Pac-10 All Academic honors all four years and a two time Second Team Pac-10 All Academic Football player. He was also on the 2007 preseason Lombardi award watch list. He was a productive player that has started in every game in his career. He has a very good understanding of the zone blocking system. He projects as a guard in the NFL due to his lack of explosiveness and not being physically dominating. He is a guy who will fight for a roster spot at four positions. His versatility makes him a great fit for the Oakland Raiders; he was signed to a three year deal.

Defensive End Tranell Morant, Arizona State 6’ 5” 280 lbs.
He was one of the top DE recruits in the nation in 2003 and chose the University of Florida. He transferred to Arizona State University; He has great size, speed and natural ability. He doubled as a Defensive Tackle; he is quick off the ball and has very long arms. He used his height and reach to swat down passes in the rookie mini-camp. His size and versatility to play inside and outside remind some of the impact Tommy Kelly had as an undrafted free agent. He earned a roster spot during mini-camp and is looking forward to Training Camp.

Wide Receiver Marcel Reece, Washington 6’ 4” 231 lbs. 40-time: 4.42
He is a guy who has been compared to Shannon Sharpe due to his ideal role being as an H-back or TE. He could also be very effective as a WR in the slot as his size will cause mismatches against corners and safeties. He is a playmaker and was signed for his big play potential catching the ball.
These three guys aren’t guaranteed anything more than the opportunity to prove their worth and that they belong. All three of these guys played in the Pac 10 conference. They’ve been productive players and starters for their FBS level (formerly Division I) teams.

Brandon Rodd has exhibited versatility, elite intangibles and all the tools necessary to be effective in the zone blocking system. He is the type of linemen that has the talent and skills coach Tom Cable is looking for and that he can develop and mold into a solid NFL lineman.

Tranell Morant possesses good size and has also exhibited the versatility and elite intangibles that could make him a force against the run and pass for the defense.

Marcel Reece has the size and speed to create problems for a defense in the slot and if he can develop very well could turn into a very productive player.

All three of the undrafted free agents fill a need for the Raiders and will compete for a roster spot. The recently departed LT Barry Sims was once an undrafted free agent out of Utah that made the team. He also fought off several would-be drafted replacements in Matt Stinchcomb, Mo Collins and Robert Gallery.

It is too early to make any predictions on these guys and their immediate future but when your draft class consists of five players you need to find undrafted talent that can provide competition and help improve your team. The above mentioned guys have the opportunity to do that in training camp.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Raiders Rookie Mini-Camp Preview

This weekend the Raiders open their rookie Mini-Camp and of the 35 rookie attempting to make the team there are only two dead locks to make the roster in RB Darren McFadden and RB Michael Bush.

RB Michael is able to participate in the Rookie Mini-Camp due to spending all of last year on the physically unable to perform list. These two appear to be the locks to have a 510 area code four months from now while the other 33 participants hope to join them.

This weekend won't really be a gauge as to how the Raiders will use Darren McFadden or a gauge of how good he will be due to him competing against rookies. The mandatory veteran camp is June 3rd. It is very early but it appears that Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush will be 1,2 & 3 on the running back depth chart.

The rest of the smallest Raider draft class in history CB / S Tyvon Branch (fourth round), WR Arman Shields (fourth round), DE Trevor Scott (sixth round), Chaz Schilens (seventh round) will join McFadden but as we saw last year with Quentin Moses some will not make the 53 man roster. He was the highest drafted player to be cut by the Raiders.

All will be trying to make a good on the field impression, joined by a group of undrafted free agents that look to make the team as Tommy Kelly, Barry Sims and Chris Carr have done in the past.