Sunday, August 31, 2008

Oakland Raiders: Players of Interest for the Practice Squad

The 53-man roster is set, for now. However a few moves still could be made to help improve the team for now and the future.
The Raiders could sign FB/TE/ H-Back Marcel Reece and RB Louis Rankin to the practice squad which will give them time to develop both players.

Here are a few players that are good candidates for the practice squad who could also challenge for a roster spot.

DT Nick Hayden: 6’4” 305 lbs. (2008 Sixth Round pick of the Panthers) He is an all-out hustler, a true run-stuffing lineman. He has excellent size for the position and plays with good technique and leverage. He would be a great player to develop.

OG Robert Felton: 6’4” 313 lbs. (2008 Bills Undrafted Free Agent) He was a three year starter at Tackle for Arkansas. He is a versatile player that has experience playing both tackle and Guard. He has a thick frame and long arms. He has developed into a physical drive blocker best suited for Guard.

He has a strong hand punch and creates movement off the snap working to open running lanes. He is an excellent run blocker that can be seen doing a solid job in most of Darren McFadden’s highlights; that would be a great player to develop.

OG/ OT Pedro Sosa: 6’4” 299 lbs. (2008 Dolphins Undrafted Free Agent) He is a player that has good initial quickness off the snap. He is blessed with the necessary size, quickness and overall athleticism to be effective in a zone blocking scheme.

He makes the initial block and gets to the second level; he does show explosiveness as a run blocker. Has the lateral agility and balance to mirror pass rushers. He isn’t dominant but makes up for it with quickness, balance and surprising power.

FB Lousaka Polite: 6’0” 242 lbs. (2004 Cowboys Undrafted Free Agent in) He is a Strong, hammer-type lead blocker who can play special teams.

LB Antwan Applewhite: 6’3” 246 lbs. (2007 Chargers Undrafted Free Agent) Fast, undersized defensive end who projects to linebacker at the next level. Quick off the snap, immediately alters his angle of attack and displays speed in every direction.

He loses little momentum when he must change direction. He shows abilities backpedaling off the line and playing in space. Reads the action and does not bite on ball fakes.

He is best described as a fleet-footed athlete that can make plays all over the field. He has excellent size for the position and would be an excellent player to develop for now and the future.

DT Dre Moore: 6’4” 307 lbs. (2008 fourth round pick of the Buccaneers) He is massive and shows the strength to be dominant. He does a good job of occupying two gaps when playing with good leverage.
He has a habit of jolting offensive lineman backwards and drives them into the quarterback. He cogs gaps and shuts down the interior running game. He shows a lot of promise and would be an excellent player to develop for now and the future.

The moves mentioned would provide the team with two Defensive Tackles, three versatile Offensive Linemen and a Linebacker to develop. These players would add much needed depth to the team and also push LT Mario Henderson, RT Cornell Green, and SLB Ricky Brown for playing time.

Depending on how fast the players develop could mean that the team won’t have to spend as many draft choices on the DT, LB and Offensive Tackle positions in 2009.

All of the players mentioned need time to develop into solid all around players with the exception of FB Lousaka Polite who has been in the league for three years. The Raiders could also sign late free agent pick up Luke Lawton to the practice squad as well.

All of the players mentioned fit the team profile of talented young players with a hunger to improve. This is being written prior to the Raiders selecting the players for their practice squad which could simply be seven or eight players recently cut to get down to the league mandated 53.

This group would provide far more depth now and in the future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Oakland Raiders' Are getting help from the 2004 NFL Draft

Leading up to the 2004 NFL Draft the Oakland Raiders, like every other teams had several needs.

Possessing the number two overall pick in the draft the team’s biggest needs were Quarterback, Defensive End, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Outside Linebacker and Middle Linebacker.

The Raiders had nine draft picks in the draft and were thought to be targeting QB’s Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger or Philip Rivers. It was also reported that the Raiders were looking to improve the offensive line and eyeing LT Robert Gallery.

Several others had the Raiders targeting WR’s Larry Fitzgerald, Roy Williams or Mike Williams.

The Raiders chose to improve the offensive line and selected LT Robert Gallery, who at the time was one of the highest-rated offensive tackles leaving college in years. The second round brought Center Jake Grove who was rated the best center in the draft.

The other seven selections from that draft are no longer on the team and several are no longer in the NFL. The exceptions being; TE Courtney Anderson, who is on the Buffalo Bills roster and OLB Cody Spencer who is on the NY Jets roster.

Fast-forward four years later the two offensive linemen who were believed to be fixtures on the offensive line for the next ten years, Robert Gallery and Jake Grove remain.

The 2004 draft was yet another Raider draft class where the team several choices and a few years later only two guys remain with the team.

Free agency has helped to improve several teams and the Raiders seeking improvement traded a second round draft choice this year for CB DeAngelo Hall who was drafted number eight overall by the Falcons.

The team also signed SS Gibril Wilson and WR Drew Carter who were fifth round selections by the Giants and the Panthers. The team also signed Adimchinobe Echemandu who was a seventh round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns.

This gives the Raiders, four years removed, six solid draft choices from the 2004 NFL Draft that will help them improve in 2008.

LG Robert Gallery was labeled a ‘bust’ by many people but he had a solid 2007 campaign which will go a long way in shedding that label. He will continue to improve in the Tom Cable led zone blocking scheme.

C Jake Grove is noticeably bigger and stronger and locked into a heated battle for the starting center position with veteran Center Tom Wade.

CB DeAngelo Hall in set for a huge year as a starting cornerback opposite Nnamdi Asomugha. He should be the beneficiary of several interceptions due to teams not wanting to go after Nnamdi on a consistent basis.

Both Wilson and Carter are talented second day draft choices that took a little bit longer to develop which is why both fell to the fifth round.

SS Gibril Wilson is set for a huge year at Strong Safety following a solid 2007 championship year with the NY Giants.

He is an aggressive and tough safety who will come up and pop a running back. He can play in the box on eight man fronts and will help improve the teams run defense.

His acquisition solidifies the secondary and allows Michael Huff to play Free Safety which should free him up to use his athleticism to make plays.

WR Drew Carter is a talented player with good combination size and speed and tremendous upside.

Teams are always after receivers who have the quickness and strength to beat press coverage, the tenacity and hands to make catches in traffic and the size and leaping ability to be threats downfield and in the red zone.

Drew Carter has all of the above mentioned skills. He is locked in a positional battle with Ronald Curry for the number two or ‘Z’ receiver spot.

Todd Watkins, Drew Carter, Ronald Curry and Chaz Schilens have all made several plays in practice and in the first two pre-season games. The one missing link has been Javon Walker who needs to really step up.

Coach Kiffin has put him on notice stating that he needs to step his game up and start earning his paycheck. He was basically blasted for having too many dropped passes, lack of intensity and spending too much time in the trainer’s office. He has yet to play like a number one or go to receiver.

He knows that Saturday’s upcoming game against the Cardinals, despite being a pre-season game is a big one for him. Coach Kiffin has put together a game plan that will see several passes coming his way and he needs to come up big.

The wide receiver group as a whole needs to improve and show more consistency for the Raiders to have a complete offense. It is a work in progress and improving on a daily basis.
Let's not forget that 2004 was the same year the Raiders acquired starting DT Tommy Kelly as an undrafted free agent from Mississippi State.

The Oakland Raiders are a young team that will go through growing pains but they’re vastly improved and prepared to make noise in 2008 with the help of the selections from the 2004 draft.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Justin Griffith, Oren O’Neal and Marcel Reese; the Oakland Raiders forgotten Men

These guys are the versatile athletes that will man the position of fullback for the Oakland Raiders. The traditional fullback is a dying breed.

There are two types of fullbacks in the NFL today – the blow-up lead blocker who destroys anything in his way (think of former Charger FB Lorenzo Neal), and the athletic, do-it-all “West Coast” fullback ( think of former 49er and current Raiders running back coach Tom Rathman).

Several of the latter are overgrown college tailbacks who are adept at running and catching and can block just as well or enough to get the job done. It’s a rare player who can serve as a lead blocker, receiver and ball carrier.

Some teams divide the role, often using tight ends and H-backs to fill the receiving duties.

These are guys similar, to lineman both offensive and defensive, that do the dirty work. Lead block, pick up blitzes and are ball carriers in short yardage. They’ve the drive, desire and willingness to do whatever the team needs to win.

These guys sacrifice their bodies for the team.

Draft guides come out yearly, you won’t find more than two pages on fullbacks in the various draft guides.

Most of those draft guides listed the top 13 players at the position; of those players only six were drafted. This is omitting Jacob Hester who played fullback in college but is now a back-up running back.

The top two fullbacks in the 2008 draft were Peyton Hillis of Arkansas and Owen Schmidt of West Virginia who was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round; he was selected by the Seattle with the 163rd pick of the fifth round.

Hillis was drafted by the Denver in the seventh round, pick 227.

The traditional blow-up fullback is a bit of a dinosaur in today’s game. What now rules for the fullback position is versatility, which diversifies and offense.

All fullbacks must be tough, that will never change, but when you find that rare player at the position that is athletic enough to run, catch and can block their value increases significantly.

The Oakland Raiders possess all types of fullbacks mentioned above. The player at the position who is a blow-up lead blocker in Oren O’Neal; and the athletic player who can do-it-all in Justin Griffith.
The team also possess’ the sleeper in Marcel Reese from Washington. He was signed as an undrafted free agent. He could serve as a third down nightmare for a middle linebacker, catching check-down passes, short throws in the flats.

His 4.6 speed looks pedestrian at wide receiver, the position he played in college, matched up against a MLB he has the hands and agility to become more than a check-down option and a mismatch giving the offense an advantage.

He is an impressive physical specimen with size, hands and speed that should allow him to eventually excel as an H-back or fullback. He has a body similar to Shannon Sharpe and could play a similar role.

Justin Griffith is the prototype fullback for today’s game. He can catch the ball and is a deadly cut blocker.

You have to have a tremendous toughness to play this no-glory position, which Griffith has, abundance of, and in a lot of ways a fullback is similar to an undersized guard. Taking on much bigger defenders and being involved in some of the games most violent collisions.

A fullback is either leading a running back into the hole blocking a linebacker or as a heat seeking missile on the special teams.

A fullback has to have explosive power. He is dealing with linebackers charging the line of scrimmage, ends screaming off the edges and tackles defeating blockers at the line of scrimmage.

He must be prepared on every down to stay low and roll his hips into blocks to clear running lanes. Griffith is an excellent receiver with great hands. He is frequently used for dump-off or check down options in the short passing game. He doesn’t have to run a full route tree to be effective.

He is excels at being agile enough flip his head around adjust to the ball and cleanly catching it away from his body like a receiver. This isn’t surprising when you figure he is being coached by Niners great Tom Rathman, who was one of the NFL’s best pass-catching fullbacks.

Griffith is a multidimensional fullback with a tremendous amount of versatility. His combination of hands, run skills and vision to lead runners makes him a versatile weapon for the silver and black offense.

Oakland Raiders: Fierce Competition at Linebacker

The team is eighteen practices into the 2008 Training Camp and the good thing is that the competition at the linebacker position is still fierce.

The entire organization is committed to moving in the right direction and unlike last year have it reflect in the win/loss record.

Players are competing hard knowing that this will help them develop and improve their game and the team.

The Raiders wanted more competition at the position and chose to add two players for the position outside of the NFL draft.

The team added veteran free agent linebacker Edgerton Hartwell and undrafted rookie free agent Malik Jackson to the corps of linebackers.

Both players are working hard and trying to establish themselves. The depth chart was released for the first pre season game Friday against the 49ers and Malik Jackson’s name wasn’t on it.

This means that he has more work to do or the previous statement becomes permanent. I was interested to see which position Ed Hartwell would be listed, Middle Linebacker or Strong side Linebacker. He is listed as the second team MLB.

The surprise for me was hearing that LB Ricky Brown has been receiving reps with the 1st team defense. He has shown flashes on special teams and is listed as the starter for Friday’s game at SLB.

The SLB position has been a two-man battle for a while between Robert Thomas and Sam Williams.

Coach Kiffin isn’t a man of many words and got straight to the point when asked about the linebackers stating and I quote “Robert is playing Mike and Sam (linebacker) for us,"

"Robert's got to play special teams and I've talked to him about that, and he's going to have to do it all to make the team, so there's a lot of competition there at linebackers. There's only two guys there that I know are going to make this team and the rest of the guys better play special teams and contribute."

It is safe to assume that Kiffin is “throwing down the gauntlet.”

This is nothing new, competition brings out the best in players and this is great for the team.

All Raider fans realize that Kirk Morrison and Thomas Howard will make the team.

The young players developing, learning how to play more than one position and contributing on special teams is what is nice to see.

Due to the fact that it would help the players develop into complete players, it will improve the linebacker group; it will improve the overall team speed and most importantly help improve the defense.

Ricky Brown at SLB and Jon Alston, another LB and special team’s player, at WLB are making a strong push for playing time.

I’m anxious to see the first pre-season game but I’m really interested in seeing what the linebacker corps looks like with the speed of Thomas Howard and Ricky Brown at the two outside positions.

Outside linebackers must have the strength to shed blocks; the speed to make plays form sideline-to-sideline and the athletic ability to pay in zone or man coverage.

The silver and black linebacker corps will be much more aggressive this year.

I mentioned a few months ago that the entire defense would be more aggressive by attacking more as oppose to allowing the opposing offense to dictate the tempo and several people disagreed with me.

I had no problem with that; what I did have a problem with was several people stating that stunting and blitzing are things that the Raiders have not and will not do.

Stopping the run will be a concerted effort and it will take the efforts of everyone and not just the defensive lineman.

DT Tommy Kelly was re-signed to anchor the defensive line, control the interior against the run and get after the quarterback when passing.
Contrary to popular belief he will do damage with Gerard Warren, Terdell Sands and William Joseph.

The fact of the matter is the defensive line and linebackers will be involved in stopping the run as well as getting after the quarterback.

On occasion Derrick Burgess will line up at the linebacker position. This is a move that will allow him a free release or an obstructed path to the QB. He is being moved around to create mismatches and attack from several different angles.

Derrick Burgess is poised to have a huge year and get back to a double-digit sack total and another trip to the Pro Bowl.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Will 2,105 Rushing Yards in a Season be broken this year?

1999 Hall of fame inductee Eric Dickerson set the record with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.

This record has stood for 24 years, longer than any other rushing record. He rushed for 1,800 yards or more three of his first four seasons.

The 2,000 yard rushing mark has been achieved by only five players. They are:

Jamal Lewis – 2,066 yards in 2003
Terrell Davis – 2,008 yards in 1998
Barry Sanders – 2,053 yards in 1997
Eric Dickerson – 2,105 yards in 1984
O. J. Simpson – 2,003 yards in 1973

All of these guys proved that the 2,000 yard barrier could be broken in one season but no one has amassed 2,105 yards.

LaDanian Tomlinson is arguably the leagues best running back; he rushed for 1,815 yards in 2006, his best season. He led the league in 2007 rushing for 1,474 yards.

Larry Johnson amassed 1,789 yards on an, amazing, 416 attempts in 2006.

Adrian Peterson the seventh overall pick took of the league by storm. He was the 2007 Rookie of the year and the Pro Bowl MVP, he ran for 1,341 yards which included rushing for more than 200 yards on two occasions.

He also broke the NFL single-game rushing mark by running all over the Chargers with 296 yards, despite playing in only 14 games.

In 2007 the four best per game rushing averages were held by Adrian Peterson who averaged 95.8 yards per game, LaDanian Tomlinson averaged 92.1 yards per game, Brandon Jacobs averaged 91.7 yards per game and Brian Westbrook averaged 88.9 yards per game.

All four are worthy candidates to have great seasons and break the record, amongst others. But to topple the mark a running back would have to average 132 yards rushing per game.

In today’s game, I don’t think it will happen.

When Eric Dickerson set the record back in 1984; The NFL was more of a rushing league. The teams that put a lot of points on the board then and now did so via the passing game.

The Los Angeles Rams weren’t one of the top ten scoring teams in the league that year. The Rams as a team scored a total of 346 points and passed for 2,142 yards. The Rams had a very competitive team but they were one dimensional.

In today’s NFL your points still come from passing game due to the fact you need to acquire big chunks of yardage also known as big plays to be in position to score points.

We are in the age of the two-running back system and for one player to average 132 yards per game for 16 weeks is almost impossible.

The running game will remain important, and if the team has the lead it will use the running game to control the clock in the fourth quarter.

If I was posed the question “which running back will break Eric Dickerson’s’ record this year?”

My answer would be no one, although if both remain healthy, LaDanian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson have the best chances to accomplish the feat.