Sunday, March 29, 2009

Is this the year the Raiders Fortify the Front Seven?

The Oakland Raiders have multiple holes to fill and as of now not enough draft picks to get it done. The Raiders have actually had a successful off-season signing the majority of their own free agents and filling holes on their offensive line without over-spending on free agents.

The team is currently two deep or better at every position on the offensive line prior to additions from the draft or un-drafted players.

The next step has to be attacking the two biggest weaknesses on the team; the defensive line and linebacker group. The scouting department will have to come up big here two ways 1) scouting talent 2) presenting these findings to Al Davis.

The Raiders have been horrible at stopping the run, the team ranked 31st in the league in 2008 allowing 159.7 yards per game with an average of 4.7 yards per carry. The best way to stop this trend is drafting a run-stopping Defensive Tackle or two.

The worse decision would be to roll out the same group without a new addition. Draft-wise the position has been grossly neglected. If the common goal is to draft a starter in every round it hasn’t worked out as planned in Oakland.

Over the last five years the Raiders have had 39 draft picks; of those only five are starters, 16 are backups, eight are on other teams and another eight are out of the league.One of the five first round picks was traded (Fabian Washington), another was benched after a five-game tryout at Free Safety.

In the past ten years at Defensive Tackle the Raiders have drafted Rod Coleman (’99), Daren Yancy (’99), Junior Ioane (’00), Chris Cooper (’01) and Attaj Hawthorne (’05). Rod Coleman was recently signed and given a chance at a comeback with the Saints.

My statement is justified when you consider Tommy Kelly was an un-drafted free agent in 2004. There have been many who came to the Raiders via free agency this practice has been more of a stopgap than a fix and needs to stop.

This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Rich Snead & Keith Rowan, the newest members of the player personnel staff. It has been great to see that the Raiders have been re-building through the draft as of late or acquiring young players in free agency.

That trend needs to continue on the defensive side of the ball improving the front seven. First of all, the Raiders essentially went with a three man rotation at the position in 2008 as oppose to the standard four man rotation needed for a 4-3 base defense.

Seven of the top 10 teams against the run in 2008 made the playoffs, the three that didn’t allowed less than 100 yards per game.

Minnesota led the league against the run but still drafted a DT in the fifth round. Philadelphia ranked fourth, fueled by two former first round picks, but still drafted a DT in the second round.

The Titans ranked sixth against the run but drafted a DT in the second round; due to the loss of a DT in free agency will draft another DT this year.

The Raiders were able to restructure several contracts to provide the team more cap space to work with but youth needs to be served on the defensive line. The team has nine players on the team age 30 or older; the four guys at DT are ranging from age 28-30.

If the team decides to not draft two defensive tackles in this years draft what happens next year when the group is a year older?

What indications do the Raiders or we have as fans have that this group can accomplish stopping the run and getting after the passer in 2009 when it had great difficulty doing just that in 2008?

When it comes to the Raiders draft there has been a lot of talk that the team needs to address the offensive tackle or wide receiver position in the first round. There is some validity to these claims but the offensive line was addressed in free agency.

Wide Receiver is still a need that can be filled after the first round but more important is addressing the front seven. During the draft there usually is a run on certain positions in 2008 that position was offensive tackle with eight going in the first round and the Raiders not cashing in on one of them.

This year like every year, there are no guarantees but that position could be linebacker and the Raiders need to acquire one of the best in the draft to improve the position. That means selecting one in the first two rounds. The same can be said for the Defensive Tackle position.

The Raiders need a run stopper; guys that have the size and strength to fill that need are B.J. Raji, Ron Brace, Fili Moala, Terrance Taylor and Sammie Hill.

The Raiders also need a Strong side or Middle Linebacker; the guys that have the size and strength to fill those needs are Aaron Curry, Rey Maualuga, James Laurinaitis, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Larry English and Clint Sintim

Here is where the problem comes in, several other teams have switched base defense to a ‘3-4 front’ and are in need of Nose Tackles and Linebackers to fit their scheme. If the Raiders decide to pass on drafting at these positions in the first two rounds the majority of the guys mentioned will be off the board.

Adding Center Samson Satele to the team was nice, Keep in mind that in the deal the Raiders traded away more than just a sixth round pick. Oakland swapped fourth round picks and moved down 18 spots.

As always I’m hoping that the Raiders will draft well and continue to improve the team. I want the defense to dramatically improve at stopping the run. I want the improvement to be so dramatic a change that you’ll have to place a warning placard in Oakland the reads “Frequent Stops”.

I know what you’re thinking, but a guy can dream can't he?

The team as of now doesn’t have a 5th or a 6th round pick. My middle round ‘sleeper pick’ at Outside Linebacker for the silver and black is Jason Williams of Western Illinois.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Chance meeting with a Raiders Legend

My love of watching athletic competition on any level and the simple act of supporting a friend’s daughter participating in a weekend High School Track & Field meet in Southern California converged into a chance meeting with Raiders Legend Greg Townsend.

Beyond the occasional face plants, hurdles being knocked down, runners collapsing from exhaustion I witnessed the kids put forth a strong effort in various events awaiting my friends daughter’s event.

I had no advance acknowledge that Greg was going to attend the event but on a rather cold afternoon for Southern California, 48 degrees with 35 mph winds very close to the coast it happened. Prior to both of us donning our hoodies due to the wind while looking over the crowd I recognized him.

A few moments later there I am face to face with one of my favorite players, Raider legend Greg Townsend. I stepped to him, introduced myself and told him that I was a die hard Raiders fan and obviously a fan of his. He greeted me with a handshake and a smile. We spoke and I told him that I missed watching him play he responded “all good things come to an end” I had to mention to him that I felt he was the best Defensive End in Raiders history.

Some Raider fans might argue about that and even say Howie Long was the best. I love Howie Long and enjoyed watching him play for the silver and black as well as being inducted into the Hall of Fame, but when you consider Greg Townsend holds the team records for games played (190), Sacks (107.5), and Tackles (338) he is second to Charles Woodson in forced fumbles with 13, my statement is justified.

He is in good health and running a football camp called “The Lineman Combine” teaching kids how to play both offensive and defensive line positions and how to play the game the right way. What better way to learn to play the game of football than having hands-on teaching from a guy who was selected to the Pro Bowl twice, a guy selected All-Pro four times, a guy who is 15th on the NFL all time career sacks list and a Super Bowl champion.

Stay tuned Raider fans, I will track him down again and interview him and talk Raiders football in "The Locker Room".

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is C Alex Mack the Raiders Choice?

A contingent from the Oakland Raiders including Head Coach Tom Cable, Offensive Line Coach Jim Michalczik and Line Assistant Chris Morgan converged on Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of California to take a closer look at Center Alex Mack.

There were at least 20 teams represented at the Cal pro day. Mack is one of the best center prospects in this year’s draft and the focus of everyone’s attention.

The Raiders will rank him higher then several other teams due to the fact that he is an excellent fit for their offense. He has played in a zone blocking system similar to the one the Raiders use for four years. He has also been named first-team all-conference for three consecutive years.

If you ask several people the idea of drafting a center with the seventh overall pick in the draft would be entirely too high. But the next logical question would be will Mack be available in the second round at pick number 40?

He has been projected by scouts as a guy that can go in the second or third round; there has been talk of him being selected late in the first round. As far as the Center prospects in this draft the word depth comes to mind.

Coach Cable kind of rebuffed the thought of drafting a center with the seventh pick by stating he didn’t think it was too high to make the pick when you’re in need of a center and as we all know the Raiders are in need of a Center with Jake Grove signing with Miami.

This could be a continuation of the pre-draft smoke screen that several teams release so no one knows which way their is leaning regarding their draft choices. I also don’t think the team will select him in round one. Moving past where the pick is made and focusing on the player and the position.

Alex Mack is tall standing at 6’ 4” and weighs 312 lbs.; he is very tough, smart, durable and highly competitive. He is a guy that puts in a full effort on every play; he is often seen getting downfield for a second or third block. He is known as a technician that has quick feet to lead screens, trap block inside and simply eliminate linebackers on the second level.

He is an excellent run blocker with a solid lower-body that allows him to put his man on his back the majority of the time. He has an edge, gets into his blocks quickly and keeps his feet moving and plays to the whistle with intensity and really seeks to finish blocks.

Mack helped to pave the way for a Cal team that averaged 165.7 rushing yards per game with nine individual 100-yard efforts. His strengths are Intelligence, Size, Leadership and Athleticism.
Coach Cable and Coach Michalczik have Cal ties, but this fact was kept under wraps during the pro day. Alex Mack performed well at his pro day, I doubt he has moved into the 1st round but anything can happen on draft day.