Monday, August 28, 2006

Jeff George - Part Deux

The delicate balance and stability of the QB depth chart just got turned upside down with the “emergency insurance policy” signing of Jeff George. The Raider Nation should find out more about this bizarre signing in the next few days. In the meantime, here are a few, somewhat plausible reasons to consider in regards to the Jeff George signing:

- I suspect that there is a deep, grave concern about the viability of Walter's right shoulder. Red flags were thrown up when Walter sat out the game vs. the Lions due to a “tired” arm?

- Tui is truly a fish-out-of water running an offense predicated on the deep passing attack. He has and always will be a “west coast” offense, dink and dunk QB.

- My best guess is that the Raider organization will take every pre-caution to preserve Walter for the 2007 season and dump Tui on the waiver wire.

- Jeff George is a cheap, veteran emergency back-up suited for running the vertical offense. No one has ever questioned George’s arm strength. His head & attitude is another story.

-George already has had success tossing the pigskin to Randy Moss in 1999 with the Vikings (80 receptions, 1413 yards, 11 TDs)

- He was the last QB to play for the Raiders before the Gruden west coast offense. In 1997 he threw for 3917 yards, 29 TDs to 9 interceptions. Unfortunately, this statistical success didn’t translate to team success as the Raiders went a pathetic 4-12.

- Finally, and most importantly, maybe the Raiders are just rolling out George and giving him a test drive over the next 7-10 days to see if he is a viable, serviceable back-up QB. Note: If George doesn't make the final roster, all of this uproar about George will be much ado about nothing. If George doesn't make the final 53 man roster, the Raiders will be waiver hunting for another emergency QB.

This is a head-scratching signing and smacks of desperation but think about it for one semi-rational moment. If Walter’s injury is more severe than originally believed, who else would the Raiders be able to sign on short notice who could be plugged into the vertical offense on an emergency basis?

I realize that signing Jeff George at age 38 seems odd and bewildering. It is the equivalent of the rehiring of Tom Walsh as OC after so many years. This seems to be a classic example of Al Davis snubbing his nose at conventional wisdom. 2nd chance Al is at it again.

What does all of this mean in terms of the big picture? It means that if George makes the final roster than the O-line had better protect Aaron Brooks as if their life depended on it. Otherwise, the Raider Nation will need to close their collective eyes, say a few hail mary’s, as #3 trots out onto the field of play.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Raiders vs. Lions

Pre-Game Questions & Post Game Analysis:

It is about 15 minutes before kickoff for exhibition game #4. I'm excited to see the Raiders take the field in Oaktown. These are some of the questions that need to be answered in the game vs. Detroit: (Post-game analysis to follow)

How will the O-line perform? The 1st unit O-line was excellent in pass protection and adequate in run blocking. The delayed draw plays were very effectively used to slow down the Lions pass rush and gain big chunks of yardage.

Can Corey Hulsey step up and take over at center for injured Grove? Hulsey didn't miss a beat playing center. Hulsey's communication on the line was good. Hulsey has shown his value to the team the last 2 weeks by playing well at both LG and C.

Will Sims play well in his return to LG? Sims was inactive. Big (350 lbs) Kelvin Garmon started at LG and had a solid game especially in his pass protection techniques.

Can our D-Line create a better pass rush and notch a few sacks? The D-line provided steady pass pressure on QB Kitna netting 2 sacks (Burgess, Sands). Sapp's interior pressure (and getting in the face of Kitna) led to an interception by LB Morrison.

Will our D continue to create turnovers? The D had 2 interceptions (Morrison, Carr) and 1 fumble recovery. The fumble was caused by DE Brayton's big hit on Kitna. The ball was recovered by SS Gibson.

Can our special teams continue to play solid football? The special teams coverage units had an outstanding game. Takedown tackles by Howard, Cooper, Lee, and Carr negated returns by the Lions. Sea-Bass had 2 deep kickoffs. Lechler had 1 booming punt pinned inside the 20 and another high, coverage punt.

Will the secondary miss a beat without Huff? How well will Gibson perform at SS? The secondary's coverage was inconsistent and tackling poor. Routt took a step back with a poor outing. Gibson and Cooper played the run and screens well.

Will the offensive unit build off of the performance against SF? The 1st unit offense put up touchdowns (3) instead of field goals. There was a good mix of pass and run plays and enough big plays to put up a comfortable 21-0 half-time lead.

Can Brooks take another positive step in running the offense? Without question, Brooks cemented his standing as the clear cut #1 QB. He ran the offense smoothly and had supreme confidence on the field. Brooks fired a perfect 63 yard rainbow to Moss for the opening possession TD. He was able to step up in the pocket to find secondary receivers.

Is there a concerted effort to develop the chemistry between Brooks and Moss? The Brooks and Moss connection was electric. Brooks and Moss hooked-up for 3 completions, 102 yards and 2 spectacular TDs. Moss' 2nd TD grab was a bullet thread through a key hole by Brooks in the back of the end zone.

Post Game Summary:
The Raiders 21-3 win over the Lions was another positive step in the growth of the team. All 3 units contributed to a dominant team victory and 4-0 exhibition record.

Next Up: Raiders at Seahawks on Thursday, August 31st (last exhibition game)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Back Off The Ledge

RAIDERS 23 - 49ERS 7
The Raiders looked sharp tonight. The O-line's performance was vastly improved from the previous 2 exhibitions games. Brooks and Walter were very productive and looked comfortable in the pocket. Overall, all 3 units (offense, defense, specail teams) played efficient and spirited football. It was nice to see that we were able to run the ball more consistently, utilize our TEs as a primary weapon, and complete numerous short and intermediate passes to sustain drives. Below are some additonal observations and notes from the game.

- Brooks looked poised, decisive, and confident in his 1st half of play. On the opening drive, he completed passes to Gabriel (11 yards, 8 yard TD), Anderson (9 yards), and Moss (14 yards). The completion to Moss was on a delayed, drag route over the middle of the field. This short, high percentage pass play has big play potential. I liked offensive coordinator Walsh’s play calls throughout the game which included a nice mixture of short and intermediate routes to the RBs, WRs, and TEs. Also there were a number of 3 and 5 step drops used by all of the Raiders QBs.

- The key play of the 1st series was a 25 yard scramble run by Brooks. This is the added dimension that Brooks brings to the table. His ability to make a big run and pick up a 1st down when the protection breaks down is a real back-breaker for the opponent’s defense. Instead of being sacked for a negative loss of yards, he turned it into a 25 yard gain. Brooks finished this drive off by hitting Doug Gabriel with a pinpoint 8 TD pass.

- The 1st unit O-Line gave a solid overall effort in run blocking and pass protection in the 1st half. For the most part, Brooks had time to survey the field and make his read progressions. The few times the pocket didn’t hold up, Brooks was decisive in his actions by either scrambling for yards or throwing the ball away without taking a sack. The 1 interception that Brooks had was on a pass that Randall Williams tipped in the end zone. The deflection was caught by SS Tony Parrish.

- Brooks ran a nice play action pass and hit Anderson in the end zone for a TD which was called back on a very questionable offensive pass interference call on Anderson.

- Andrew Walter looked very confident and poised on the field in the 3rd quarter. He was able to lead the Raiders on 2, time-consuming scoring drives. Walter showed off his touch with a nicely lofted 35 completion to John Madsen. Instead of forcing the ball down the field, Walter was able to use his check down targets in the flat effectively.

- The O-Line didn’t commit any pre-snap penalties the entire game. The Raiders team only committed 3 penalties the entire game (late hit on special teams by Randall Williams, personal foul call on McNasty, and offensive interference on Courtney Anderson).

- Jordan (45 yards), Fargas (32 yards), and Lee (49 yards) ran decisively between the tackles. Lee was able to pick up some nice gains using strong lead, kick-out blocks by FB Joe Hall. The Raiders rushed for 156 yards compared to the Niners meager 57 yards.

- The running backs did a nice job of handling the blitz pick-up.

- The Raiders were excellent at utilizing all of the TEs as weapons. Anderson, Williams, Madsen, and Santiago combined for 10 receptions for 158 yards.

- The offense was very balanced picking up 12 1st downs by run and 12 1st downs by pass.

- The defense did an excellent job of neutralizing the Niners running game.

- Huff shut down Vernon Davis who had only 1 catch for 5 yards and wasn’t a factor in the game.

- The D-Line applied good pressure on Alex Smith but were unable to get a sack.

- The LB corps were solid in tackling and pass coverage. Morrison in particular had an excellent all around game.

- Nnamdi Asomoghu was burned by Antonio Bryant for a 46 yard completion.

- Gibson was used in the nickel, 3rd down defense with Huff playing rover. When Huff went down with a minor ankle sprain, Gibson played out the 1st half as SS.

- Huff & Poole each had an interception in the 1st half. Huff returned his interception 46 yards.

- The defense didn’t commit any penalties the entire game.

Special Teams
- Lechler only punted 2 times (46.5 avg) which is always a good sign.

- Sea-Bass had 2 booming kickoffs that were deep in the end zone. He made a short 23 yard field goal at the end of the 1st half and is 7/7 in 3 exhibition games.

- The return and coverage units had another solid game.

This is the type of exhibition game that the Raiders fans and coaches were anxiously waiting to see. Our QB’s had a comfortable rhythm and were productive. Our O-line played sound football and committed only 1 penalty. The running game kept the chains moving and the offense balanced. Most of our receivers and all of our TEs were used effectively. The defense created 2 turnovers and pitched a shutout into the 4th quarter. The kickers (Sea-Bass, Kimball, Duncan) rang up 9 points on 3/3 field goals.

Next Up: Friday, August 25th vs. Detroit Lions.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Unwavering Hand

Too much noise has been made in regards to Moss’ reaction to being pulled off the field in the middle of a series against Minnesota.
"I was just more (ticked) off," Moss said. "I've never in my career been taken out of a (exhibition) game during a drive."
Most of the media swooped in like vultures ready to pounce on a juicy story that is much ado about nothing. It is much ado about nothing because of who is in charge of the Raiders. Head Coach Shell squashed this distraction in its tracks by saying it wasn't even an issue. Asked if he would speak with Moss over the incident, Shell said no. "There is no need to talk to him," Shell said. "I made a decision to take him out. There was a time frame for him to play. That time frame had come and gone. It was time to get him out of there. There is no need to have a conversation about that." What makes Moss one of the greatest receivers of all time is his burning desire to compete and showcase his extraordinary talents.
"He made a decision," Moss said. "He's the head coach. I've got to live with it. I don't call the shots. I can understand where he's coming from, but at the same time, I love the game, I love to play ball. We're out there sweating and breathing hard, so just leave me in and take me out after a punt, (or) score a field goal.”

Anyone who questions his commitment to the team is sadly mistaken. Moss played through injury last year when he could have easily sat out. Plain and simple. He played hurt because he thought it would give the team the best chance to win.

Moss is very passionate about his profession and sometimes his emotions get the best of him. He wants to be on the field, making plays, and be fully utilized to make a difference for the team’s success. I would hope that Moss learns how to channel his anger, frustration, and emotion in a more constructive way to become a better team leader.

As far as all the fans and media hitting the panic button, screaming "Brooks sucks", "Walsh's offense won't work" ... step off the ledge. The Raiders have been in training camp for less than 4 weeks and played only 2 exhibition games.

When a team has gone 13-35 over the last 3 years, has hired a new Head Coach and staff members, signed a new QB, reconfigured the O-line, has numerous rookies, 2nd year, 3rd year players starting, what did you expect? Total smooth sailing from day one with no rough waters? It doesn’t work that way.

It starts with the new Head Coach instilling his philosophies of the game. It than moves to one of the more important phases which is the players buying into and believing in the Head Coach's program. It takes shape with a grueling training camp of implementing the game plans, working on fundamentals and techniques. The exhibition games are used to evaluate the players’ performance and the progress of the team. The last stage before the regular season is to weed out the dead wood and assemble the final roster for battle. Once the regular season is underway, the process of evaluating the players’ performance, making adjustments in the game plans, and working hard in practice continues. Not to state the obvious but the 2006 edition of the Raiders is a work in progress.

I take comfort in the one constant, steady voice of Art Shell. "We're going to stay the course", "We need to continue to work hard in practice", "Robert (Gallery) is going to be fine" etc. Shell knows he has a big hill to climb in front of him. The Raider Nation needs to trust Shell’s judgment and ability to turn things around in due time. It will be Shell’s steady, unwavering hand that will ultimately guide the Raiders back to the top.

Exhibition Game #3 vs. San Francisco: An Eye on Sunday
In the upcoming exhibition game vs. San Francisco, here are some things to evaluate:

1) The Raiders O-Line - Are LT Gallery and RT Walker providing solid pass protection for Brooks? Is Gallery still shaking off any rust from being inactive with a quad injury a few weeks ago? Is the O-Line providing a consistent, dominant inside push on run plays?

2) QB Aaron Brooks - It is crucial that Brooks gets into a productive rhythm with the offensive unit. He needs to sting together multiple completions and 1st down conversions, and establish a level of awareness, consistency, and confidence.

3) The Raiders tight ends - The TE needs to be used as a primary weapon over the middle of the field to move the chains and set up the deep stikes down the sidelines for the receivers.

4) TE Pass Coverage - This is a golden opportunity to test out the defense against an elite TE. Will Thomas Howard and Michael Huff be able to blanket rookie sensation Vernon Davis. With a division loaded with awesome TE weapons like Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, Davis will be a good 1st test for our rookies Howard and Huff.

5) Offensive game plan & protection vs. 3-4 defense - The exhibition season is ideal for testing out the protection & run blocking schemes in preparation for the regular season. Our 1st regular season game is against San Diego which also uses a 3-4 alignment as their base defense.

6) Penalties & Turnovers - Minimizing the bone-head penalties and turnovers on offense while creating turnovers on defense has been the blue-print and points of emphasis throughout training camp. The exhibition game is an opportunity to focus on these important areas that can be the difference between a W and an L.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Calico Jack's Observations

Raiders 16 – Vikings 13
- The Raiders started off with a strong electrical spark from special teams ace Jerrod Cooper. Cooper jacked up Troy Williamson on the opening kick-off return causing Williamson to fumble the ball which was recovered by Ryan Riddle.

- Aaron Brooks looked erratic and never seemed to settle into any type of comfortable rhythm. His only completion in the game was a 16 yard strike to Moss. Although the 1st unit O-line is partly to blame for Brooks’ ineffectiveness, he needs to start making some positive plays when the protection scheme breaks down.

- It is imperative that Brooks starts to establish himself in the next exhibition game in order to build some confidence going into the regular season. Right now Brooks is getting the benefit of the doubt as the #1 starter due to his experience but he needs to pick it up (and soon) if he wants to remain the starter.

- The defensive units played well overall but it seemed to be a bend, don’t break style of play. I would like to see DC Ryan cut his defenders loose more in the pre-season by trying out some different blitz packages. Guys like Huff, Howard, and Williams need to get their feet wet with a few pre-season blitz attempts.

- Andrew Walter seemed much more comfortable in the pocket tonight although the results were mixed. His long bomb completion to Johnnie Morant looked effortless. Unfortunately his lack of experience showed by throwing 2 interceptions where he didn’t make the right read progressions. Walter & Morant seem to be developing a good connection.

- I don’t see Tui climbing the depth charts. Tui coughed up the ball twice with the Vikes recovering 1 of his fumbles. In the Raiders vertical offense, Tui is a fish out of water. Tui is a #3 insurance QB at best. I would like to see Brooks & Walter each play a complete half for exhibition games #3 and #4.

- The 1st unit O-Line didn’t take any real noticeable strides in progress in comparison to their 1st exhibition game performance. The pass protection broke down quite a few times and the run blocking lacked any real consistent push. RT Walker needs to move his feet more quickly in pass protection to seal off the outside rush lane. The Vikes DE beat Walker badly rushing the passer from a 3 man front. Is it just me or does Walker seem to lack the nasty disposition and aggressiveness to dominate his opponent?

- Could Sims find his way back to OT? Should McNasty slide over to RT and move Badger back to RG? I’m not convinced that the current starting O-Line is set. Both Walker & Gallery seem rusty and a step slow. Not a good combination.

- Both the O-Line and D-Line committed too many stupid offside penalties to count. Minimizing the number of pre-snap penalties has been a point of emphasis by Shell since day 1. What’s it going to take to iron out these transgressions? Running laps and doing push-ups for practice miscues is a good starting point. However I think that the players who continue to make these silly errors need to be taken off the field for a series or two.

- I was disappointed that the Raiders didn’t utilize the TE as a primary weapon in the offense. Total receptions: 0. In the Raiders newly installed offense, it is critical for the TE to be a featured weapon over the middle of the field to open up the outside areas of the field for the receivers.

- Overall the special teams played very well. Carr had a nice 60 kick off return and Sea Bass was 3/3 converting on a 55 yarder. Shane Lechler looked game ready averaging 53.4 yards on 5 punts with a long of 69 yards. The coverage teams did well with the exception of the run back by Kasper.

- The star of the night was Johnnie Morant who had 5 receptions for 108 yards and 1 TD. Will Buchanan had another good game with 4 receptions. With JP’s status uncertain, Ronald Curry’s health a question mark, and Carlos Francis on the shelf, Buchanan seems to have a legitimate shot at making the final 53 man squad.

- Next week: Sunday, August 20th vs S.F. 49ers

Friday, August 11, 2006

Legends Return Home

Some Raider legends found their way to the training camp facility in Napa this week. It is great seeing these old-time Raiders supporting the team and in particular, Head Coach Shell. It sends out a clear message to the young guns and veteran players alike. Number 1. Once a Raider, always a Raider. Number 2. The former Raiders are a part of an extended family that reaches across many generations. (photo above: Cliff Branch (1972-1985); Raymond Chester (1970-1972, 1978-1981).

I love seeing former players like Lester Hayes (1977-1986) passing the torch and sharing his wisdom with Nnamdi Asomugha. It is also very encouraging to see former players like Howie Long, Marcus Allen, and Gene Upshaw lending their names, support, and leadership to a foundation which helps former players who have fallen on tough times and need financial assistance for medical reasons.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Black Flag Network

Silver and Black Forever is excited to announce the launch of the Black Flag Network in tandem with Raider Take and The Raider Way.

Black Flag Network is a small band of marauding commentators dedicated to offering fresh and original content pertaining to the Oakland Raiders experience.

The goal of Black Flag Network is to grow reciprocal dialogue between network members and their fellow Raiders fanatics, under the belief that our collective synergy will surpass what we as individuals could achieve alone. While each member remains an independent entity, we are united in spirit, vision and outlook.

Black Flag Network embraces other Raiders-related forums and seeks a positive rapport with the entire Raider Nation. At its core, Black Flag Network is simply an extension of friends coming together in recognition of their common passion for the game, and in celebration of the greatest team and fans in the world.

Raise the Black Flag!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Raider Round-Up

Congratulations to Big John Madden for his long overdue enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. John had an amazing coaching career that I documented in this post. John was his usual goofy, fun loving self during his induction speech. His genuine enthusiasm and love for professional football is one of the chief reasons his bust is now sitting in Canton Ohio.

Al Davis proudly introduced John into the Hall of Fame. Al’s electric speech gave me goose bumps. Al Davis said “He loved the game. He loved his team. He loved the Raiders. He loved this league. You can see it today in everything he does with his games and his TV work. He loved the AFL and the NFL, and especially his players." Al Davis transcript.

John Madden Quote: “This is a celebration. It has to be fun. To have Al Davis here is something special. I mean, if it weren't for Al, I wouldn't be here. He was a guy that gave me an opportunity. He was a guy that hired me 40 years ago, brought me into pro football. He was a guy that made me a head coach when I was 32 years old. I had two years of pro coaching experience. Who the heck names a guy 32-years-old as a head coach? Al Davis did. But he not only named me head coach, he stood behind me and he helped me and he provided me with players, with great players. As he was saying, nine of the players are in the Hall of Fame. I mean, those are the types of players that he provided me with. He stood behind me not only the 10 years I was the head coach, but he stood behind me for the last 40 years. Al Davis is a friend, always has been a friend. I remember I had the opportunity to induct him into the Hall of Fame. At the time I said, you know, talking about loyalty, what a guy Al Davis was." John Madden transcript.

Here is a short list of former Raiders who deserve serious consideration into the Hall of Fame. Cliff Branch, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Tom Flores, Ray Guy, Jack Tatum, Lester Hayes.

One former Raider player who seems to be overlooked somewhat in the discussions of potential Hall of Fame inductees is Cliff Branch. However, if you dig through Branch's statistics, it is clear that he should be hearing his name called in Canton, Ohio soon.

Lynn Swann had an illustrious career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. After comparing & reviewing Swann’s career with Branch’s career, it is very clear that Branch has a very strong case for induction. Here are the meaningful numbers provided by

Cliff Branch:
Drafted 1972 in the 4th Round; played from 1972 to 1985 with the Raiders; 183 games

Lynn Swann:
Drafted 1974 in the 1st Round; played from 1974 to 1982; 115 games

Cliff Branch’s Key Statistics:
Regular Season: 501 receptions, 8685 yards, 17.3 avg., 67 TDs
Playoffs: 60 receptions, 1011 yards, 16.85 avg., 3 TDs
* Postseason data is not available prior to 1975
Pro Bowls: 4 (1974, 1975, 1976, 1977)
Super Bowl Appearances/Wins: 3/3
Super Bowl TDs: 3
All Time Top 50: Receiving Yards (47) & Receiving TDs (31)

Lynn Swann’s Key Statistics:
Regular Season: 336 receptions, 5462 yards, 16.3 avg., 51 TDs
Playoffs: 43 receptions, 830 yards, 19.3 avg., 8 TDs
Pro Bowls: 3 (1975, 1977, 1978)
Super Bowl Appearances/Wins: 3/3
Super Bowl TDs: 3
All Time Top 50: Not in the all time top 50 in any major category

History & Tradition
How great would it be if the Raiders had a building in Oakland or at least an area inside the stadium to pay tribute to the Raider legends of the game? Instead of a ring of fame like the Cowboys, the Raiders should raise a black flag at the stadium with each legend’s name and number. Legends like Jim Otto, George Blanda, Willie Brown, Gene Upshaw, Fred Biletnikoff, Art Shell, Ted Hendricks, Mike Haynes, Howie Long, Dave Casper, John Madden, and of course, Al Davis should be recognized & appreciated by the entire Raider family. The proud history & tradition of Raider football is one of the many reasons for such a loyal, rabid fan base. This is one way to pay tribute to the legends and appreciation to the fans.

Ticket Sale Marketing Ploy
Here’s a simple, cost effective idea to increase ticket sales and grow the Raider Nation fan base. Have designated home games with a Raider Legends bobblehead doll give-away. This would appeal to the die-hard fans and casual fans alike. It also would spur ticket sales to families and children. The boost in ticket sales from such a promotion would more than off-set the costs of giving away the bobblehead dolls. This marketing campaign could start off with bobblehead dolls for each Raider inducted into the Hall of Fame and then eventually include Raider greats from each era. Tell me that a Jack Tatum Bobblehead Doll game wouldn’t be a complete sell-out?

Raiders vs. Eagles Observations:
1. The Raiders won the Hall of Fame game on Sunday 16-10 but didn’t look sharp by any means. With only 2 weeks of training camp under their belts, I was expecting a glorified, sloppy scrimmage. In the 1st quarter, the Raiders 1st unit teams were destroyed by the Eagles.

2. Shoddy run defense and a few 3 and outs on offense showed that the team is a long ways off from playing playoff caliber football. It’s only early August but the Raiders offensive line really needs to tighten things up over the next 5 weeks.

3. In his first game as a converted linebacker, rookie Darnell Bing demonstrated a real nose for the football. He was the most active defender in the 2nd quarter. Both Grant Irons & Ryan Riddle played well in the 2nd half.

4. All 3 QBs looked tentative and shaky at times. I am hopeful that Courtney Anderson will continue to be used as a red zone target for Aaron Brooks. Their 12 yard TD hookup provided one of the few highlights of the game. Fabian Washington made a nice break on the ball for a pick and 40 yard scamper.

5. It was nice seeing Sea Bass drill 2 long field goals of 51 and 50 yards. The Raiders need Sea Bass to return to his form from a few years ago in order to compete and win the close games.

6. I will be a very interested observer of the Raiders 2nd exhibition game on 8/14 vs. Minnesota. Will the 1st unit defense do a better job stopping the run and clogging the line of scrimmage? Will the 1st unit offense execute the running attack with more efficiency? Steady improvement is needed in preparation for our 1st regular season game on 9/11 vs. San Diego.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Raider Rants

There has been plenty of dirt kicked on the Raiders grave over the past few months. Some of the gloomy predictions have been focused on the wisdom of bringing Art Shell back as Head Coach and Tom Walsh as the Offensive Coordinator. This has led to numerous articles wondering whether or not these guys can coach and adjust to the “new” football being played in this decade. There has been debate about whether Shell/Walsh can install an offense that will be effective against a zone blitzing defense. Football enthusiasts have doubted Aaron Brooks' ability to lead the Raiders. There has been many media experts predicting another miserable 4-12 season. The amount of bulletin board material is enough to re-wallpaper the entire locker room.

I'm genuinely concerned about the following as it relates to the 2006 season:
- Our reconfigured O-line gelling in time for the opener on 9/11.
- Our inexperienced defensive unit's ability to stop the run & create turnovers.
- A lack of depth at the running back and defensive tackle position.

Having voiced my concerns, here is my general take on the state of the Raiders union:
- The players have been positively influenced by Shells leadership. The team has completely bought into the “Raider Way” program excluding Jerry Pouter. The effort and team bonding in training camp has been tremendous. I don’t put much stock into what the “experts” are predicting. Some of these same journalists predicted that the Seahawks wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs last year. All of the ranting and raving about team records, playoff contenders, and power rankings don’t add up to a hill of beans. Once the regular season gets underway you can toss your Street & Smith magazine in the trash can. Whatever happens in the 60 minutes of game action and what the scoreboard says when the clock hits 0:00 is all that counts.

- The productivity of the offense doesn’t rise & fall solely on the shoulders of Tom Walsh or any 1 individual. Ultimately Art Shell is responsible for the offensive game plan and the offensive unit is responsible for executing the plan. Art Shell & Al Davis have endorsed Walsh. Enough said.- The Raiders offense will be running a stripped down, no frills attack with a basic philosophy. You won’t see a lot of motion by the receivers, trickery or gadget plays nor will you see lateral blocking schemes run by the O-Line. It comes down to the offensive lineman bloodying their opponents nose and the skill players making plays. The core of this philosophy is each man is responsible for winning his individual battle. It consists of running downhill, between the tackles and striking for long completions. How will this offense succeed? It will succeed by each player being accountable for his assignment and winning the individual battle. It will succeed by the individual’s talents being fully utilized which includes the freedom to improvise, adapt, and execute. It will succeed by the players’ exerting their collective will and effort and ultimately dominating the action.

- Giving players like Moss and Brooks the green light to team up on broken routes, if/when protection schemes break down, or improvised routes will produce the type of results that will make the highlight tapes of ESPN. Show me a CB or Safety that can stop Moss if the ball is thrown in his general vicinity. If Moss is involved on a consistent basis in the passing offense he will more often than not make plays regardless of the coverage. Throw the ball deep. Throw the ball up high and let him go get it. It boils down to Brooks trusting Moss and letting it fly. Name a DB that can out run, out jump, or out muscle a healthy, involved Moss. This stripped down offense probably sounds archaic to most of the NFL couch surfers. Even if the game has evolved over time it still comes down to the basic fundamentals of blocking, tackling, catching, passing, and running.

- As long as there is an aggressive, play to win effort demonstrated on a consistent basis by the players, I for one can live with the results in the 1st year under Shell's watch.

In an attempt to update my Six Ultra Key Positions post I have come up with my new Raiders Big 5. This is a slight variation of the ultra 6 which focuses more on the Raiders who need to make the biggest positive impact.

Raiders Big 5:
QB Aaron Brooks – Needs to develop a rappport with the offense and earn a leadership role by his performance. For the offense to make a leap in productivity, Brooks needs to make plays with his legs, arms, and mind. Ball security and sound decisions will be the tipping point.

LT Robert Gallery – Needs to play at an All-Pro level and completely seal off Brooks blind side on passing plays.

RB Lamont Jordan - He is the motor to an effective power running attack. Jordan must be a work-horse, stay healthy, and handle blitz pick-ups proficiently. With very little RB depth, it is absolutely critical that Jordan remains healthy.

DT Warren Sapp - The voice and Master Sergeant of the D, Sapp needs to have a solid, productive year by disrupting the interior of the offensive line, getting in the backfield, and holding down the fort against the opponents rushing attack. His ability to rally the troops will be especially vital this year when you consider that 9 of the 11 starters have 3 or less years of NFL experience. I have taken the liberty of booting Radio Gibson from the 1st team depth chart and replaced him with future Pro Bowl invitee Michael Huff.

SS Michael Huff – Aces are wild with Huff Daddy. He has all the earmarks of a difference maker; exceptional physical talents, savvy football intelligence, and maturity beyond his years. Huff’s versatility is the “X” factor on our D. He is the type of player who will raise the level of play of the entire secondary.

Hidden Gems:
DE Kevin Huntley – A very intriguing prospect who has had his moments in training camp. At 6’7”, 270 lbs., Huntley has the ability to ruin the QB’s sight line and knock down passes at the line of scrimmage. It is interesting that an unknown player with zero NFL experience like Huntley is being given every opportunity to shine. He is already slated on the 2nd team depth chart.

FB Joe Hall – Another intriguing prospect. At 6’2” 290 lbs., is he the battering ram FB that blasts the MLB and clears Jordans initial path to chewing up yards? Is it the equivalent of having an O-Lineman who can run in the backfield? Hall’s size & blocking abilities seem ideally suited to the offense that the Raiders are implementing.

Time to Step Up:
C Jake Grove – With the emphasis on a “ram it down your throat” running attack, Grove plays a pivotal role in calling out the offensive line adjustments. Jake needs to blast off the ball and get nasty.

DE Tyler Brayton – Penciled into the starting lineup going into the exhibition season. Brayton needs to develop a go-to pass rushing move and hold up at the point of attack on running plays to allow everyone to rally to the ball.

DT Terdell Sands – Will be rotated regularly with Sapp and Kelly and plays a crucial role in improving the team’s run defense. Sands needs to effectively clog the middle to allow the LBs to make plays.

SLB Sam Williams – Is this the year that Williams gets through an entire exhibition season in 1 piece? After 3 injury marred seasons it is time for Williams to start earning his keep. Less ginger bread cookie and more iron man Wiliams would be nice.

CB Nnamdi Asomugha – It is time to start playing a more aggressive brand of coverage and using his above average physical tools to create turnovers and handle his assignment. It is my hope that Huff’s presence will free up & unleash Nnamdi to take more chances and in turn get his fair share of interceptions.

Quote of the Week:
“I think Art is starting to get something I had when I was young and that is I was going to dominate it, no matter what it is. I was just going to get it done and I didn’t worry about all these other things. I wasn’t going to go the way of society wanted me to go or the culture want me to go. I was going to win.” Al Davis at 8/1 press conference