Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Flying Under The Radar



















This off season the Raiders have taken a new, on many accounts, sensible path garnering very little attention from the mainstream media. For those fans that like controversy, big ticket free agent splashes, and a steady stream of unfounded rumors it would be considered uneventful or even dull. Here are a few random thoughts and trends that I've noticed:

(1) A STAB AT STABILITY:
The first major decision this off season was retaining Tom Cable as Head Coach. Once Cable got settled into his new role as Head Coach during last season, there was a prevalent uptick on player performance, effort, execution, and results. This was especially evident in the way the Raiders closed out the 2008 campaign with impressive back to back wins over a streaking Texan team and a potentially playoff bound Bucs squad. Instead of the players going through the motions in a difficult season, the team rallied behind Cable with their guns a blazin'.

Al Davis and Tom Cable seem to have a solid working relationship based on trust, respect, and open communication. Cable's straightforward, egoless leadership style that stresses players fighting like hell for each other reminds me of John Madden. The fact that Cable openly seeks out Davis for counsel and has no wandering eye for other coaching vacancies makes this relationship more compatible and productive.

(2) REWARDING YOUR OWN:
The resigning of Pro Bowlers Nnamdi Asomugha and Shane Lechler sent a clear message to the team and fans. The message was that as an organization, the Raiders will compensate, recognize, and retain players who exemplify excellence, leadership, loyalty, and proven performance.

(3) RETAIN KEY PLAYERS:
Other resignings that were important; CB Chris Johnson who started opposite of Nnamdi as soon as MeAngelo Hall was shown the door. CJ was a very pleasant, unexpected surprise. His performance in the last 8 games of the season was remarkable when you consider he hadn't ever started in the NFL and the opposing QBs relentlessly attempted to pick on him by staying away from #21's side of the field. Another resigning that was critical to special teams was the retention of Isaiah Ekejiuba who is arguably one of the very best special teams player in the entire NFL. You need to be a die hard to appreciate Ekejiuba's fine play and to even know about him. From a continuity standpoint, the resigning of OG Cooper Carlisle was huge.

(4) BUILDING THROUGH YOUTH:
Instead of throwing benjamins at high profile free agents this off season, the Raiders coaching staff seems confident with a good core of young players. Some of these young players have yet to establish themselves for a host of reason such as lack of playing time, lack of starts, injuries, and various other reasons. The continued development of key players like JaMarcus Russell (QB), Darren McFadden (RB), Michael Bush (RB), Oren O'Neil (FB), Jonnie Lee Higgins (WR), Chaz Schillens (WR), Zack Miller (TE), Mario Henderson (OT), Tyvon Branch (S), Ricky Brown (LB), Jay Richardson (DE), Trevor Scott (DE) is paramount to success in 2009.

(5) ESTABLISHMENT OF TEAM FIRST ATTITUDE:
Ridding the locker room of a losing culture is achieved by releasing players who either underperformed or didn't buy into the Cable's leadership. Guys like Kwame Harris (poor performance), Kalimba Edwards (aging PT vet), Gibril Wilson (cap considerations), and Justin Griffith (injury concerns) were cut loose. Players such as Fargas, Gallery, Walker, and Warren all willingly restructured their contracts to free up cap space for the team.

(6) AN EYE TOWARDS THE DRAFT:
The #7 pick in the draft should be a key building block for the Raiders short term and long term success. I have narrowed down my short list to the following candidates;

At the very top of my "wish" list is B.J. Raji (DT, Boston College). I base this selection on a combination of talent and need. B.J. is a 6'1', 325 prototype NT immovable object that would plug holes, collapse the pocket, and be your classic space eater. The most pressing need for the Raiders to take the next step up the competitive ladder is to improve on run defense. Until teams stop gashing us by running the ball down our throats, it will be difficult to have sustained success as a team.

A very close 2nd on my "wish" list is Eugene Monroe (OT, Virginia). Monroe would be considered a perfect fit for Cable's zone blocking scheme. He is very similar to 1st year player Ryan Clady of Denver in terms of his agility, athleticism, size (6'5, 315), and top shelf footwork. If the Raiders take Monroe, I could foresee him competing against Henderson for the starting LT slot with the "loser" manning the RT position.

If Raji and Monroe are snatched up before the 7th pick, I would lean towards Michael Oher (OT, Ole Miss). Oher's overall skill set is extraordinary but he would be more of a hybrid OT (power drive blocking and zone blocking). Oher also might be more suited to play RT instead of LT. In terms of draft value, a LT is above a RT.

Many Raider fans are clamoring for WR Michael Crabtree who has been one of the most productive pass catchers in the history of college football. I'm not bullish on Crabtree for a few reasons. First and foremost, I don't believe WR is a more pressing need than building our lines. Secondly, in my opinion, the WR position is not a good value pick this high due to the nature of the position's lack of impact. Thirdly, I have concerns about any player who recently had major surgery and a screw placed in his foot. Last but not least, it is a matter of priorities. In my estimation, WRs are dessert while the OL/DL is the "meat and potatoes" of a good team. With a fairly sizable list of positions that need to be either upgraded, filled, or have question marks (OT, C, DT, DE, SLB, S, WR), the Raiders need to focus on the trenches with their only 1st round pick.

17 Comments:

Blogger H said...

Calico,

Good job. I lean toward Oher for the O-Line. Mainly because I saw him play more than Monroe.

I do like B. J. Raji. Would not be disapointed with him at all. One of the problems with Turdell Sands is his height. Raji has a lower center of gravity. It makes him harder to push around.

If we want a WR there should be several available in the second round and possibly some fairly serviceable ones still in the third round.

H

4:56 AM  
Anonymous gary said...

I can't disagree with a word of this (and you know I would if I could, lol).

I decided to not get so wrapped up in whom the Raiders pick this year after getting so vested and angry when he picked someone I didn't think was a need last year. If Al picks a WR instead of line help.. so be it. I think Dallas went QB, RB, WR... with their first picks on successive years with Jimmy Johnson, and look how that worked out. Granted they also had the best o-line maybe in history, but it will make an interesting team with Crabtree. I really don't see Al passing on him if he is there dangling like bait to a fish that hasn't ate in three weeks... regardless of how sensible things have been to that point with Cable.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous gary said...

BTW, a friend of mine mentioned an interesting point a while back that might be valid... if Al had simply picked the best player available (like he used to do) with all our top ten picks the last few years, instead of drafting needs, we might be light years ahead.

Think about it... we'd have Larry Fitz, Matt Lienart, Adrian Peterson, and Dorsey? on roster right now.

Ja, maybe Leinart isn't any good, but imagine Fitz and AP on the same team???

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Arkansan Raider said...

Very good post, CJ! I can't disagree with any of it--especially on B.J. Raji. That should be our man, right there.

---Jeff

8:46 AM  
Blogger BlandaRocked said...

I don't think many would disagree with this Calico. I left a comment over at RT that it seems to me the Raiders are also going back to their old ways of beating the bushes for undiscovered talent.

And that's the benefit of Tom Cable. Tom Cable grew up a Raider fan. His life dream has been to be the HC of the Raiders. He's the absolute perfect man to go to Davis and say, "you know, you guys used to do this thing that we don't do anymore. Why don't we do it again?"

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have watched a lot of Big 12 though not it is not as good as the SEC it is not far behind-----Crabtree is a special talent.

Per Gary's comment/example of Cowboy's under JJ we might as well go all in Russell, McFaden, Crabtree====== offensive line be damned

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Secondly, in my opinion, the WR position is not a good value pick this high due to the nature of the position's lack of impact."

You ever hear of Larry Fitzgerald or would you prefer Chaz Schilens

8:18 PM  
Blogger Calico Jack said...

Anon:

There is always going to be exceptional players that come out of the draft including WRs such as Fitzgerald.

Crabtree could very well be an awesome player in the NFL. But let's not forget a few important facts.

Fact 1: Crabtree's production was largely due to the spread offense Texas Tech ran.

Fact 2: Crabtree is coming off of a farily serious injury to his foot so this is additional risk in taking him.

Fact 3: In terms of value ask any GM and he will tell you a LT or DT is a higher impact position. A WR rarely merits a top 7 pick just look at the last 20 years of draft history and you will be hard pressed to name WRs picked in the top 7 let alone achieved greatness. This is not an accident.

My opinion about the upcoming draft is that the foundation of a good team is in the lines. In particular, the Raiders run D has been horrible the last six years.

Although the WR is a need position and Davis very well might take Crabtree, I believe it would be more prudent to concentrate on improving the lines first and find the best available WR later in the draft or through a 2nd tier free agent WR such as Drew Bennett.

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CJ,

Saw your comment to anon and must disagree how about Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, Larry fitzgerlad, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Plexico Burress, Tory Holt, Randy Moss all first rounders many top ten all stars

The NFL is about pasing the ball in cas you have not noticed---look at even the Steelers these days. Jamarcuss has no on

Crabtree plays in a spread offense sounds like you read to many sports articles

One question have you ever seen a Texas Tech game?


I have I saw him burn my beloved longhorns he is awesome

Texas Steve

4:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pick is Maclin or Crabtree Raiders just signed Barnes

Old Skool Raider

5:36 AM  
Blogger Calico Jack said...

Texas Steve:

You could name just about any position and easily find a few stars that came out of the 1st round.

I don't discount the need for a good WR on the Raiders. My point is that it is a matter of priorities. We are talking about a team that has had double digit losses the past six consecutive seasons. One of the chief reasons for this epidemic of losses is subpar lines. WRs are the shiny rims on a car while the line is the engine.

Yes, I've seen Crabtree play for TTech. Yes, I was impressed with his skills. I don't debate that he is an excellent prospect.

Now that the Raiders have signed Barnes, it is looking like the Raiders draft Crabtree.

However, if given the choice between Crabtree and Raji at #7, to me it a no brainer. Raji is the player who would have a bigger impact on the Raiders 2009 fortunes. Why? Until the Raiders are able to prevent opponents from gashing us by running it right down our throats, we won't be able to climb the competitive ladder.

1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CJ,

Hear ya man. Interiro D is week never seen Raji play not a lot of ACC on down this way

Last time Raiders were strong up the middle was Grady/Parrela/Adams 2000-2003 good teams good times

Texas ateve

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Raided Nate 75 said...

How does the injury to Crabtree play into this though? I mean, I know he's put off surgery until after his workout; but if he doesn't make training camp, he won't be a starter; which could cause his stock to drop.
Now it won't be as significant as Michael Bush's drop; but depending on the severity, and the surgical procedure, I am wondering if he would drop to the 2nd Round.
I am thinking this for a few reasons:
1. Nobody knows the severity of his injury. We just know that he has a broken bone in his foot, and that it requires surgery.
2. Nobody has heard a thing about it since it was discovered, and his name hasn't been in the news since his press conference announcing that his intention was to have surgery after his workout.
When is his workout? Did it already happen? You would think the press would want to cover that. Hey TX Steve, I'm in Austin, and my wife went to Tech; so I'm big on Crabtree too, but I'm wondering if he is worth the 7th overall pick considering his situation. Where are you at, and what have you heard on these matters?

With that said, I still think we have a successful pick at WR with the picks of Darrius Heward-Bey, Jarret Dillard, and Marko Mitchell (the latter of the 2 in later rounds).

6:04 AM  
Blogger Raider Karma said...

Great post!

I agree 100% on all your points. I'm against using #7 for a receiver. There is a lot of talent to be found in the later rounds at that position. The only time a receiver should be a top 10 pick is when he's a monster talent (Ftizgerald, Andre Johnson). To me Crabtree is not one of those talents.

Draft in the trenches early and get a receiver late.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nate, Crabtree had surgery in early March he will not be ready to workout until mid may so knwo 40etc. I would like to see the Raiders trade down (CJ's right numerous holes to fill) however if they are sitting at 7 and Smith & Monroe are gone they would be a fool not to take Crabtree awesome hands he is a playmaker big time.

I am in Houston area now have lived all over US and Austin is one fo the best quality fo life of any city great place Texas Steve

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really disagree with your assessment draft wise. But I am constantly amazed at how many of us in the Nation,like yourself, have completely dismissed the astounding lack of production from our WR corps in 2008.And just how easily it's dismissed as not a major concern. We got guys right here on this blog saying we can wait until the 3rd rd to take a WR. Did you watch the Raiders last year? We had the lowest rated passing game in the NFL.That led to having one of the lowest scoring offenses in the league. Our entire WR corps had fewer TD's combined than a guy like Larry Fitzgerald. One guy. And the WR position is not a priority? Nobody could get open, catch the ball or run a route.After two good games at the end of the 2008 season, we have apparently decided that Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilliens have solved the problem @ WR.Not quite. I still maintain the obvious, immediate problem for the Raiders is the inablilty to score TD's. All the positions you mentioed are big concerns, but until we can actually move the ball and put some points on the board it's all a mot point.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the lines are a priority, we need a top-tier WR to open up things underneath for DMac and Miller.
When you're in the top 10 of the draft, you don't pass up on skill position talent.

That said, I believe Maclin is our guy. Based off what I've seen of Crabtree, he's going to have a Keyshawn Johnson career in the NFL. I personally believe he's peaked in his talent, whereas Maclin hasn't. He has the second gear for big plays and he reads the field well, making defenders miss. There's a lot more potential in Maclin than Crabtree.

Add to that, Al didn't draft JaMarcus to dink and dunk.

I urge fans to look up the youtube highlight reels and decide for yourselves. Tell me what you think. Do you see Crabtree or Maclin getting separation from NFL defenders?

8:33 AM  

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