Monday, March 23, 2009

Building A Foundation

With the acquisition of Samson Satele today, the Raiders made another prudent move to upgrade the offensive line. Satele was acquired from the Fins by swapping 4th round selections (8th pick for 26th pick) and the Raiders giving up their 6th round pick. In this offseason, the Raiders have added Satele (C), Khalif Barnes (OT), and Erik Pears (OT). All 3 men are young lineman who upgrade the talent and competition level, fit the Zone Blocking Scheme, and provide much needed depth. Here is the scouting reports and additional comments for these new Raiders:

Samson Satele
Birth Date: November 29, 1984
Birth Place: Kailua, HI
Height: 6-3
Weight: 300 lbs.
Age: 24
Position: Center
Experience: 2 years
College: University of Hawaii

Grade: 79
Scouting Report:
Satele is coming off a very solid rookie season where he was one of the bright spots in a dismal Dolphins season. He has adequate size with good strength and athleticism. He was a versatile player coming out of college, who played center, guard and tackle. He can snap and step well to gain leverage in a confined area. He works with great body balance and positioning. He uses his hands well and runs his feet to stay connected. Samson is a hard-nosed intense blocker who finishes often. He has good pop and punch with his hands to engage defenders as well as solid foot agility and lateral quickness at the point of attack. Satele can pull and get on the perimeter when uncovered and is able to hit a target down field. He has power on combination blocks to get movement on interior zone-running plays. He can scoop block on the backside or chip to the second level on combination blocks. Satele is a solid gun snapper with consistent quickness and accuracy. He is a smart player who shows great awareness and reactions to changing fronts as well as blitz packages.

CJ's Comments:
Satele was a 2nd round choice who has started every game in his 2 years in the league. With the departure of Grove to Miami, the center position was one of the most critical need areas that had to be addressed. Satele holds his ground at the point of attack, has good lateral quickness which is ideal for the ZBS the Raiders run. This acquisition should pay immediate dividends and be looked upon as a key acquisition going into the 2009 season. In essence, we replaced a player (Grove) who had an injury history, trouble with the bull rush, and priced himself out of Oakland for a younger, more durable and talented player who will be motivated to secure his next big contract in 2 years.

Khalif Barnes
Birth Date: April 21, 1982
Birth Place: San Diego, CA
Height: 6-5
Weight: 325 lbs.
Age: 26
Position: OT
Experience: 4 years
College: University of Washington

Grade: 70
Scouting Report:
Barners is a fourth-year player who starts at LT. He has very good size, strength and athletic ability. In the run game he comes off the ball with adequate initial quickness. He can arrive with good pad level as an in-line blocker, but doesn't roll his hips to create a lot of movement. He will establish hand position quickly and then try to work his feet to seal or wall off. He has the size and strength to sustain effectively. He does an adequate job on reach blocks using strength rather than quickness. He has enough upper-body strength to recover, if his footwork is late. He has some problems adjusting versus quickness. He will get his weight forward and shows inconsistent adjustment skills at the linebacker level on a straight climb. He will overrun the angle in space and struggles to adjust. In pass pro, he has adequate overall foot quickness. Barnes has good balance and strength in his set and slide. He does a good job working his defender up field and pushing him past the QB. He will flash some nastiness to finish defenders that get off balance. He opens his hips quick at times. He has a good short set and punch in reaction to counters. He has good arm length to extend and strike. He has good strength to anchor a quick power rush. He's not a powerful run blocker, but he seals and sustains his angles effectively.

CJ's Comments:
It is amazing to me that the Raiders were able to secure a starting left tackle for a 1 year, $1.2M contract. Give Davis and Cable credit for playing their cards well in the meetings and negotiations with Barnes. Davis and Cable sold Barnes on this opportunity to secure a long term contract based on his 2009 performance. Barnes knows he is competing for the LT position with Mario Henderson who performed admirably the last 3 games of the season. Barnes has all of the tools to be an above average LT.

Erik Pears
Birth Date: June 25, 1982
Birth Place: Price, UT
Height: 6-8
Weight: 305 lbs.
Age: 26
Position: OT
Experience: 3 years
College: Colorado State

Grade: 62
Scouting Report:
He is a very tall tackle who shows above-average lateral range and initial quickness. His size gives him a lot of room for physical development as well as additional bulk, but it also becomes a liability at times because he is not a natural knee-bender and struggles getting his pad level down to where it should be. He has very long arms and does a good job of using that length to get a good fit with his hands to control and steer opponents on by the pocket. He has a tendency to play the game a little tall and he struggles out on an island in pass protection when he has to react and adjust to counter moves. He can kick-step out to pick up the speed rusher, but struggles to recover and redirect when the rusher comes back inside off the hard upfield burst. He is not real quick or explosive out of his stance when he fires out on cut blocks, which is a big part of Denver's zone-blocking scheme. While he is an adequate starter at right tackle, he needs to add more bulk and strength if he wants to get into the upper-echelon.

CJ's Comments:
Pear's familiarity and experience with the ZBS in Denver makes him a good system fit. He also provides competition and depth at OT. To be more effective at RT, Pear will need to add 15 to 20 lbs. of muscle to his large frame. Under the watchful eye of OL Coach Michlczik and HC Cable, I would expect Pears to develop into a solid, serviceable backup.

Projected starting OLine:
RT: Mario Henderson
RG: Cooper Carlisle
C: Samson Satele
LG: Robert Gallery
LT: Khalif Barnes

OT: Erik Pears, James Marten
OG: Paul McQuistan, Chris Morris
C: Chris Morris

OT: Kwame Harris

C: Jake Grove (Miami)

Soon to Be Released:
OT: Cornell Green
C: John Wade

Practice Squad:
OT: Brandon Torrey

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.