Every year and in every city the preseason is when the fans watch to see if they have the next impact rookie.
This year’s top crop includes Rolando McClain, Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer, Jacoby Ford, Bruce Campbell and Walter McFadden.
What is often lost in the rush to evaluate the rookies is just how much a second year player can improve and make an impact for a team. One recent example is Tyvon Branch.
Branch, as a Sophmore, lead all safties in tackles. He figures to be an impact player for the Raiders in 2010 and beyond.
The 2010 sophmore crop includes: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Mike Mitchell, Louis Murphy, Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant and Marcel Reece. These sophmores will all see significant playing time in 2010.
The offseason has been filled with reports on Heyward-Bey’s improvement. He’s looked like the best player on the field at times and his route running is much better. All the reports a vast departure his the drop-filled 2009.
Mike Mitchell’s rookie campaign was hindered by a hamstring that kept him out of camp and into the regular season. In limited duty late in the year he had success, but questions remain about his coverage skills.
Will Murphy be able to build on a successful 2009. You would think the addition of Jason Campbell would enable Murphy to take a leap forward, but unless Chaz Schilens remains on the sideline, Murphy could be forced to in the slot. Murphy will have to compete for reps with a more crowded core of young receivers.
Matt Shaughnessy has been so impressive the Raiders cut Greg Ellis and moved Richard Seymour to defensive tackle. Equally strong against the run and pass, Shaughnessy’s progression will go a long way towards determining the success of the Raiders defensive line in 2010.
Desmond Bryant is all of the sudden fourth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. This isn’t a terrible problem to have. Bryant still needs to become more consistent, but he can be a valuable member of the defensive line with limited snaps. Giving the aging Henderson, Kelly and Seymour a breather will be his primary role, but that’s not to minimize it. The Raiders will expect minimal drop-off in play when they call on Bryant’s number.
While many fans will keep a close eye on the rookies, perhaps it is the sophmores that are hungry and primed to make an impact in 2010.
Gameday: Follow the game with me via Chat, Twitter, and Facebook.
Fifth in a series analyzing players that need to step up their game in 2010 for the Raiders to be a playoff team.
Keeping Everyone Fresh
Desmond Bryant is the 290 pound defensive tackle who played 28% of the snaps in 2009. He is a Harvard graduate.
By comparison, Tommy Kelly played 69% of the snaps, Gerard Warren played 70% of the snaps and Richard Seymour played 23% of the snaps at defensive tackle.
This offseason, Warren was released, Seymour was given the exclusive franchise tag, Lamarr Houston was drafted, and John Henderson was signed. Kelly is still playing on his huge contract and Bryant was penciled in as the team’s new starting defensive tackle with Seymour slated to start at end. In a surprise move, it was announced Houston would play end as well.
As it turns out, Houston would play end because Seymour will play more inside. At least this has been the case in training camp to this point.
Where does that leave Bryant?
Bryant has gone from the potential starter opposite Kelly early in the offseason to the fourth or even fifth option. Seymour, Henderson and Houston will likely steal his snaps. There just isn’t enough to go around.
The coaches have done a good job of talking up Bryant, but it hasn’t been showing. His role is dwindling and he hasn’t made enough camp plays to be noticed.
It is still early, but Bryant needs to step up his game to even have a role in 2010 and beyond.
Unlike the previous players in this series, Bryant’s role isn’t clearly important to the Raiders making the playoffs in 2010. If Bryant was cut or didn’t see the field, few would likely point to him as the reason why the Raiders were or were not successful.
Perhaps Bryant’s importance is best pushed out one year. This will be the final year Tommy Kelly will receive a large sum of guaranteed money, which means the Raiders aren’t likely going to keep Kelly without a restructured contract in 2011. Seymour and Henderson are playing on one year contacts.
Bryant needs to prove to the Raiders he is ready for a starting role in 2011, if he doesn’t the Raiders will likely look elsewhere.
The Raider Nation must wait until Monday to begin assessing the team behind the leadership of new starter Jason Campbell. Thanks to Tom Cable’s ‘learning intensive’ practices, the Raiders will not put on pads until Monday.
Enjoy the weekend for what it is, a non-contact, buzz generating walk-through. Sad to say, the Raiders have deprived the fans the opportunity to assess their favorite team for the first four days of camp.
Hopefully Cable is right and the learning intensive practices make for fewer mistakes and fewer soft tissue injuries for the rest of camp.
Monday is when the assessment can truly begin and questions can be answered.
1) Can the linebackers cover? – This can be gauged without pads, but a hit and tackle from the linebackers will change the way the backs and receivers run through the middle.
2) Can Mario Henderson be an above average left tackle? – We need Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy pushing him around with pads.
3) How many scraps will Lamarr Houston get into? – One already and he doesn’t have pads on yet.
4) Who wins the starting running back job? – Can Bush show burst and run aggressively? Will McFadden secure the ball?
5) Is Darrius Heyward-Bey really improved? – All signs point to yes, but we don’t really know until Nnamdi can play him with pads.
6) Can Chaz Schilens stay healthy? – Already a spectator. What happens when the team starts hitting.
7) Do the Raiders have enough depth in the secondary? – Routt becoming a drama queen and rookies are the other primary backups.
8) Is the offensive line strong enough to protect the QB? – Khalif Barnes? Langston Walker? Samson Satele? Mario Henderson? Far from an all-pro offensive line.
*If there is any silver lining to learning intensive practices, it is that I am going camping this weekend. I’ll be checking in as cell service permits on Twitter and the blog should any significant news break.
The Raiders have announced the signing of Lamarr Houston.
I reported earlier today on Twitter that the deal would likely be done today.
McClain’s deal should be signed in time for him to take the field when the Raiders start camp on Thursday.
Al Davis has a long track record of having his picks signed in time for camp. In some cases even paying a little extra to do so.
People forget that Al Davis wasn’t negotiating JaMarcus Russell’s deal originally. When Al Davis did take over, the deal was done within a week.
Update: Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times reports the deal for Lamarr Houston is a four-year deal worth up to $4.33 million and $2.505 million guaranteed.
If football games are won in the trenches, it only seems appropriate to take a closer look at the Raiders’ defensive line.
The Raiders released Gerard Warren this winter and drafted Lamarr Houston from the University of Texas to solidify the defensive line.
Warren was inconsistent, showing flashes the past couple seasons. The former first-round selection has never played to his talent level. The Raiders were the third team to give up on him. Of course, he was also due a sizable salary in 2010 and that money can be put to better use.
The Raiders have surprising decided to put Houston at defensive end, instead of his college position of defensive tackle. What on the surface seems like an odd move is actually a very logical one.
Houston’s talents would be wasted playing the one-technique tackle position and the three-technique tackle position is still being occupied by Tommy Kelly.
Kelly has been much criticized due to the large contract he received in 2007. While Kelly may never live up to the money he was paid, he hasn’t been a horrible player.
In 2009, Kelly totaled 14 quarterback pressures and five quarterback hits, with one sack. He was routinely good in pass rush. Obviously his weakness is still defending the run, but the Raiders have never asked the three-technique tackle to support the run on a regular basis.
The job of supporting the run has been placed in the lap of the other defensive tackle. The Raiders hope Desmond Bryant, the second year player out of Harvard, is ready succeed where Warren failed.
Tom Cable has routinely talked about Bryant as a player the Raiders are excited about. One quarterback pressure and one forced fumble in 2009 is enough to get excited about? It is, because Bryant is the primary run defender on the defensive line. He will need to improve upon his solid rookie campaign and keep bodies off of rookie middle linebacker Rolando McClain.
What about the ends? How do the Raiders plan to use Houston, Seymour and Matt Shaughnessy?
Seymour is unique; he is able to play tackle in obvious passing situations and end. This will allow the Raiders to keep Kelly, Houston and Shaughnessy on the field. There is no need to worry about Richard Seymour, unless he holds out of training camp.
This pass rush centric grouping should be able to bring a solid pass rush from just the front four, but would expose the Raiders up the middle to the run. The Raiders drafted McClain to solve this obvious problem. Don’t expect McClain to come off the field in anything but third and very long situations.
In down and short situations, Houston, Seymour, Kelly and Bryant would be the run stopping group. It isn’t that Shaughnessy is bad at defending the run, but Houston should be more effective clogging gaps.
The Raiders have bet heavily that McClain is going to be able to deter teams from running up the gut, forcing ball carriers outside where the line can be more effective.
The Raiders will not have a ton of speed along the defensive line, but all the players are quick, agile and strong with a good first step.
The logical conclusion, however hard to believe, is that the Raiders will blitz outside linebackers more frequently in 2010 when extra pressure is needed.
Kamerion Wimbley has never played the SAM linebacker position. He has played as a rush end and rush linebacker. He knows how to rush the passer. The Raiders would be unwise to waste his best attribute.
Trevor Scott’s best attribute as a WILL linebacker is also pass rushing. Thomas Howard would be the primary coverage linebacker.
Quentin Groves is also seen as a pass rushing type linebacker. All signs point to the Raiders bringing a fifth or sixth guy to put pressure on the quarterback.
The Raiders have logically built the defensive line to be both improved against the run and pass.
If the Raiders defensive line can improve along with the linebackers, the Raiders have the potential to be one of the better defensive teams in the league.
How about some one-liners?
- JaMarcus Russell looked good, who knows what that means going forward.
- Russell looked noticeably thinner than last season, not 300 pounds (Shame on NationalFootballPost.com for reporting it)
- Richard Seymour is working on a long-term contract with the Raiders
- Oren O’Neal was waived
- Veteran Michael Bennett is in for a tryout as was rookie DT Allen Smith from Stanford.
- Bruce Campbell has a severe learning disability, which likely aided his fall in the draft. More on that as it becomes available.
- Additions and subtractions to my undrafted rookie list. Add TE John Owens and DB Joey Thomas, remove WR Trent Guy (Panthers).
- Russell hasn’t taken a pay cut…yet.
- The Raiders are still a 4-3 defense, despite much speculation.
- Lamarr Houston is indeed playing left end. He will have a tough time earning a starting role there.
- Russell’s bling necklace inventory: #2 Jersey, The Chosen One, Russell Figure with a cape, a hand giving a middle finger. Of course, all diamond encrusted to the hilt.
- Robert Gallery was participating.
- Chaz Schilens, Nick Miller, and Bruce Gradkowski (obviously) did not participate.