In this relaunch of the Raidersblog Podcast, Taylor Armosino and Christopher Hansen analyze the new coaching staff, Tim Brown’s comments about Super Bowl XXXVII and the 2013 Senior Bowl.
or other podcast clients: http://raidersblog.com/feed/podcast
In this relaunch of the Raidersblog Podcast, Taylor Armosino and Christopher Hansen analyze the new coaching staff, Tim Brown’s comments about Super Bowl XXXVII and the 2013 Senior Bowl.
or other podcast clients: http://raidersblog.com/feed/podcast
Three-hundred-and-sixty-three days have passed since the Raiders opened the 2011 season against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football, and at the time many believed the Raiders were finally back on track. Penalties were going to be a thing of the past, bullies were being built, and the only injury known to man was a “nic.” Just one year ago the Raiders were about to usher in the Hue Jackson era, and fans were hyped to see this newly created “bully” in action. Everything seemed to be falling into place for the Silver and Black and the team was poised to make a serious run at the playoffs for the first time since 2002, except the season began unfolding as if it were being scripted by the writers of Lost.
After managing to stumble to a 2-2 record to start the season, shock waves rippled through the franchise as news broke that legend and Raiders owner Al Davis had passed away. With plenty of mixed emotions, the Raiders had a game to play the next day against the Houston Texans. They went on to win that game in the final seconds, honoring the man who had led them for the nearly 50 years.
As the dust began to settle the Raiders still had a season to finish and the hits didn’t quit coming. In the very next game, starting quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone leaving the Raiders with only Kyle Boller at quarterback. Without Davis to call the shots as he had done for so long, no one was quite sure what was going to happen. The answer came two days later, when Hue Jackson was given the authority to pull off a stunner of a trade that sent a first and second-round draft pick to the Bengals for retired quarterback Carson Palmer.
As everyone tried to digest what had just taken place, there were only a few days left to prepare before the Raiders faced the division rival Kansas City Chiefs. Trying to forget what they had to give up to get him, the Raiders now had a quarterback who they thought could lead the team to the playoffs. It was just a matter of getting Carson Palmer up to speed with the offense while leaning heavily on one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL, right?
While that plan seemed to make sense at the time, Kyle Boller was quickly proving to everyone why he has not been able to hold a job in the NFL and the Raiders were hit with even worse news: Darren McFadden suffered a Lisfranc injury against the Chiefs that would cause him to miss the rest of the season. Hue Jackson contended that McFadden was “close” to returning on a weekly basis, but he never did.
Carson Palmer was left trying to pick up the pieces of a season that started out with so much hope. Unable to stay true to his word, Jackson did not fix the penalty issue and his team set a record for the most penalties in a single season. Still, the Raiders managed to be in position to win a very weak AFC West, but failed to beat San Diego in their final game, and once again fell short of the playoffs for a ninth-straight season.
Fast forward to January 2012. Mark Davis took over for his dad as the team’s owner and he hired Reggie McKenzie to be the next general manager. The situation seems equal to that of Aaron Rodgers replacing Brett Favre. McKenzie is replacing a legend, but he is not trying to become the next Davis. He will have to make his own name and do things his own way. Change is a process and takes time and patience which is something Raiders fans are starting to run out of after nine-straight seasons without making playoffs.
Many moves made by McKenzie and some moves he will make in the near future will be met with skepticism. That is not uncommon according to Saul Alinsky, “Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
McKenzie’s road to success will not be easy, but that will not temper any existing expectations. At this point in time it’s anyone’s guess how much or how little success he will have in Oakland. However, in order to more clearly understand what is being judged, its important to be aware of the obstacles and decisions McKenzie faced upon becoming the new general manager of the Raiders.
Like most new general managers, the first order of business for McKenzie was deciding who he wanted to have coach his team. That is not a choice you want to take likely and could ultimately decide his success early on. He was well aware of the rotating door Oakland has had with their head coaches and he needed to find a guy he trusted to help bring the Raiders back to excellence, even if immediate success was impossible. Unfortunately for Hue Jackson, he was not that man. Could the argument be made that Jackson didn’t get a fair shot? Sure, but the NFL is a business and business is not about fair.
After 18 days of searching and countless interviews, McKenzie found his guy in Dennis Allen. “When I talk about the guy I was looking for, I’m looking for a guy that could lead these men, that was passionate about the game, that was passionate about teaching, passionate about the Oakland Raiders.” McKenzie said when introducing Allen at his press conference. “Guys, not only did coach Dennis Allen do that for me, he exceeded those expectations.”
One of the reasons this decision was so important was because McKenzie believes in giving his head coach full power over hiring his staff. That is something past head coaches in Oakland did not have, they may have had input, but it was Al Davis who made the final decisions on hiring or firing. McKenzie also noted that he and Allen will always have open communication, but it was up to the head coach what schemes would be run. That is certainly a change of pace in Oakland.
Allen proceeded to hire Jason Tarver to run the defense, who comes with a very aggressive and multiple look defensive style which is very different from the base 4-3 man defense that had been a Raiders staple for as long as anyone can remember. Greg Knapp is back to run the offense under Allen, which means Jackson’s power blocking scheme and trickery are out and the West Coast Offense and zone-blocking scheme are in. Learning completely different schemes on both sides of the ball in one offseason is much harder than most people realize.
The hard part for McKenzie was just beginning . Now that he had a head coach, he next had to figure out a way to get the roster under control, which would be no easy task. Starring him in the face was $145 million dollars in salary for 2012 ($25 million over the salary cap) and $16 million more than the Carolina Panthers who had the next highest salary total. It was no secret that in the latter years of Al Davis’ life he was operating in a “win now” mode, which often times meant the only thing that mattered was getting who he felt was the best players he could at whatever cost was necessary. That meant a lot of traded draft picks and back-loaded contracts, many of which were well over market value.
McKenzie was left to sort it all out, trying to find a way to cut at least $25 million in salary for 2012 as well as give himself a little breathing room for free agency and signing draft picks. McKenzie had to do this while trying to maintain a competitive roster and preventing the same situation from happening next offseason. Easier said than done, especially when you are without your first, second and third-round draft picks due to roster moves made before you took over.
During that process, McKenzie was faced with difficult roster decisions on some of his core players. He wasted no time in weeding out the “out of whack” contracts and cut ties with Stanford Routt on February 9th, just over a month after he was hired. This sent a message to everyone inside and outside the organization, nothing would be handed to anyone anymore.
The year before Routt was released he was given a five-year, $54.5 million contract. No matter his opinion of Routt’s skill as a player, McKenzie knew he was not worth $10 million per year. Another major decision was how to proceed with Kamerion Wimbley, who was the Raiders best outside pass rusher. WImbley carried a contract of five years, $48 million. If Wimbley was on the roster by the start of the new league year (March 17th), he would have been owed $17.5 million in guaranteed money (including $11 million in 2012). If cut, the Raiders were only on the hook for $6.5 million, but would also lose their best edge rusher and would be in a tough spot to try to replace him.
After refusing to take a pay cut, Wimbley would eventually be released. This left the Raiders having to pay $6.5 million in dead money for 2012, but relieved them of Wimbley’s remaining contract. Kevin Boss and Cooper Carlisle were also later released, but McKenzie was able to re-work the contracts of Carson Palmer, Michael Huff, Richard Seymour and Aaron Curry to keep them on the roster. Carlisle later resigned with the Raiders at a much lower rate.
McKenzie mentioned shortly after he was hired that each position would be evaluated from front office personnel to players on the field. He said that at the right time, the appropriate changes would be made. Holding true to his word, on February 16th it was announced that long-time Senior Executive John Herrera would no longer work for the new Raiders front office. Known in many circles as Al Davis’ “yes man”, John Herrera—mostly known for denying every media report regardless of truth—represented the exact image that McKenzie wanted to change. Zak Gilbert was later hired as director of Media Relations and Mike Taylor was hired as Director of Pubic Affairs going forward. As many have noted, the Raiders have since become much more open and media friendly.
McKenzie’s next major moves came in the form of re-vamping the football operations personnel. Shaun Herock (son on Ken Herock) who worked with McKenzie in Green Bay was hired as the director of college scouting and Reggie’s twin brother Raleigh was also hired to help in the scouting department. McKenzie also brought Joey Clinkscales from the New York Jets to work as director of personnel. Clinkscales served as the V.P. of college scouting with the Jets and was a college teammate and childhood friend of McKenzie.
Tonight, the Raiders will open the 2013 season against the San Diego Chargers with a new general manager, new front office personnel, new media relations, new scouting department, new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and 23 new players on the 53-man roster. The Raiders are truly starting fresh is 2012. It’s almost mind-blowing how much change has taken place in such a short amount of time.
Only time will tell how successful year one will be for the new-era Raiders. Most fans seem to agree that this team is just as good, if not better than a year ago which is a pretty incredible feat considering the circumstances.
Mike Mitchell’s journey to the NFL has not exactly been the path of least resistance. The strong safety from Ohio University put up some impressive numbers in college including 212 total tackles, 7 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. However, like many that come from a lower tier college, Mitchell was met with a lot of doubt because of the level of competition he played against. A player who never seems to be lacking confidence on the field, would need to quickly find an abundance of it in order to make one last effort to prove his value to scouts prior to the NFL Draft.
Mike’s impressive play on the field was not his only meal ticket though. He also had the measurables that most scouts would drool over. At 6′ 1″ 220 lbs Mitchell ran a 4.39 forty yard dash and put up 22 reps on the bench. With those kind of numbers he was sure to be noticed by scouts all over the place. The classic workout numbers that sends guys shooting up draft boards every February and making them very hard to ignore. Mike’s draft stock took another hit though when he failed to receive an invite to the NFL combine where he could have put his workout numbers out there for everyone to take notice. That meant that his pro day performance alone would have to be enough garner interest around the league.
Leading up to the draft Mitchell began getting some attention as a potential riser come draft day. Of course the Raiders were mentioned as a potential landing spot for a guy who ran a sub 4.4 forty combined with the raw physical talent that he possessed. The hype did not fall on deaf ears though as fans began to fall in love with YouTube highlight video’s and started getting excited about the potential steal that could be Mike Mitchell. On draft day though, the surprise did not come from the fact that he was drafted, but it was where he was drafted at that had everyone buzzing. Mitchell had gone from a lower tier prospect to being drafted in the 2nd round, pick number 47 overall in the 2009 NFL draft.
Now, instead of trying to draw attention to himself, Mike had much more attention then he wanted. Being tagged as a potential bust by many analyst before he even stepped foot on an NFL field, the pressure was just beginning to mount. The draft day surprise was something that Raiders fans were growing accustom to though, and all the sudden Mitchell was being labeled as the next Jack Tatum for his aggressiveness and big hit potential.
Left standing in the middle of a proverbial spotlight, the only thing left for Mitchell to do was to perform and prove all the doubters wrong. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as hoped early in his career though. When Mitchell wasn’t battling injuries he struggled to adapt to NFL competition and often times found himself out of position or over pursuing a play due to being overly aggressive. The hunger for the big hit and crowd pleasing play seemed to become more important than playing effectively and taking care of his assignment. Were the attributes that made him such an attractive prospect turning out to be the very reason why he wasn’t succeeding in the NFL?
What many failed to realize though is that Mitchell was being expected to play the role of the aggressor in a defense which lacked that philosophy much of the time. How soon do you commit to the run looking to deliver a big hit when your assignment is covering the tight end up the seam? When do you blitz in a scheme solely designed around rushing four and dropping seven into coverage? How do you introduce the element of surprise when your on an island in the open field trying to make a tackle? The expectations didn’t seem to match the defensive philosophy that the Raiders were trying to execute. While schemes may have played a part in the early struggles for Mike, it certainly was not the only problem he had though. Mitchell still had to get past the mental mistakes that would cost him at times as well, but when combined scheme mismatch, and injuries it certainly did not create a recipe for early success.
Now in year four, Mitchell is getting a much-needed fresh start. Finally given a clean bill of health, he seems to be comfortable in Jason Tarver’s new defense where aggression is certainly not hard to come by. Mike figures to be moved around a lot as Tarver tries to utilize his versatility. He will not only be asked to play both safety positions at times, but also see some time at linebacker as well in certain looks. This will also help give the coaches a chance to see how he performs in different roles. Only two games into the preseason though, it is much to early to make any rash judgements. Take Mitchell’s progress for what it is at face value and look at it as a positive step in the right direction for a career that began heading in the wrong one. If Mike Mitchell is to achieve success in the NFL he will have to find a way to continue to improve as the line between fame and failure remains very thin.
Al Pacino said “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”, and that’s exactly what I did Wednesday as I traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri to attend Chiefs training camp. The Raider Nation has tremendous dedication and support for their team, but understanding how they match up against familiar foes within the division is taking it to another level, so I went inside Chiefs training camp to bring you an unbiased opinion of what the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs bring to the table.
Rejuvenated, a word I would use to describe the 2012 Chiefs squad who had their season derailed by injuries in 2011. They are returning a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball in 2012 and added a few key off-season acquisitions including right tackle Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis, and yes former Raider cornerback Stanford Routt. It wasn’t long ago that the Chiefs won the AFC West despite the fact that Oakland swept the division in 2010. After an up and down 2011 campaign that had them destroying Green Bay’s hopes for perfection in week 15, and also losing 5 games by 27 points or more, they will look to get back on track in 2012.
On the offensive side of the ball, Jamal Charles is showing no lingering effects from the torn ACL he suffered last year, and this season he is joined in the backfield by Peyton Hillis who appears to once again have something to prove after a 2011 season in Cleveland that left much to be desired. Charles wasted no time in team drills taking his first carry off right tackle and showing his burst to get to the second level. Hillis seemed to feed off Charles’ energy throughout most of the team session as he showed no hesitation getting up field and lowering his pads to finish off runs. He was also targeted more than you would expect in the passing game as well, although most routes were either in the flat or screen plays. If both backs can stay healthy this season, it will be a tough combination to stop on a consistent basis.
Dexter McCluster is working exclusively with the wide receivers this year after spending time at both running back and wide receiver in his first two seasons. It appears the Chiefs will look to create mismatches whenever possible with Dexter’s quickness in the slot. They will try to force opposing defenses to cover Dexter with a nickel corner in hopes of weakening the run defense. If they get a linebacker matched up on him in coverage, they will look to exploit it. You will struggle to find any linebacker who would be able to match McCluster’s quickness in coverage, but Raiders linebacker Philip Wheeler probably provides as good of chance as your going to find. It will be an interesting match up to keep an eye on throughout the season.
Of course, if you plan to consistently win in this league, you must have consistent play from your quarterback. That is something the Chiefs have been unable to get from Matt Cassel to this point in his career. Practice revealed much of the same from Cassel as he struggled to be on target with his throws at times. While running a two-minute drill Cassel missed high on consecutive throws, with the latter being a sure touchdown to Jon Baldwin had the throw been on target. He will have to improve if he plans to help his team take that next step. With Dwayne Bowe still amidst a holdout, Baldwin is getting his chances as the “X” wide out and looks comfortable there. He made a few nice plays before hurting an ankle getting tangled up with cornerback Jalil Brown on a comeback route. After missing a few plays though, he was able to return to practice and appeared to be fine. One young player that seemed to stand out a little was rookie wide receiver Brandon Kinnie out of Nebraska. He made a very nice adjustment on a back shoulder throw along the sidelines and then had a nice leaping catch for a touchdown later in practice.
Ricky Stanzi looked sharp for the most part and connected on a few nicely thrown deep passes, one of which was against cornerback Stanford Routt. It would appear that Stanzi has a leg up on Brady Quinn for the backup quarterback spot as Quinn did little to impress, although it was only one practice. I don’t think either posses any immediate threat to Cassel, but you can bet the Chiefs are trying to evaluate if Stanzi can develop into a starter in the future. He has a way to go still , but he seems to have a smooth throwing motion to go along with decent accuracy.
While it is worth noting that Stanford Routt was running with the second team defense Wednesday, I wouldn’t look too much into it. It’s likely the coaching staff just wanted to get a look at Javier Arenas and Jalil Brown against the starters to see how they would hold up. Brown did have one nice pass breakup on a pass intended for Baldwin, but Arenas struggled to stay with Steve Breaston at times. Routt certainly did not look like a guy fighting to keep his job by any means as he was content playing mostly off coverage giving the receiver 1o-15 yards of cushion. However, to his credit, he was one of the last players to leave the practice field after staying a little later to help some younger players with technique. Brandon Flowers was held out of practice with a heel injury and was likely getting treatment during practice as he wasn’t out on the field.
One player who had no problem grabbing attention was safety Eric Berry who was animated throughout the entire practice. It is no secret that he plans to be a staple in the Chiefs defense and was playing very close to the line of scrimmage on most defensive sets. He showed off his anticipation and quickness while jumping a Matt Cassel slant route and taking it the other way for a would be defensive touchdown that got both sidelines hollering. Much like Charles, he seems to be 100% recovered from his torn ACL and ready to go this season.
The hit of the day was delivered by linebacker Andy Studebaker who stoned fullback Shane Bannon at the pylon during goal line drills which was followed by roars of approval from the players and fans. While Romeo Crennel may seem quiet and focused at times on game days, he was very energetic and motivating especially towards the end during goal line plays. I get the feeling you didn’t see much of that during the Todd Haley days in Kansas City.
Overall, I think this Kansas City team will go as far as Matt Cassel will take them. It will be important for Cassel to not try and do too much this year, and take what he is given. This Chiefs team has a defense capable of keeping them in games even when their offense is struggling and they certainly have plenty of weapons on offense capable of scoring. Cassel needs to play an Alex Smith type role and just focus on making smart decisions and the Chiefs will be a tough out this year.
Of course, all bets are off once you step foot into the Black Hole!
Terrelle Pryor was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the third round of the 2011 supplemental draft. It was the late Al Davis’ last draft pick for a franchise that he ran for half a century. His last pick was the perfect story book ending to his great career. Selecting Pryor with a 3rd round pick not only fit Davis’ mold of targeting the biggest and fastest players, but by selecting him so high he proved once again that he only cared about one opinion and one opinion only, his. That was last year though, and this year the Raiders find themselves with new management and a new agenda for building this team. Where Pryor fits into those plans, will likely be determined by his development over the next couple of seasons.
Because last years supplemental draft wasn’t until August 22nd, Pryor did not get much practice time with the team in training camp. He also faced a 5 game suspension to begin his first NFL season for his violations of NCAA policy in college. While this is technically Pryor’s second season with the Raiders, it is his first training camp and will be his first live game action in almost 2 full calendar years (20 months). Not to be forgotten though is Hue Jackson’s attempt at trickery when he lined Pryor up as a wide receiver in a game last season against the Kansas City Chiefs, and had him motion under center to take the snap and sneak the ball. However, the play was blown dead because Pryor did not get set for a full second before the snap.
Terrelle has had an up and down camp in 2012 to this point. He has certainly showed his arm strength and excellent athleticism at times, but he has been unable to maintain any type of consistency throwing from the pocket. Coach Allen has said that he is pleased with Pryor’s work and that he just has to continue to “get better each day”. With Pryor being the third quarterback on the depth chart, he should be able to relax and play without any added pressure at this point.
Come game time game time Pryor should see plenty of snaps as the 3rd quarterback. His first game action will be much-anticipated by fans and coaches alike, but expectations need to be tempered. Pryor needs to first focus on a few very important tools that all good quarterbacks need to possess which include footwork, pocket presence, and route progression. Pryor will need to first prove he can throw from the pocket effectively before he begins to put his athleticism to good use.
Look for Pryor’s first few passes to be quick reads and short routes to him try to establish a rhythm and get into the flow of the game. Knapp might dial-up a few bootlegs as well to get him outside the pocket where he is often times more comfortable right now. Stats should not be a concern in this game. The main thing is that Pryor begins to build his confidence by making smart decisions and avoiding turnovers. He has fumbled a few snaps in training camp, and will need to avoid those types of mistakes tonight.
There is no doubt Pryor has the talent that can electrify a stadium, but he will need to take the small steps necessary to become a better all around quarterback if he plans to remain at that position long-term. Don’t think he won’t turn it loose though if he is given a lane to run, according to Mike Mitchell, Pryor can “run like a deer”.
Training Camp. The time year when players have the chance to showcase their off-season hard work, coaches get the chance to put their visions into motion, and speculation begins flying around at an unprecedented rate. Some teams choose to stay the course from the previous season hoping to build on what they have accomplished while other teams turn to change and a fresh start to be their saving grace. Regardless of the route each team chooses to take, the target destination of Super Bowl XLVII remains the same.
The Raiders are no doubt introducing change across the board this season as they usher in the “New Era” of Raiders football under General Manager Reggie McKenzie. As part of this new era, much has been made of the obvious changes in philosophy on the field as the Raiders look to get away from their strict man to man base 4-3 defense of the past and look to be spontaneous and more “multiple” on defense in 2012. The change doesn’t stop there though as the Raiders also look to switch things up on the offensive side of the ball bringing back former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and his strong belief in the Zone Blocking scheme and West Coast Offense.
While many are excited to see the end result of all the changes, few people actually understand the difficulty in changing so much in such a short amount of time. To the fans, what seems like an eternity of waiting for the next NFL season to arrive, is all but a blur to the coaches and players trying to figure out how they will ever cover everything in the little time they have together before the season starts. 10 days of organized team activities, 26 training camp practices, and 4 preseason games. Under the new CBA, that is all the time an NFL team has to implement their strategy and prepare for the upcoming NFL season.
In what seems like an impossible task to change almost every part of a teams philosophy in one off-season, the Raiders actually have a big asset working in their favor. That asset happens to come in the form of player versatility. The Raiders are unmatched when it comes to the ability of their players to play multiple roles on the field. It’s a weapon that has arguably been under utilized by previous coaching staffs, and its a weapon that coach Dennis Allen and the rest of his staff must take full advantage of if they plan to maximize their level of success while implementing their new schemes.
While the Raiders have had a good amount of versatility on their defense in recent years, their scheme has restricted how far it could take them. This year the restraints are gone and the versatility of these players will be very important to the multiple looks the Raiders want to use this season.
Tyvon Branch will play a key role in how successful the Raiders defense will be in 2012, and the amount of things this guy can do on the football field are almost endless. Branch came out of the University of Connecticut where he focused mostly on playing corner back and returning kicks. After joining the Raiders he began his transition from corner back to strong safety, a transition not many guys can claim to have effectively made. Tyvon was not only effective in his new role, but he is now a top five player in the league at that position. With the Raiders short on corner back depth, Branch was also asked to fill in there at times last season. Being able to make that switch mid game is impressive on many levels but his ability doesn’t stop there. Branch also has the range and instincts to play the free safety position, meaning he can be effective at any one of the 4 main defensive back positions. Having a player with that ability adds a tremendous amount flexibility to a defensive game plan, and the fact that he has 4.3 speed means he is never far from the ball regardless of where he begins the play.
Philip Wheeler played his college ball at Georgia Tech where he thrived as an inside linebacker in an aggressive blitzing defense. As a matter of fact, Wheeler was considered by many as one of the nation’s best-blitzing linebackers. That is a skill Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver plan to take full advantage of as the transition to a more aggressive defense has been no secret to this point. Wheeler also possesses rare coverage abilities in the open field, not something a lot of linebackers can say. Having a linebacker who can both attack and cover is a tremendous asset.
Rolando McClain brings his versatility to the table in a different form. McClain was the center piece in Nick Saban’s famous 3-4 defense at Alabama. He excelled there and it’s a role that McClain began to really become comfortable in. However, when he was picked by the Raiders in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft, they felt he had what it took to make a the transition to a 4-3 middle linebacker. While he has not had instant success there, he has improved as a 2-gap linebacker and seems to be looking a lot better in training camp this year. That is very important as the Raiders want to use both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts this season. They will need their leader in the middle to be able to call the plays in the huddle and play as both a one and two gap linebacker depending on the formation.
Lamarr Houston played defensive tackle at the University of Texas, but was brought to Oakland to fill a hole at defensive end. Houston is a physical specimen who has proven he can play either position in the NFL with his rare combination of quickness and power. Maybe one of the most intriguing things about him though is where he fits into the 3-4 packages. He certainly has the power to hold his own as a 3-4 end, and does a great job at getting leverage on offensive lineman to be able to drive them back. It has also been noticed that Houston is looking like he’s in good shape this season and might trimmed down some weight to be closer to 280-290 instead of 300-310. Could we see him play some elephant backer (a combination 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB) this season?
Richard Seymour and Desmond Bryant have also both played inside and outside on the defensive line in the 4-3, and Seymour has experience as a 3-4 defensive end from his time in New England where he won two super bowls. Those two being able to move around on the defensive line will help out tremendously as well.
Of course there are others players on the defense capable of doing multiple things, but i believe the six guys listed above bring a lot of value to what Dennis Allen and Jason Tarver are trying to accomplish on defense. Switching gears to the other side of the ball, the offense is not short on dynamic players either and most seem very excited about the system Greg Knapp is using this season.
Darren McFadden is a one of a kind running back. He has the speed and agility to score every time he touches the ball, but unlike most backs with those attributes, he can also use his power to effectively run between the tackles as well. He is not limited to his running ability though. McFadden has shown many times that he can line up in the slot, run routes, and catch like a wide receiver too. There is not another running back in the NFL that can do all of those things at a high level, and he shares a back field with none other than Marcel Reece. A converted wide receiver from the University of Washington, Reece has played wide receiver, tight end, fullback, and has even carried the ball a few times. He is an X-Factor for the offense, and is incredibly hard to game plan for because he can do so many things from the fullback position. How many times does a defense have to game plan for the fullback? McFadden and Reece are without a doubt the most dynamic backfield duo in the NFL and it’s not even close.
The offensive line is not normally thought about as being versatile, but in the Raiders case they are. Jared Veldheer, a 6’8″ left tackle also spent time playing center his rookie season. Stefan Wisneiwski played center at Penn State, but spent almost his entire rookie season at left guard and played very well there for the Raiders last season. He has now moved back to center. Cooper Carlisle has spent the majority of his career at right guard, but when the team brought Mike Brisel aboard via free agency Carlisle was moved to left guard where he will play this season. Khalif Barnes has started at left tackle and right tackle at certain points in his NFL career. He was also used a lot as an extra lineman in jumbo packages that Hue Jackson liked to use, one of which had Barnes running a route into the end zone where he caught a touchdown pass. Aside from all of that though, they are also making the switch from the power blocking scheme to the zone blocking scheme while returning all starters from last season with the exception of one. In most cases, there are major personnel changes a long the offensive line when you make that kind of switch. At face value it might not seem like a tall task, but any lineman who has played in both will tell you it’s a very tough thing to grasp.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is really starting to develop into a solid wide receiver, who possesses great speed and a big frame capable of breaking tackles. He is getting much better as route running which creates separation from the defensive back and timing with the quarterback. He also excels at running blocking as well though which does not get near enough credit. It is the job of the offensive line to get the running back to the second level, but it is often times a block by a wide receiver that springs the running back for a long gain or a touchdown. DHB’s hard work has made him into a dynamic player in the Raiders offense, and he should only continue to get better.
If the Raiders are able to successfully change so many parts in one season, the one thing that will allow them to do it is the flexibility that have with their roster. As you can see there is not another team in the league that matches the Raiders versatility in all facets of the game, and it will be up to the coaches to use that to their advantage to gain a competitive edge.
Much like the understanding that the NFL has become a passing league, it has also has adopted the “running back by committee” model. In a day and age where running backs seem to be a dime a dozen, teams are less likely to commit to one guy and therefore take on the RBBC approach to the season. With the mindset of having multiple backs sharing the touches, many also assume that each team needs a “speed back” and a “power back”. The idea, of course, being that the power back gets the tough yards and wears down the defense while the speed back plays the finesse role and provides the home run threat to the offense.
The last few years the Raiders have had the luxury of a backfield that consisted of Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. In some ways, it seemed to be the perfect combination power and speed that would be a nightmare for any defense. Except when you break down the games when both running backs were healthy last year, you saw more of McFadden wearing down the defense and Bush playing more of a backup/short yardage role. Bush only averaged 7 touches per game through the first 6 games last season while McFadden was averaging nearly 22. With that stat alone, it’s tough to make any kind of argument that Bush had a big impact on games while McFadden was playing.
Of course Bush was also used as the short yardage back which lead many to wonder how the Raiders would convert short yardage plays without him. There is no doubting that Bush was pretty effective in short yardage and he proved that over the last three years by converting a respectable 42% (15 for 36) of his carries inside the 5 yard line for touchdowns according to Chet Gresham of writing for thefakefootball.com. However, with Bush getting most of the short yardage carries, it was assumed that McFadden couldn’t handle those duties when that is far from the truth.
Per the same data, McFadden has converted 7 of his 9 attempts from inside the 5 yard line over the last three years (78%). That conversion percentage is tops in the league for that statistic, meaning McFadden is more than capable of converting short yardage plays as well. Cedric Benson, who many have been calling for to replace Michael Bush, had a 31% (12 for 39) conversion rate from inside the 5 over that same span.
While McFadden possesses the speed and agility to turn any play into a home run, he certainly is not your prototypical speed back by any means. McFadden brings with him a wicked stiff arm and is not afraid to lower his pads and seek contact. Take a look at a few examples:
However, even though Darren has the ability to do it all, Dennis Allen will have to find the right balance between his running backs and not overuse him throughout the season. Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones are vying for the backup role and both have the ability to provide a spark off the bench to help keep McFadden rested, but neither bring much value to the short yardage game. Owen Schmitt and Marcel Reece will get a chance to show what they can bring to the backfield at times this year too, and both are capable of hammering out a few yards when needed. Lonyae Miller is also one to keep an eye on. Miller has a much more hard-nosed running style was impressive at times with Dallas last season. Be careful how quickly you judge the unknowns like Miller, because Arian Foster was also once an undrafted free agent.
When people talk about wearing down defenses, why is it that big backs always come to mind? Sure they can punish tacklers at times, but more times than not bigger backs are slower to the hole and can be bottled up and gang tackled before doing much damage. Speed backs on the other hand force the defense to always be chasing for fear of being a step late and giving up a potential touchdown on every play. You factor in a guy like Chris Johnson who can stop on a dime and reverse field and McFadden who can deliver a devastating stiff arm if you do finally catch up to him and you begin to reevaluate which one would wear you down quicker.
College: Penn State
Weight: 241 lbs
Arm Length: 31.3″
Hand Size 9.1″
40 Yard Dash: 4.78
3 Cone Drill: 6.84
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.28
Bench Press: 21 reps
Vertical Jump: 31″
Broad Jump: 116″
Nathan Stupar was drafted out of Linebacker U. Regardless of what the college is famous for now, they have been able to produce solid linebackers on a yearly basis. Nathan has a really high football IQ and comes in as a very disciplined player. How’s that for a change of pace huh? Disciplined? He also comes from a pedigree of NFL players which include a brother Jonathan Stupar who most recently played TE for the Baltimore Ravens and an uncle Jeff Hostetler who is a former quarterback of the Raiders.
Stupar started 7 games his senior season at outside linebacker and collected 73 tackles which included 6.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks. He’s still is a bit of an unknown though having played behind a rich crop of linebackers at Penn State. Stupar projects to battle for a special teams spot his first season while he attempts to make his mark on defense. Expect him to add weight to his frame to help be more competitive at the next level. He looks to have a decent frame to play at 250-255.
Weight: 234 lbs
Arm Length: N/A
Hand Size N/A
40 Yard Dash: 4.64
3 Cone Drill: 6.70
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.30
Bench Press: 20 reps
Vertical Jump: 34.5″
Broad Jump: 129″
Kaelin Burnett is the brother of Miami Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett. Kaelin began his career playing outside linebacker at Nevada, but was moved to defensive end right before his senior season . He is obviously not your prototypical defensive end at 234 lbs, but did show case his agility and notched 48 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks in his senior season.
Kaelin’s road to the NFL was not easy though. He had to overcome shoulder surgery in 2008 and a very serious hip injury he suffered during spring practice before his senior season at Nevada. “I went up in the air to knock down a screen pass,” Burnett said in an interview with Joe Santoro from examiner.com. “I got pushed in the air and landed on my hip.” this wasn’t an ordinary hip injury though. “They told me they had never seen it before from a football injury,” Burnett said. “It was split open (vertically) all along the side. They said it was the type of injury rodeo cowboys usually get after they get knocked off a horse or bull.” Burnett was later told by doctors that he likely would no longer be able to play football again.
Burnett’s determination and love for the game of football were severely underrated by the doctors though. After losing his father before he was even born, Kaelin was partly raised by his brother Kevin and wanted nothing more than to follow in his footsteps. He grew to love the game of football and dreamed of playing in the NFL. That dream was not going to be destroyed without a fight. It took almost 2 months before Burnett could walk on his own again, but once he got back on his feet, there was no stopping him. Less than 2 months later he was back out on the practice field with his teammates.
Obviously, his determination can not be questioned, but where does Burnett fit on the Raiders defense? Burnett is working strictly with the linebackers right now and is a candidate for a 3-4 rush linebacker role and the SAM linebacker role in the 4-3. He also excelled on special teams during his time at Nevada and will without a doubt look to lock up a role there as well start his career in the NFL. In a recent interview with Chris Hansen of RaidersBlog.com, Kaelin Burnett was asked about his expectations leading up to the draft “I’m happy if I get drafted or undrafted and go in as a free agent” Burnett said. “I’m just trying to get in the building, and once I get in the building, I don’t plan on leaving.”
Burnett will undoubtedly be a fun player to keep an eye on throughout camp, and we’ll see where his progress takes him now that he has his shot to make an NFL roster.
College: San Diego St.
Weight: 246 lbs
Arm Length: 31.7″
Hand Size 9.7″
40 Yard Dash: 4.67
3 Cone Drill: 6.81
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.20
Bench Press: 31 reps
Vertical Jump: 37.5″
Broad Jump: 121″
The Raiders seemed very excited at the opportunity to grab Miles Burris in the 4th round of the draft this year. In my opinion Miles seemed to fly under the radar a bit, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into why that was. Miles is a very instinctive player. He rarely second guesses his first read, and doesn’t waste movements during the play. By that I mean he doesn’t take a lot of “false steps” or move lateral too much. Because of that Miles plays faster than his 40 time suggests and is another reason why straight line speed is overrated by many. He has an attack mentality about him that I believe had a lot to do with the Raiders interest in him.
Miles made a lot of “splash” plays at San Diego St. His relentlessness and motor remind me of Von Miller, but his physical ability is less superior. He plays with an extreme passion and wants to be in on every play. That is a great quality to posses and it can’t be taught. Burris is also very strong for a 246 lbs linebacker. He was able to do 31 reps on the bench at the combine, and was still able to be one of the top performers in vertical jump and broad jump. Because of his strength and agility he is able to get off blocks and be effective in traffic.
The biggest concern about Miles Burris though, is that he doesn’t have a lot of room for growth in his game. Many seem to believe that while he might be almost ready to start now in the NFL, he might not ever be more than a slightly above average player long term. Now that is a pretty bold assumption in my opinion, of course only time will tell the story. I will say this though, Burris seems to be a very blue collar type player. He takes care of his body and seems to give his all, all the time. Burris racked up 40 tackles for loss, and 18 sacks in his last 2 years in college.
Did the Raiders see in Miles Burris what others failed to recognize or is the majority right in predicting a low ceiling for Burris?