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Day 12: The Depth Chart Conundrum

Raiders writer Bill Soliday

Posted by Bill Soliday, Raiders beat writer for ANG Newspapers
One of the ongoing joys of scoping out an NFL team’s practices is trying to ascertain who has moved ahead of whom on the depth chart. It’s easy enough to see who is with the first unit most of the time, but sometimes what you see can be deceiving.

Example: Marques Anderson has been playing ahead of Derrick Gibson at strong safety through much of camp. Then, suddenly, on Tuesday Gibson was with the first unit. Did this mean a promotion for Gibson and a demotion for Anderson?

“No,” Anderson said. “I think they’re just working through it, taking some looks at some people. It’s preseason. Everybody is going to get a look.” Now you wait for a chance to ask Gibson, who was not exactly doing handstands.

“This is training camp,” he said. “Everybody is out here competing. Just each day, man … I do what they ask me to do. I feel like I’m a starter in this league but the coaches might see something different.”

In other words, don’t rush out with a call for rewrite and order the presses halted.
And forget that old saw that a player who is hurt isn’t supposed to lose his job because of injury. That’s movie stuff. The rule is simple there: there is no rule. Depends on the players involved and always has.

The Raiders have not announced their depth chart yet. They will do so perhaps Friday, more likely the day of the preseason opener Saturday in San Francisco … and only because they have to. Flip cards must be distributed for the radio and TV guys. And it would be advisable not to put too much stock into what is on that flip chart.

There is a reason. What goes on before the final cuts on Sept. 4 is complicated. The Raiders have nine defensive coaches including coordinator Rob Ryan. Everybody has, in addition to a nose, an opinion. Decisions are made frequently off considerable debate.

And right now, two weeks into the official start of the season, everybody is still jotting down notes on what seems to be working and what isn’t. They’re still sorting out more information and watching more film than my friend Barry Caine, the movie critic.

On top of that, it becomes necessary at times to insert a second stringer into the first string mix to see how they perform in concert with the big boys. Not saying that’s what was happening with Gibson, but those of us who aren’t granted permission to the inner sanctum to listen to the debate can not be expected to know.

And nobody is making pronouncements.

When the team takes the field Saturday against San Francisco, all that has been seen to that point is what has happened on the practice field. Now the real man-boy-separation takes place – in the games.

As it should be.

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Of course, figuring out what the Raiders have in mind on defense continues to be one of the NFL’s mind-bogglers.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan still has been incommunicado with the media dating back to last Sept. 13. That makes it 331 days in which either Ryan or the Raiders have pulled the plug.

You may have run across a story that ran in the New York Times this week about how NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wants teams and coaches throughout the league to work toward a kinder, gentler league and cooperate with the news people. One issue: stop silencing coordinators and other assistant coaches.

Apparently the boss fears the NFL, since it must compete with other sports leagues, is getting a smidge, shall we say paranoid. As the Church Lady (Dana Carvey) would say, “isn’t that special.”

However, it’s bunk. In reality there are 32 teams in this league and as a collective group they are best be described as rogue entities. Does anyone think, for a minute, that Nick Saban down in Miami is going to change his mind and suddenly open the door to the vault? And the Raiders, long noted for their (ahem) privacy concerns, aren’t going to show up on the doorstep of the media room draping leis over their necks and barbecuing a pig.

Public relations director Mike Taylor and I have gone round and round over the issue of availability/non-availability of assistant coaches. His take is that all he can do is ask them to do an interview and if they want to perform for the press, it’s up to them to decide whether they want to or not.

C’est la vie.

I am down with that. It’s a free country. If you don’t want to speak, it’s your constitutional right.

The curious thing is this: I spoke with Ryan after the draft and asked if it was his idea or the club’s that he be off-limits and could we please get on with it. He indicated he had no problem visiting with the media and that I should talk to Mike Taylor about setting something up.

That was 109 days ago. And counting.

As Ryan was leaving the field Wednesday, Nancy Gay of the San Francisco Chronicle hailed Ryan, saying we would be booking an hour of our time next week to sit down and visit with him.

“Sure, go ahead,” Ryan replied as he walked on.

Then Buddy’s son mumbled something that seemed to be “go ahead and set it aside. Maybe you’ll see me there.”

So, Mister Commissioner, are we having fun yet?

Eyes And Ears

  • The Raiders were working on their two-minute drill Wednesday, a series designed to milk the clock from just inside midfield. On the first play, Kerry Collins dropped back and let fly a deep post. Two words, scatological in nature, seemed to escape from the brain pans of the defense as Collins dropped a picture perfect pass to a leaping Randy Moss for a 38-yard gain.

    Actually, during the two-minute drills, the Raiders defense was doing a good job maintaining position on throws underneath and limiting numerous completions to gains just short of the first down marker. This is good news for anyone who grew used to watching Phillip Buchanon play the technique over the 2003-2004 seasons.

  • It wasn’t an official fight, but it was close enough to merit being considered the first of camp: linebacker Tim Johnson took a shot at an offensive player and next thing you know there was unanimity – it was him vs. the entire offensive unit. Still, it only qualified as an “altercation,” not a fight.
  • With backup positions still available on the O-line, it is worth noting that at one point, guard Corey Hulsey performed a pancake block on linebacker Jay Foreman.
  • Cornerback Charles Woodson broke up a pass intended for Ronald Curry in the middle of the field but in the ensuing collision, both wound up on the ground in awkward landings. Meanwhile, the defense broke forth with a round of “Way to go Woods” and the offensive coaches prayed Curry, coming back from an achilles tear, got up. He did. No damage.
  • Rookie Kirk Morrison received an unbraiding from linebackers coach Don Martindale for letting running back Justin Fargas catch a pass in the right flat. “You’ve got to go get him,” Martindale scolded. It’s just another chapter in the continuing development of a rookie not used to playing man defense.
  • On one Frankensteinian zipper of a throw, Kerry Collins found Ronald Curry between three defenders during the afternoon practice. Collins’ touch passes are a little more of a hit and miss proposition, but Collins did have a nice one to tight end Josh Norman later on.
  • Safety Kevin Curtis and linebacker Maugaula Tuitele made interceptions they took to the house.
  • Development of the special teams remains a bit of a mystery. The other day running back DeJuan Green, fighting for a job as No. 3 running back, didn’t help his cause when he fumbled a kickoff return. On another, defensive back Chris Carr allowed a short kick to land and fielded it on the bounce. That prompted an explosion from special teams coach Joe Avezzano. “Don’t let the ball hit the ground. Don’t let the ball hit the ground. Don’t let the ball hit the ground,” he said emphatically. He then capped off the diatribe by saying “Catch it!”
  • Coach Norv Turner has said that as things stand, receiver Doug Gabriel is the leading candidate to return both kickoffs and punts.
  • Turner offered praise for the work of tight end Zeron Flemister, saying he was impressed by his blocking. “He’s done a good job of catching peoples’ eye in this camp and he’s a competitive guy. And that physical part of the game is a plus.”
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    Bill Soliday - Raiders Writer