Training camp, Day 2 (A.M. practice)


News and notes from the Raiders’ second day of training camp as relayed by Medianews Regional reporter Steve Corkran:

— Tight end Zach Miller returned to Napa Friday night, signed his contract and was on the field Saturday morning. He got in some work with the first team.

“He was up untill about midnight working with coach (Kelly) Skipper to make sure we could catch him up for this morning’s practice. No updates on JaMarcus (Russell). He’s still not here. Still making movement on his contract but obviously not there yet.”

— The first day in full pads featured RB LaMont Jordan as the recipient of two big hits _ one courtesy of Donovin Darius in a 7-on-7 drill and another by Kirk Morrison in a one-on-one blocking drill in which linebackers get a five-yard head start.

“We got ourselves a hitter, I know that much. He about knocked LaMont out of practice,” Kiffin said of Darius.

— The defense dominated the early portion of practice, with the offense later finding a rhythm and some moderate success.

“This is real football now and they responded,” Kiffin said. “If you noticed there were a lot of one-on-one drills, full speed, live contact drills, running back-linebackers, tight ends-safeties. That was for a purpose. We need to find out who these players are and find out what we have on our team. Then we’ll have to go from there.

— DT Warren Sapp scolded Sam Williams for blowing an assignment. Sapp stormed across the line of scrimmage after the play, said “You can’t tell me a thing if you don’t know the (bleeping) calls” and then slammed his helmet to the ground and stomped away.

Williams sought out Sapp across the field, on the sideline, and Sapp used the time to show him hands-on what he was talking about. They seemed to reach some kind of accord, with Sapp patting him on the helmet.

Sapp later pushed rookie tackle Mario Henderson for getting in his way when Sapp was engaged with Gallery in a one-on-one pass-rush drill.

— Wide receiver Ronald Curry made a great play on a deep pass from Josh McCown, blowing past Stanford Routt and Stuart Schweigert, adjusting to the ball’s flight and hauling in the pass for a long touchdown.

— Veteran cornerback Duane Starks made a nice interception of a McCown pass earlier in practice.

— Line coach Tom Cable was permitted to talk to the media after the morning practice and spoke of building the line back up after a difficult season. His story will be featured in Sunday’s Medianews newspapers.

— Cornerback Fabian Washington, who left Friday afternoon’s session after an unspecified “tweak,” was back at practice. Isiah Ekejiuba, carried back to the field house after practice Friday with a “body cramp” was back on the field Saturday morning.

— The portable lights were in position for Oakland’s second practice, and first at night. Kiffin wondered aloud how much of the media contingent would show up to watch.


Bush in, Cooper and Bing out


The Raiders confirmed the signing of running back Michael Bush Wednesday as well as the releases of safeties Jarrod Cooper and Darnell Bing.

Cooper’s status was in jeopardy from the moment it was announced he had received a four-games suspension for violating the NFL’s steroid policy.

The release of Bing, a fourth-round draft pick out of USC last season, came as at least a mild surprise.

The Raiders attempted to make Bing a weakside linebacker after a career as a safety at USC. He was placed on injured reserve following a neck injury during the preseason.

Bing was moved back to safety when Lane Kiffin came aboard, and he seemed to make his share of plays during OTAs and minicamps.

Kiffin, when asked about the shift of Bing during the offseason, said simply and without enthusiasm it was Bing’s best chance to make the team.

The exit of Cooper and Bing reduces the glut at safety. Remaining on the training camp roster are 2006 starters Michael Huff and Stuart Schweigert, veteran free agent acquisitions Donovin Darius, Colin Branch and B.J. Ward, holdover Hiram Eugune and rookie fifth-round draft pick Eric Frampton.


Position group analysis: Offensive line


(Fifth in a series analyzing Raiders position groups heading into training camp)

Projected starters: Robert Gallery, Paul McQuistan, Jake Grove, Cooper Carlisle, Barry Sims.

The competition: Kevin Boothe, Ben Claxton, Cornell Green, Mario Henderson, Chris Morris, Jeremy Newberry, Chad Slaughter, Albert Toeaina, Adam Treu, Mark Wilson.

Summary: The Raiders will be better up front in 2006, because they only way they could be worse is . . . oh, never mind. There is no clever line to end that sentence, because they couldn’t possibly be worse.

It was easily the most atrocious unit play in the NFL last season, perhaps the worst in NFL history. So from that perspective, new line coach Tom Cable is in a pretty good position. Reduce the sacks from 72 into the 30s and show some signs of joining the pack in the run-happy AFC West and Cable is the NFL’s assistant coach of the year.

The player watched most closely, of course, will be Gallery. He will start, but where? He played left tackle, left guard and right tackle during minicamps and OTAs and a case could be made for any one of the three.

Galllery should play left tackle because it’s hardly fair to give him one year under the Art Shell-Irv Eatman-Jackie Slater disaster. Using last year as a guide, those three could turn Jonathan Ogden into a turnstile.

Gallery should play right tackle becuase that’s where played as a rookie (and Year 2) when he looked good enough as a pass blocker that non one was yet calling him a “bust.”

Gallery should play left guard, because his agility and physical attributes could make him a devastating cut blocker, and everyone knows the real stars of an offense that features pulls, traps and one-cut runs are the guards.

There is a fourth conclusion, one that many Raiders fans have already reached but one I consider premature.

Gallery is another Tony Mandarich. Beyond hope.

If he doesn’t settle in as at least a solid pro this year, then it’s time to jump on that bandwagon.

Until Gallery settles in at one spot, it seems the only set-in-stone positions are Grove at center and Carlisle at right guard. Everybody raved about Grove’s mean streak in college. But the problem is he simply doesn’t have the kind of brute power to be a center in the Barret Robbins mold.

Grove could, however, fare well in a Tom Nalen sort of way in the Lane Kiffin offense. Carlisle came from Denver, where they’ve been pushing the envelope of blocking ethics since Alex Gibbs and Mike Shanahan went there in 1995. (Gibbs, by the way, did some consulting in Atlanta when Cable was the line coach there).

Barry Sims, pushed out by Shell and Co., should start at left or right tackle. Paul McQuistan, a left guard last year, could be the right tackle if Gallery becomes a guard.

It’s been interesting to note that Boothe, the closest thing to a bright spot the Raiders had on the offensive line, has been consistenlty running as a second-team guard after starting 14 games at guard last year.

The Raiders took a shot in the dark in bringing aboard Newberry after missing the better part of the last three seasons following microfracture knee surgery. If he makes it through camp and is on the team, it’s a plus.

If Newberry were to claim a starting job, either pushing Grove to guard or starting at guard himself, it’s a miracle.

Green, also schooled on blocking techinique in Denver, has the look of a backup tackle in Oakland _ a veteran who along with Sims can work with third-round pick Henderson of Florida State.

Slaughter is a career backup.

Treu, who has been a Raider since 1997, could see his run end if the Raiders settle on Morris or Jon Condo as the long-snapper.

The bottom line: Better? Sure. But the only way the Raiders approach .500 is if Gallery and Grove become the cornerstones they were expected to be.

Coming Sunday: Tight ends


Veteran presence


(Note: Last call for readers to submit lead blog items. Send to jmcdonald@angnewspapers.com. Regular blogs will resume soon with breakdowns of each position group heading into training camp, plus news updates as warranted)

By Jason Villeneuve (jjvill)

Al Davis is a man who relishes history, especially the history of the Oakland Raiders. This has been both a benefit and bane for those of us living in Raider Nation.

It is a benefit because the Nation gets to root for the NFL team with the most unique legacy in the game. It can also be a bane at times. Like when Al tries to recapture the past with coaches who haven’t stepped on the sidelines in a decade or whose prior job was scrambling eggs at a bed and breakfast.

I’m sorry those Tom Walsh jokes never get old.

My point here is that it is always a boom or bust proposition when the Raiders dip back into their past to try and create future glory. A popular Raider move in the last couple of decades has been the signing of a veteran safety to solidify the defense. Enter Donovin Darius.

Darius could be a boom prospect that brings a talented, young secondary the veteran savvy it needs along with a little Tatum- ike intimidation for the opposition. Or he could be breaking down, as his last two years in Jacksonville might suggest, and be a Raider bust.

Only the future will reveal what reality the Raiders will face with Darius. I can only hope that his signing follows recent Raiders history and has boom written all over it. Let’s take a step back into the archives and see what these veteran safeties have done for past Oakland squads.

In 1991 the Raiders, sadly the L.A. version, were coming off a spectacular 12-4 season that ended with a thrashing in the AFC Championship game at Buffalo. Actually it probably ended one week earlier when Bo Jackson’s hip went pop.

So in 1991 we had no Bo, the Marcus Allen feud was in full effect, and Jay Schroeder was still our QB, sadly the same Schroeder version from every other year. This was not looking like a playoff year.

The Raiders did squeak into the post-season in 1991 mainly because of a stingy defense led by off-season pickup, and future Hall of Famer, Ronnie Lott. Lott led the Raiders charge all year picking off eight passes and had singular game winning efforts with an overtime interception in Seattle and also led a dominating defensive performance in a win over his former 49er team.

Ronnie Lott may have only worn the Silver and Black for two years, but he was definitely a boom signing for the team. Without him I doubt they make the playoffs in 1991, that is the ultimate impact free agent.

My favorite, and maybe least appreciated, veteran safety that had a positive impact on the team was Eric Turner in 1997. Turner was the ultimate case of not realizing what you have until it was gone.

His play wasn’t extremely noticeable that first year in Oakland mainly because he was surrounded by maybe the worst set of Raider defenders ever, led by that big turd Chester McGlockton. But in 1998 and 1999 Turner was a big part of a defensive turnaround along with Charles Woodson and Eric Allen.

Turner was one of the leaders of a Raider team that was just about to turn that corner into playoff contention when he was suddenly and tragically taken from us in the spring of 2000. All of Raider Nation mourned for Turner the man. I don’t think any of us really mourned his loss as a football player until we watched Shannon Sharpe run 96 yards in the 2000 AFC Championship game.

No way Sharpe gets that much yardage if E-Rock is still prowling the secondary. Eric Turner was definitely a Raider boom _ RIP my Raider brother.

The most recent boom signing at safety is someone every Raider fan remembers is Rod Woodson. Who can forget his game changing, possibly season saving, play on a Monday night in November 20,02? Rod stepping in front of the Brian Griese pass and streaking down the Mile High, Invesco, whatever, sideline is something Raider Nation will never forget.

Even if he was a hated Steeler and one of those bum Ravens from 2000, Rod Woodson should always be thought of fondly in the hearts of the Nation. He helped carry Oakland to the Promised Land and for that he is a boom signing to remember.

The 2007 version of the Oakland Raiders look like it’s all about the future with young, unproven characters like Lane Kiffin and JaMarcus Russell, but with Al and the Raiders there is always a little bit of history in the mix. Will Darius be a boom or bust? Only the future will reveal that question.


Defense a question mark


(Note: Got a lead item for the blog? Send e-mails to jmcdonald@angnewspapers.com for consideration. I’ll begin posting regularly as training camp approaches. Until then, I’ll chime in occasionally, but it’s your show.)

By Jeremy Palguta
Baltimore, MD

One of the biggest questions heading into the 2007 season that might have been being overlooked is whether the Raiders can repeat their defensive performance from a year ago.

The third rated defense according to yards-per-game statistics (first passing/25th rushing), the Raiders defense showed signs of dominance yet enough glaring weaknesses that cause concern for the upcoming season.

The number one cause for concern has to be their run defense. Despite having a line that consists of Warren Sapp and Derrick Burgess, Oakland still lacks a proven run
stopper and a pass rushing threat opposite of Burgess.

The Raiders re-signed Terdell Sands and are hoping he can take on the lead role in a defensive tackle rotation that consists of Sapp, Anttaj Hawthorne, and Tommy Kelly. With the same cast of characters, the Raiders will need to see improved performances across the board.

Oakland also added a couple of defensive ends in the draft in hopes of teaming Burgess with a
legitimate passing threat, so he can avoid double teams.

The run-heavy AFC West has three of the best backs in the NFL with LaDainian Tomlinson, Travis Henry, and Larry Johnson.

It is imperative that the Raiders look to stop the run first and dare the inexperienced
quarterbacks in their division to beat them (Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Brodie Croyle). Although the
defense ranked near the bottom of rushing yards allowed per game, they were on the field more than any other defense in the NFL and held them to a
respectable yard per carry average.

On the bright side, Oakland saw the emergence of several players in 2006, most notably Nnamdi Asomugha and rookie Thomas Howard. Asomugha had eight interceptions in 2006, and Howard had one of the most productive rookie seasons recording 110 tackles.

The Raiders have improved in each of the past three seasons under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Stockedpiled with first- and second-round draft picks, the Raiders not only have the talent but have been building a chemistry over that past three to four years that few teams have under today’s current NFL structure.

The defense has a solid mix of veteran leadership with Burgess, Sapp, and newly acquired
Donovin Darius, and exiting youthful talent with Howard, Kirk Morrison, Asomugha, and last year’s first round pick Michael Huff.

Despite some questions, look for the Raiders to improve upon their chemistry and become an even more dominant defensive unit in 2007.


What I believe


(Note: I’ll be out of town on vacation for the next week but will be checking e-mail regularly, hoping for readers to pick up the slack. Send prospective lead blog items to jmcdonald@angnewspapers.com)

By Jason Villeneuve (jjvill)

These are the true dog days of summer for the Raider Nation. Training camp doesn’t start for several weeks and those of us who bleed Silver & Black are left to debate the merits of signing Tank Johnson who can’t even suit up until November. What does a Raider fan have in these desperate days of nothingness?

We have each other’s opinions and thoughts. No facts. Just opinions formed in our own Raider obsessed minds of what will play out in 2007. The beauty of the Internet age is we can share those thoughts with countless other members of the Nation. Those thoughts are then shredded, praised, debunked, bashed, exalted or downright ridiculed as maybe the sorriest ideas of all time.

That is also part of the beauty, isn’t it? Well here are my beliefs on the Oakland Raiders in 2007. Let the criticism flow.

I believe that Lane Kiffin will continue what he started in the off-season. The team will be committed to excellence, work hard, play as one, and show a winning attitude that wasn’t there under the Shell regime.

I also believe it will be extremely hard for that change in organizational attitude to translate into wins, 8-8 would be an excellent start.

I believe the Raiders are better off sticking with what they have at DT and not taking on the problems or publicity of Tank Johnson, unless Al is looking for a good sidearm.

I believe Dominic Rhodes and LaMont Jordan will split time throughout the year in a two back system. With Rhodes eventually being 1A based on superior blocking and receiving skills, which means more yards rushing and receiving for Rhodes.

I believe Tom Walsh is designing a pretty mean omelet right about now.

I believe Ronald Curry will have a better year at wide receiver than Jerry Porter. Think back to 2005 before Curry got hurt against KC, he was a much more consistent player and was turning into Collins go to guy.

I believe Barry Sims will once again win the starting job at left tackle and will once again have a problem with the top speed guys off the edge, think Jason Taylor in Week 4 and Dwight Freeney in Week 15.

I believe Gallery should get a haircut and start fresh. The entire Samson thing just isn’t working.

I believe Derrick Burgess will once again rack up double-digit sacks and make the Pro Bowl. I also think Al better pay the man before he bolts. I believe Kirk Morrison is a complete stud at middle linebacker and will join Burgess in the Hawaii.

I believe Al Davis hasn’t lost anything mentally in regards to his football acumen, maybe the best mind in the game . . . ever.

I also believe absolute power corrupts absolutely and Al’s ego has trumped his football intelligence on many occasions.

I believe Josh McCown’s play this year will earn him a chance at a nice contract and possibly a starting job in 2008 . . . but not with the Raiders.

I believe in the greatness that could be JaMarcus Russell and his very bright future in Oakland.

I believe the Raiders will lose a fair share of close games this year because this young team might be much improved, but still has to learn how to win.

I believe it was a fumble.

I believe Travis Taylor will be the third receiver on the team and make more of an impact than Mike Williams.

I believe we should sign Donovin Darius, at a decent price, because a strong run support safety could make a huge difference against LT and LJ. Sorry Stu.

I believe the refs won’t screw the Raiders once this year. I also believe in Santa Claus, Bigfoot, and the honesty of politicians.

I believe the Raiders defense won’t be among the top three in rankings this year. However it won’t give up as many rushing yards and in reality will be better.

I believe if there was justice in this world Randy Moss would blow out his ACL in the first quarter of Week 1.

I believe the Raiders will go 7-9, JaMarcus will see the field for a few games latei n the year flashing some greatness, and a new era of Raider football will begin.

I believe that more than one person will rip me for this article.

I believe . . . ”I’m in!”