By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, April 3rd, 2008 at 2:50 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Third in a series regarding players the Raiders are evaluating as the NFL draft approaches April 26-27. The Raiders currently hold the No. 4 pick in the first round.
So let’s assume for the moment that Lane Kiffin was dead serious when he told the media of his wish for a defensive lineman with the No. 4 pick.
Unless they were to move down, the Raiders would be assured of having a shot at one of the top four defensive linemen available. Two of those, defensive tackles Glenn Dorsey of LSU and Sedrick Ellis of USC, were discussed earlier.
The other two are Virginia’s Chris Long (6-foot-3, 267 pounds) and Ohio State’s Vernon Gholston (6-3, 266), who unlike Dorsey and Ellis, are potentially explosive edge players. Both player soften played as outside linebackers but with the versatility to put their hand on the ground.
Long, son of Raiders Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, would be the nostaligic choice. He had 14 sacks and 23 quarterback pressures as a senior and plays every down from snap to whistle with equal parts intensity and enthusiasm.
“I don’t think of myself as doing anything extraordinary with my effort,” Long said at the NFL scouting combine. “ I think that’s just the way football is supposed to be played, at a high speed. I’m not a guy who does things half-speed well. So it’s been pretty natural for me to go that fast. You want to jump off the screen when people watch film of you.”
There’s a theory that Al Davis won’t be able to pass up a chance on a legacy _ particularly one with such a glowing resume as Long. Assuming Long makes a visit to Oakland before the draft, it would be the first meeting since Long was a child.
“My earliest memory of Al Davis was ducking in the car when I came to visit my dad at training camp because there were no families allowed in,” Long said. “I remember meeting him when I was a kid, but I have not seen him since.”
If Long is regarded as a relatively “safe” pick because of his knowledge, intangibles and desire, Gholston may have the more intriguing top end.
Like Long, Gholston can play either end or outside linebacker, with his “Leo” position at Ohio State giving him an opportunity as a rush end. He had 14 sacks as a senior, 8.5 as a junior and his stock has been on the rise.
NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwan recently had Gholston as the No. 1 overall pick, going to the Miami Dolphins. In a copycat league, the New York Giants’ ability to pressure Tom Brady in the Super Bowl will only enhance the ability of the most explosive pass rusher in the draft.
“I know how big the defensive line is. If you got a front four that can controlcthe game, you’re destined for championships,” Gholston said. “That was proven, the way they (the Giants) were able to take advantage of their speed and get to the quarterback.”
If there is a player capable of duplicating the sort of rookie success as an outside rusher as Shawne Merriman did with San Diego and DeMarcus Ware did with the Cowboys, Gholston is it.
He also may be the most stunning physical specimen in the draft, with a 4.58 40-yard dash on his pro day on field turf and 37 reps of 225 pounds with the bench press.
Defensive linemen on roster: DE Derrick Burgess, DT Tommy Kelly, DT Terdell Sands, DE Jay Richardson, DT Gerard Warren, DT Josh Shaw, DT William Joseph, DE Kalimba Edwards.
Burgess had to close with a rush to get to eight sacks, getting a late start in training camp because of hernia surgery and missing time with a calf injury early in the year. His sack numbers have regressed from 16 to 11 to 8 the past three seasons. Kelly’s contract says big things are expected of him.
“He’ll have a chance to be a three-technique and not jump around to a lot of different positions,” Kiffin said. “He’s got a lot to prove with that contract.”
Sands signed a big deal last season to prevent him from going into free agency, and he was essentially a non-factor. The Raiders will look to get him back to the form he had in 2007 when he played well enough to merit the big deal. Warren played well in spurts, much as he has in Cleveland and Denver. Richardson, a college teammate of Gholston, was a pleasant surprise as a fifth-round draft pick. Edwards ideally will replace the departed Chris Clemons, who had eight sacks as a third-down pass rusher.