By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Thursday, July 24th, 2008 at 11:08 am in Oakland Raiders.
With the first practice convening in a little under four hours, following a press briefing from Lane Kiffin, I take a look a Raiders special teams:
Kickers–P Shane Lechler, PK Sebastian Janikowski.
Core special teams players–LS Jon Condo, S Jarrod Cooper, LB Isaiah Ekejiuba, LB Ricky Brown, LB Jon Alston, CB Chris Johnson, FB Oren O’Neal, TE Tony Stewart.
Potential return specialists–WR Johnnie Lee Higgins, S Tyvon Branch, RB Darren McFadden, CB DeAngelo Hall.
There will be the usual amount of jockeying for position on the 53-man roster with regard to special teams, but not much in the way of drama for the kickers.
It will be another Napa month of leisurely sessions for punter Lechler and Janikowski. Any kicker that comes to camp will be primarily to give these two men a break, even though they mostly lollygag through sessions, wishing they were on some Napa Valley golf course.
With no more NFL Europe exemptions and rosters limited to 80, the Raiders may not be inclined to bring in a kicker to give them a break.
Lechler is coming off his finest season, breaking 40 yards net for the first time and doing his best to carry on the legacy of Ray Guy.
Janikowski has been what he has always been _ a fairly reliable kicker from 39 yards and in but whose percentage drops off dramatically from 40 yards and out. That doesn’t make Janikowski much different than other NFL kickers, except for the fact that his ability to consistently drive through long-distance kicks was the reason he was drafted in the first round.
Condo had an excellent first season long-snapping, replacing Adam Treu, with the added bonus of being younger and faster, better suited to covering punts downfield.
Ideally, Kiffin wants Higgins to win the punt return job and Branch to be the kickoff return specialist. In the backround, for times when the Raiders desperately need a quick strike, the Raiders could turn to McFadden or Hall, but no doubt Davis would probably rather leave them out of the return equation and focus on being position players.
Cooper and Ekejiuba were the undisputed leaders of the Raiders special teams units for coverage and returns. When Cooper was back from suspension and Ekejiuba was healthy, the Raiders blanked none other than Devin Hester.
When they were hurt, the Raiders were susceptible to the big returns they seemingly always have been since they returned to Oakland in 1995.