472

Scouring the wires

Quick hits from Lane Kiffin’s conference call press briefing Sunday night:

– Kiffin is expecting the Raiders to be on the lookout for potential replacements for fullback Oren O’Neal and wide receiver Drew Carter, both lost for the season with left knee injuries.

At fullback, Marcel Reece, although an intriguing talent who could have a place on the practice squad, is not ready for prime time on Sept. 8 in the backfield.

“We really only have one with Justin (Griffith),” Kiffin said. “The other guy is a project, he was a receiver a month ago.”

Aside from starting split end Javon Walker and wide receiver Ronald Curry, the seven receivers currently on the Raiders roster have combined for seven receptions for 66 yards. Six of those for 49 yards come from Johnnie Lee Higgins, while Chris McFoy had one catch for 19 yards after being promoted from the practice squad last year.

Jonathan Holland, Drisan James, Todd Watkins and of course rookie draft picks Arman Shields and Chaz Schilens have not caught a pass in the NFL.

“There’s not a lot of history there as far as guys playing in the league besides Javon and Ronald,” Kiffin said. “Really, none of those guys have really played before. Johnnie played a few, I think he had two or three catches last year so it would be tough to only go with two guys who have played before.”

– Veterans available include the perennially troubled but talented Koren Robinson _ whose best success has been on kickoff returns _ and veteran Joe Horn, who has talked his way out of his last two places of employment. Horn’s agent told ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson he expected to talk to the Raiders, but it’s not as if agents ever say, “It’s the darndest thing. No one is interested in my client.”

When it comes to players who aren’t currently employed, there is usually a reason why they’re not employed.

Not that the Raiders won’t be interested.

“There are always a few guys who have been veterans at every position that wait for things to happen like this, for teams to get injuries,” Kiffin said. “They stay in shape and they know their bodies so they know they can still come in late in camp and still contribute.

“That’s one option. There are a number of guys out there. Another option is to wait either until a couple of days for these first cuts or even more for the last cuts. The last cuts, some good people are getting let go on some of the good teams.”

– For the record, Mike Williams is available. So are Johnnie Morant, Doug Gabriel and Carlos Francis.

Never mind.

– As much as the Raiders like Shields’ skill set, his odds of making the 53-man roster appear slim.

“I wouldn’t want to put a ceiling on it but it would be pretty tough,” Kiffin said. “These guys have had so many reps of running our offense, he’s missed so much time. It would be difficult but you never want to count him out.”

Kiffin hopes Shields will be available to practice, although that has been a common theme throughout camp.

– When asked about players possibly in for tryouts, Kiffin could have said, “We’ve got some things going, but I’m not at liberty to say,” or something along those lines, because teams don’t often confirm tryouts.

Instead, (editorial comment to follow) Kiffin lent even more clarity to his current authority with regard to personnel when he said, “I have no idea.”

– OK, enough with the Darren McFadden as Jerome Bettis act. The end is apparently near, with the Denver Broncos on the horizon Sept. 8.

“All I can say on that is I have to continue to remind you guys that it’s preseason and you guys can figure out what that means,” Kiffin said.

– With Ricky Brown apparently having sewed up the job as strong side linebacker and Johnnie Lee Higgins looking to be the return specialist by default, the only real question left is starting center. Kiffin had Jake Grove in the lead last week, but said he may have information regarding a depth chart this week.

– JaMarcus Russell earned generally positive reviews for the third straight time. Russell went 14-for-28 for 140 yards, but missed out twice on potential touchdown passes _ the first when Zach Miller nearly came down with a ball in the end zone but was ruled out, the second when a pass into the back of the end zone glanced off the hands of Curry, who was being jostled by a defender.

On the Curry play, Kiffin thought it may have been worth a flag for defensive interference.

“He had one poor throw, the interception,” Kiffin said. “Other than that, he didn’t force things. He did well, especially under all the pressure he was under. He wasn’t back there setting his feet a lot. He had to move around a lot and made plays on the run.”

– Kiffin acknowledged that Fred Wakefield struggled when inserted at right tackle, where he played in place of Cornell Green for much of the second half.

– Safety Rashad Baker (ankle), cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle) and safety Hiram Eugene (hip) could all miss practice Monday. Shane Lechler probably will not kick, meaning Glenn Pakulak may be retained on the roster through Tuesday cutdowns. Sebastian Janikowski could be available, meaning Aaron Elling could be seeking employment.

– Maybe “Super” Mario Henderson is the answer to the receiving woes. He lined up as a tight end on the left side, and was even announced as an eligible receiver. Michael Bush ran behind him to get a first down.

Kiffin said he was just giving opponents something to look at.

– In Oakland, Kiffin ran a two-minute drill for no apparent reason in the first half other than to get a look at it. He abandoned the run, went for a touchdown when normally would attempt a field goal and attached absolutely no significance to the supposedly most important week of the preseason other than the fact he lost two offensive players for the duration of the season.

Elsewhere, Tom Brady and LaDainian Tomlinson aren’t likely to play until the lights go on. Teams continue to charge full price for half-(bleep) games.

You’ll never hear me trashing Raider fans for failing to show up in August. It’s an instance where they’re showing their good sense. Even a lot of people buying season tickets aren’t bothering to show, because the 39,000-plus announced crowd was pretty much a joke.

The Raiders were offering up partial season ticket plans Saturday night, and seem to be actually making some headway in marketing which would really pay off should the team finally be worth watching.

Come up with a full season ticket plan in February that doesn’t include the preseason and then they’ve done something.

I know. Lots of money at stake. Can’t be done. Blah, blah, blah.

It’s never a bad thing to tailgate on a Saturday evening in the sunshine. But paying full price for the scrimmage to follow is an insult to the paying customers _ not just in Oakland, but throughout the league.

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553

Receivers still not catching on

Quick hits from Raiders practice Wednesday:

– After watching as footballs continue to litter the ground after glancing only temporarily off the hands of intended receivers, Lane Kiffin was asked whether the challenge he issued to his receivers to improve their play had been met.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t seen it,” Kiffin said. “I don’t how many (drops) today, probably seven, and a number of them with our frontline guys. So we’ll see. We’ll come out here tomorrow and the plan is for these guys to play a lot in the game and get some shots to produce.”

Running back Justin Fargas dropped a pair of easy swing pass opportunities from Russell. Russell moved on a reverse roll to his left and found Drew Carter, only to have the pass dropped.

Todd Watkins, one of the most reliable receivers in camp, mishandled an easy opportunity on a medium depth pass over the middle.

During one goal line drill, Javon Walker tried to make a difficult catch near the goal line but was unable to come up with it, a play that happened right in front of Al Davis, who was seated in a golf cart watching practice.

Walker gave Davis a quick wave, but got nothing in return. (The two talked after practice).

Moments later, Walker lined up in the left slot, only to be repositioned by Ronald Curry, who sent him to the other side of the field. Walker was able redeem himself in some measure by catching a short pass in the end zone in front of Darrick Brown, in the same corner where Davis was still watching.

Kiffin was asked if the dropped passes can be contageous.

“Definitely I think it can. I think it’s like anything, it can affect people around you no matter what it is,” Kiffin said. “Then all of a sudden that confidence in your group, one of your guys starts to lose it and it can start affecting guys if you don’t have an extremely confident group that’s done it for a long time.”

– Tight ends Zach Miller and John Madsen continued to secure the ball consistently, and were joined in that regard Wednesday by Tony Stewart, who returned from a toe injury.

– When the Raiders finally struck with a deep pass, it came from the unlikely combination of Marques Tuiasosopo to Drisan James on a 30-plus yard corner route. James appeared to catch the ball on a dive despite tight coverage from Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Huff.

Touchdown?

Senior executive John Herrera, standing at the goal line, said yes.

Mark Davis, son of the Raiders owner, said no.

– Russell had a good sequence during a third-down drill in a team format from varying distances. He opened with a short completion to Miller which was short ot the first down, but followed with a first down strike to the right sideline to Chaz Schilens, a successful conversion on a slant pass to Walker, a third-and-4 conversion to Madsen and a third-and-9 conversion to Ronald Curry before Carter’s drop of a deep pass.

– More good work from Russell in a red zone drill _ a 22-yard TD strike to Carter over Brown and consecutive touchdown passes to Madsen and Stewart.

– The Raiders are working with Russell to get rid of the ball when things don’t open up, a problem which dogged Walter in the Art Shell-Tom Walsh era where the coaching staff held to the archaic strategy of waiting until a receiver broke free _ regardless of the length of time.

Kiffin conceded the coaches can talk all the want, but the real learning would only come on game day.

“It’s one of the hardest things that you do because it only happens on game day,” Kiffin said. “He doesn’t get hit in practice. That’s why veteran guys are better than young guys. That’s why when you have a rookie you have to be careful with what you do, in my opinion.

“Those things come with experience from the game. That’s the only way you can get it. You can’t do it in practice. You can say as much as you want: ‘Ball gone, ball gone’ when it’s got to be gone but it’s not the same as getting hit in the back of the head when you hold onto it too long. ”

“That’s why we’re playing him a lot in the preseason. That’s why we’re also at times going to be conservative with him.”

– Russell made a nice read on a Stanford Routt blitz, hitting Carter for a gain in the area Routt vacated to rush the passer.

– Louis Rankin broke into the clear on one run, with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan taking strong safety Gibril Wilson to task.

“That’s your fit, Gibril. Close that (bleeping) fit, Gibril,” Ryan said.

– Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly was called for offsides and proceeded to take another of his “laps” around the field. It took Kelly 1:40 to take approximately three-quarters of a lap at a walk-jog pace.

“That was disappointing because it was third down and it wasn’t even a hard count,” Kiffin said.

Kalimba Edwards was also sent running, and by comparison looked like Usain Bolt.

– Players who Kiffin ruled out for the Arizona game Saturday night were cornerback John Bowie (knee), linebacker Grant Irons (back), wide receiver Arman Shelds (knee) and kickers Shane Lechler (quad) and Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring).

Safety Hiram Eugene (hip) did not practice but Kiffin was not ready to rule him out.

Kiffin said if Saturday were a regular-season game, Lechler probably would not be ready to kick but there was a possibility Janikowski would be ready. The Raiders have their first cutdown Tuesday and may have to keep both Aaron Elling and Glenn Pakulak if Lechler and Janikowski aren’t ready to resume practice or kick against Seattle in the preseason finale.

– With Davis in attendance for the first time at a practice session in Alameda, the session lasted more than two hours, although it was scheduled to be a more brief practice than Tuesday.

“Everything that didn’t go right we repeated, we didn’t let anything go by, (we) really kept ‘em out here for a long time and pushed ‘em through it,” Kiffin said. “It was good to see their reaction to it, and guys worked extremely hard.”

– Thanks to those who participated in the weekly on-line chat. We’ll probably have to adjust the time and later the day of the chat, as noon is running into practice and interview time and Wednesday during the regular season is the busiest day of the week with interview sessions and conference calls with opposing teams.

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834

Hall sits it out

Beat writer Steve Corkran reports DeAngelo Hall (hand) did not suit up and will replaced in the starting lineup by Stanford Routt.

Others who aren’t in uniform include CB John Bowie (knee), WR Arman Shields (knee), TE Tony Stewart (toe) and kickers Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring) and Shane Lechler (quad).

Will post game wrap-up blog following the game . . .

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201

Camp wrap ’08: special teams

If discerning the capability of a defense with no tackling is difficult, assessing special teams is virtually impossible.

The high-speed blocking and collisions which take place on kickoffs and punts are precisely what teams try to avoid in training camp.

As for the kickers, the two guys who have the easiest time of it in Napa are the same guys who came up lame, although both Sebastian Janikowski (hamstring) and Shane Lechler (quad) should be fine for the regular season.

It’s at least a little troubling that the specialists both were injured when asked to actually extend themselves and do their jobs _ Janikowski on kickoffs and Lechler on punts.

Give them time to heal and you’ll probably get what you always get _ Janikowski will be an above-average if not game-altering kickoff man and he’ll be a good percentage kicker from 39 yards and in. He’ll be more erratic from 40 yards and out _ the area that was supposed to be his specialty _ but Seabass is on scholarship and the Raiders have no interest in providing competition at the position.

Lechler is on scholarship as well, and deservedly so. Although the Raiders would love to see Lechler take his conditioning more seriously, there is no need to bring in any other punters when you have the best in the game. Throws a nice ball when his standing-around time is interrupted as well.

Special teams practices in terms of coverage and blocking are all about getting in proper lanes and choreographing blocking schemes, and you get no real idea of how anyone is faring until actual games.

Players who should stick because of special teams skills include Isaiah Ekejiuba, Jarrod Cooper, Jon Alston (personal protector on punts), snapper Jon Condo and rookie safety Tyvon Branch. Fourth corner Chris Johnson has been working as a gunner.

Johnnie Lee Higgins will be given the chance to return both punts and kickoffs, and unless he revisits last year’s ball secruity issues, looks like a good bet to do both until Branch’s broken thumb heals and he can give kickoff returns a shot.

It remains to be seen how much Lane Kiffin will use Darren McFadden on kickoff returns, with the guess being it probably won’t be much. DeAngelo Hall’s hand injury takes the decision out of Kiffin’s hands regarding punt returns.

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216

Camp wrap ’08: defense

Impressions gathered from viewing 24 of 26 training camp practices over the course of 21 days:

– Not long after camp opened, Lane Kiffin offered a preemptive strike, musing about the importance of the offseason program in light of the fact that his two best players weren’t even participants.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha walked into camp on time, signed his exclusive free agent tender and was so good he looked like a bargain at $9.7 million.

Defensive end Derrick Burgess put on eight to 10 pounds of muscle working out on his own, showing up only to the mandatory minicamp, and was essentially unblockable. Raiders tackles found themselves getting nothing but air or simply being shoved aside by one of Burgess’ perfectly sculpted arms.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is flopping sides with Burgess now and then, moving him from his more familiar left side to the right. The idea is to get him an a single blocker from time to time, rather than the double-team plus a chip treatment he has received so often the last two years.

The truth about training camp defense is it is can be extremely deceiving because there is no actual tackling. Tackling only happens to be the most important thing about defense.

But there was no mistaking what Asomugha brought to pass coverage and Burgess brought to the pass rush. If health is not an issue, and Asomugha’s sore foot is at least a little troubling, the Raiders have two cornerstone defensive players to help build a viable defense.

– Training camp restrictions being what they are, there is no way to know for sure if the Raiders have repaired the gaping hole in the middle of their defense which opposing runners ran through repeatedly in 2007.

They should be better, but how much better? Do they go from giving up an embarrassing 4.8 yards per carry to the 4.0 range, or could they actually do even better and be above average.

Two reasons for optimism _ Tommy Kelly’s brief but dominating appearance against the San Francisco 49ers, and the presence of Gibril Wilson at strong safety.

Kelly has a ways to go in terms of conditioning, as witnessed by his feeble yet comic attempt at taking a lap the other night after being called for offsides. Kelly was collapsing the 49ers line almost single-handedly, but to do that for four quarters he will need more stamina. Rehab from knee surgery put him behind, and Kelly needs to catch up.

The Raiders aren’t paying him all that money to be a part time player.

Wilson has been a guy who plays bigger than the 210 pounds or so he weighs, and his presence in the box will be a welcome one in a division featuring LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and whoever is the Broncos runner of the week.

– More optimism regarding the run defense _ linebacker Thomas Howard looks a little bigger and a little meaner without sacrificing the speed and ability that makes him one of the NFL’s best pass coverage linebackers. He and Kirk Morrison are intent on shedding their reputation as pass defenders who give ground against the run.

They need to be much, much better than a year ago. The two or three series they play against a hard-nosed Tennessee running game will be a good litmus test.

– The Raiders brought a lot of pressure during training camp, which makes aggressive amateur defensive coordinators salivate with the possibility of more blitzing.

Much of the additional pressure was to prepare JaMarcus Russell for what the Raiders think he’ll see. Kiffin could have been sandbagging, but more likely he was telling it like it is the other day when he was addressing Stanford Routt’s role as a nickel back and said, “We’re not very complicated on third down, our defense. We don’t blitz very much so he doesn’t have to do very much.”

– The play of Raiders’ offensive tackles makes it a tough call, but there may be some help for Burgess in terms of a natural rush. Jay Richardson, a decent point-of-attack player as a rookie and tall enough to take away passing lanes, has had some success getting deeper into the backfield. Kalimba Edwards has practices where it looks as if he will fit nicely into the Chris Clemons role as a situational rusher.

– The resurrection of Terdell Sands to be the kind of inside force he was as a part-time player in 2006 is still far from complete. Sands conceded he went into an understandable funk last year after the death of his mother and let his weight get out of control.

He is lighter this year _ how much, no one will say _ but he has already had a knee drained and is missing practices. It’s tough to get into shape that way. Sands will probably continue to back up Gerard Warren, who through most of his career has been either impressive or invisible _ sometimes from one week to the next.

– In early practices, sixth-round pick Trevor Scott looked like he might be a wasted pick. Later, he looked like he might be a find. Line coach Keith Millard beams like a proud papa when Scott’s progress is the topic.

Yet you see Scott in person and it’s almost alarming. He physically resembles Stuart Schweigert, and in fact doesn’t look much bigger. Listed at 255, Scott, in truth, is slightly under 250. He won’t be 260 until next year at the earliest.

– When camp started, Michael Huff looked liberated to be at free safety and making the occasional play with the kind of anticipation the position requires. The plays became more infrequent as time went on.

It’s nearing make-or-break time for Huff to justify his No. 7 overall selection in 2006, and it’s a tossup as to which way it will go.

– The whole strong side linebacker issue makes for interesting reading, being that it’s a starting position and all, but the truth is the winner will be the first player off the field when its time for nickels and dimes.

That’s why the Raiders didn’t make a serious run at Takeo Spikes, who wound up in San Francisco. They’d rather pay the veteran’s minimum for an Adam Archuleta than invest another half-million or so into a player who would be an ideal strong side linebacker but spend too much time on the sidelines to justify the money.

Not saying it’s right, and in fact it probably isn’t in this case.

– DeAngelo Hall is going to catch some heat, both from opposing quarterbacks as well as the home fans. Teams are still going to avoid Asomugha, and Hall will be there for the taking. He will also occasionally make a break on the ball and make a big play, and has a knack for being in the area when balls are deflected.

If you’re expecting a shutdown corner, guess again. There are precious few of those around.

– Routt has had an excellent training camp. He could have been miffed by Hall’s acquisition but instead has appeared to elevate his performance in practice.

Now it has to carry over into games. One of Hall’s strengths is he forgets when he just got beat and it doesn’t prevent him from coming back to make a play. Routt has had a habit of letting the failures which come with the territory affect him for the rest of the game.

Routt will need to be at the top of his game, because things get extremely thin after that at cornerback.

– Bad break for Tyvon Branch, with his right thumb encased in a cast. He could still end up being a defensive contributor at some point during the season, if his goal line hit against the 49ers’ Cam Colvin is any indication.

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381

Wesley cut

Whether the Raiders utilize Adam Archuleta at linebacker or safety remains to be seen, but they cut a safety to make room for him.

Greg Wesley, omitted from the morning roster but on the field, was released later in the day, according to a league source.

UPDATE: The Raiders have updated Archuleta’s signing and the release of Wesley on their Web site.

It’s also an even swap in terms of salary. Archuleta, should he make the 53-man roster, will make the same $730,000 that Wesley was to receive. Kiffin danced around the topic of Wesley’s status following practice.

“I don’t know that yet. He did move around well today,” Kiffin said. “Had a good workout the day before that but I don’t know that yet.”

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84

Archuleta on the way

With the a secondary hit with injuries to safety Tyvon Branch, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and cornerback Michael Waddell, the Raiders made their first roster move of camp other than the signing of a place kicker by agreeing to terms with safety Adam Archuleta.

Archuleta, released last May 6 by the Chicago Bears, could be in uniform for the evening session. The Raiders will need to release a player to stay at the 80-man limit. A roster given out by the club before the morning session omitted safety Greg Wesley, who has practiced only a handful of times because of back spasms.

Wesley was on the field with the team for the morning practice, however.

Following practice, Kiffin expressed concern about his team’s depth and promoted the idea of bringing in players for tryouts. The Raiders have made only one roster move since camp opened, signing place kicker Aaron Elling last Thursday after an injury to Sebastian Janikowski.

“It’s just been a situation that unfortunately we haven’t brought guys in,” Kiffin said. “I can control what I can control, come out here every day and get our guys as good as we can. I’m pleased with the top of our roster, but we need to add to the bottom of our roster. We need more competition.”

Archuleta, 29, was the No. 20 overall pick of the 2001 draft by the St. Louis Rams. He played there for five seasons before signing a free agent contract with Washington that made him the highest paid safety in the NFL.

The Raiders were interested in Archuleta entering the 2001 draft, but he was gone before they selected. They instead drafted Derrick Gibson out of Florida State.

Hall went in for an MRI after an X-ray came up negative on his right hand.

“We’ve got to be real safe with it because a big part of him is how well he can play the ball,” Kiffin said.

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