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.


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer