With a five-practice mandatory minicamp looking Friday, a short list of veterans who who will need to step it up or be in danger of losing their starting job or roster spot:
QB JaMarcus Russell– What kind of shape is he in? How is he taking to being `mentored” by Jeff Garcia?
Coach Tom Cable has praised Russell’s preparation, but the underlying message has been the same _ we need more from you, we want more from you.
It’s lunacy to begin to affix a “bust” label to Russell after he played relatively well down the stretch, albeit in games dominated by the run. At the same time, the Raiders should expect a big jump in terms of his quality of play this year.
If that were to happen, the Raiders are legitimate division title contenders. If it doesn’t, then the scrutiny will be intense and Garcia will go from mentor to beloved No. 2.
It’s about time for the Raiders to break out an NFL-quality passing game. With good passing teams, the ball rarely hits the ground in non-contact sessions.
The turf in Alameda and Napa has been littered with footballs since the start of the 2006 season. The receiving corps is still very young, but there ought to be some improvement in Russell’s practice accuracy from last year to this year.
DE Jay Richardson–He’s had 22 starts in two seasons and his strength at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds is supposed to be at the point of attack as a base end. But Richardson too often fails to hold his edge or is pushed aside because he plays too high, resulting in rushing gains in his direction.
The Raiders made Matt Shaughnessy out of Wisconsin a third-round draft pick, and Greyson Gunheim, a practice squad promotion, turned some heads with his play in the season finale against Tampa Bay.
S Michael Huff–Rest assured Huff was dangled as trade bait, but his lack of production and a contract befitting the No. 7 overall pick in the 2006 draft made him untradeable. Teams realize if Huff is cut, they can bring him in at the minimum salary.
Cable has already identified Hiram Eugene, who started the last five games of the season, as one of the team leaders. The draft picks of each of the last two years, Tyvon Branch and Mike Mitchell, look to have the potential to provide the physicality lacking in Huff.
If undrafted free agent Jerome Boyd makes a good impression, Huff’s roster spot could be in jeopardy.
WR Javon Walker–The Raiders are on the hook for $4.6 million over the next two seasons, regardless of whether Walker plays or not.
It was about this time last year Lane Kiffin began expressing concerns about Walker’s conditioning. Cable is more likely to express those concerns to Walker in private. What is really on trial is Walker’s passion and love for the game. He had a legitimate reason to be distracted last year after he was beaten and robbed in Las Vegas.
With new flyers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy in the mix, along with Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens, Walker will either be pushed back into prominence or pushed off the roster.
DE Derrick Burgess–If form holds, this will be the last Burgess sighting until training camp. His roster spot is safe, because he makes a reasonable $2 million salary in the final year of his contract and pass rushers are hard to find.
A cynic would suggest Burgess will be good for 12 sacks in a contract year. Perhaps, but the bigger issue with Burgess has been his health. What the Raiders ought to consider is making Burgess a nickel rusher, keeping his snaps down, and trying to help him maintain optimum health by avoiding rushing downs against tackles who outweigh him by 60 pounds.
— Beat writer Steve Corkran wrote this story on Darrius Heyward-Bey in today’s Bay Area News Group-East Bay papers.
— If Terdell Sands tackled ball-carriers and went after opposing guards and centers with the same ferocity he went after Lane Kiffin in his local paper, he wouldn’t be referred to as an underacheiver.
Sands’ beliefs do serve to underscore the utter lack of drama which should make this year’s minicamps and training camps more conducive to putting a good product on the field in Week 1.
Last year’s Lane vs. Al show essentially had the Raiders as no-shows for the opener.
— Over the last few days I’ve been conducting interviews for a closer look at Raiders safety Mike Mitchell, the controversial second-round pick who elicited scorn from Mel Kiper Jr., an apology from Mike Mayock and was mocked by Cris Carter.
While checking in with people who saw Mitchell extensively and also prepared to play against him came this gem from Central Michigan coach assistant head coach and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni regarding a hit against star wide reciever Bryan Anderson.
“We had a three-time All-MAC wideout, 6-foot-5, 210 pounds,” Azzanni said. “Mitchell just knocked the absolute piss out of him. I thought he killed him on the sideline. That’s how hard he hit.”