By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, May 6th, 2009 at 9:06 am in Oakland Raiders.
It seemed fairly sincere at the time, or at least as convincing as any NFL coach can be in the week leading up to the draft.
In a pre-draft press briefing, Cable talked admiringly of the four players who were legitimate left tackle prospects _ Baylor’s Jason Smith, Virginia’s Eugene Monroe, Alabama’s Andre Smith and Mississippi’s Michael Oher. He later referred to them as “Cadillacs.”
“I’ve never had one like that,” Cable said.
A few days later, the Raiders passed on Monroe, Oher and Arizona’s Eben Britton (the latter two were more likely trade-down possibilities than at No. 7) and selected Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, apparently of the opinion that while a Cadillac is a fine car, the Ferrari was the better option.
Which was followed by Cable admitting that he’d purposely oversold the idea of getting a lineman.
“We kind of went into it talking about the offensive line for a purpose, really, because we had signed Khalif Barnes and Erik Pears at tackle,” Cable said. “Then there was the trade (for Samson Satele), which was huge,” Cable said, going on to mention the depth at guard behind starters Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle, starting with Paul McQuistan.”
When the Raiders meet for five practice this weekend, starting Friday, at their mandatory minicamp, Cable’s future as coach will depend on his skill in developing that line.
Barnes (6-foot-5, 325 pounds) missed a start because he was late for a meeting, allowed 9.5 sacks and was penalty prone in Jacksonville. The Jaguars made no effort to sign him and happily snapped up Monroe when the Virginia lineman fell to No. 8.
Frankly, Barnes didn’t have many other options, although Cable wanted him badly. Al Davis sold Barnes on the idea of signing a one-year contract with the hopes of getting his career back on track and getting something done in Oakland down the road. He’ll initially compete with Mario Henderson to be the bodyguard for JaMarcus Russell at left tackle.
Pears played both on the left and right side in Denver before missing the 2008 season due to injury. he started all 16 games in 2007 for a heavily criticized Broncos line. He wasn’t even given a qualifying offer by Denver, which could have retained his services for a modest salary.
With a new coaching regime, it could be the Broncos are continuing to move away from a strict zone blocking scheme. At 6-8, 305, Pears has the angular look of a zone blocker that Cable’s system favors.
Satele, a two-year starter, was acquired for a fourth-round pick and a swap of sixth-round choices from Miami, a playoff team which instead opted for Raiders free agent Jake Grove. The Dolphins head coach, Tony Sparano, is a former line coach, and exec Bill Parcells knows a thing or two about line play.
The other newcomer was Marcus Johnson, a former Minnesota second-round pick who never panned out and will be tried at guard.
There may be a Cadillac in this crew, but right now its on blocks and it’s up to Cable and line coach Jim Michalczik to make the necessary repairs.
The good news is Cable, as a line coach, had the look of a Bobb McKittrick or Alex Gibbs. McKittrick and Gibbs made due with smaller lines which relied on athleticism and cut blocking. They typically put lines on the field made up of castoffs, undrafted free agents and late-round draft picks.
It was under Cable’s guidance that Robert Gallery went from a failed tackle prospect to a top-flight guard. The improvement in the Raiders line after his arrival after the Art Shell-Irv Eatman-Jackie Slater disaster was remarkable.
Not that he’s been perfect. Kwame Harris, anyone? The personnel needed an upgrade, because Cornell Green was never counted on to be a starter and he’s lined up at right tackle 22 times in two years.
Any chance Russell has of leading the Raiders to .500 and beyond rests with Oakland being successful running the ball, as well as Cable and Michalczik getting more out of the line than the sum of its parts would indicate.
Do they move Barnes or Henderson to the right side, and when does it happen? Or is Pears a viable option as a starter? The middle three spots are secure, but who is first in line after an injury?
It will begin to sort itself out on the field starting Friday.
Practices are from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. to 6:10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Players will be available for interviews on the field following the first practice but the locker room will be closed. Cable will address the media at 2 p.m.
Sunday’s practice is scheduled for 11:45 a.m., with Cable available at approximately 2 p.m.