Scott to start at WLB, Howard at SLB

News and notes from the Raiders’ practice facility Thursday as they prepare to face the Steelers in Pittsburgh:

— Coach Tom Cable said the Raiders would start Trevor Scott at weak side linebacker and Thomas Howard at strong side linebacker against Pittsburgh, with the latter displacing Sam Williams.

“It will give us a chance to have what we want in terms of coverage and what we want vs. the run,” Cable said.

Scott had an encouraging debut as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end against Dallas, recording two sacks as a pass rusher and looking fast and active despite his lack of experience in coverage.

During the open locker room session, Scott had been reluctant to give anything away, saying, “I guess we’ll see Sunday” when asked if he was starting.

In drills before team sessions started, Scott was working with linebackers coach Mike Haluchak on footwork and fundamentals.

Scott said he enjoys playing linebacker, allowing he’d enjoy just about anything that helped him get on the field more often.

“I like it a lot. I felt pretty natural in it,” Scott said. “I’m going to continue to grow and get better.”

Noting that Ben Roethlisberger has a reputation for holding on to the ball until receivers come clear, Scott is looking for a sack opportunity or two after getting a pair of sacks against Dallas.

— Sounds as if Cable is hoping JaMarcus Russell is paying close attention to Roethlisberger when the Steelers have the ball, given their similar builds and strengths.

“As you study different guys, I would think Ben is most like JaMarcus in terms of his physical stature,” Cable said.

— No change in terms of injured players. Defensive end Greg Ellis is still not practicing, make it more likely Matt Shaughnessy will start against Pittsburgh. Running back Justin Fargas (stinger) and lineabacker Isaiah Ekejiuba (knee) will both play.

Linebacker David Nixon was ill and sent home. Wide receiver Nick Miller (tibia fracture) did not practice and have missed three quarters of the season following the Steelers game.

— Cable won’t divulge a starter at running back, saying the team needed the “physicalness” of Fargas, the “heavy physicalness” of Michael Bush and the speed of Darren McFadden, with the starter determined by the offensive package that’s on the field for the first series.

— Sounds like the best-case scenario for former Steeler Gary Russell as a kickoff returner is something along the lines of David Dunn in 2000 _ a big, no-nonsense returner who looks to break a few tackles and get as far as he can with few illusions about going the distance.

“He can give us somebody who can handle the football and, hopefully, can bulldog 25 to 30, 35 yards,” special teams coordinator John Fassel said. “ I don’t consider him a home-run threat, but I consider him somebody that will just hit it where a return is supposed to be hit and, hopefully, get us better field position then we’ve gotten, which hasn’t been good.”

— Fassel think he’s seen an improvement in the ballhandling of punt returner Johnnie Lee Higgins and is hopeful for a nice return to restore his confidence.

“With returners, and particularly Johnnie, it’s confidence and momentum,” Fassel said. “You know, until Week 9 last year we really only had a couple of 10, 15 yard returns. Then he gashed one against Miami and you could see his confidence grow.”

— Fassel said one of the Raiders problems on returns has been players getting in the right position to block but not actually making and finishing the block.

Which sounds only slightly more ridiculous than a quarterback spotting an open receiver but not actually making the pass.

— With 104.3 yards per game rushing, ranked 20th in the NFL, the Raiders are as low as they’ve been in that department since 2006, when they were 29th in rushing at 94.9 yards per game and scored five touchdownson the ground. They have five rushing touchdowns so far this season.

— Sounds as if Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would be comfortable with Dennis Dixon as the backup for Roethlisberger next season. Dixon, who went to high school in San Leandro a stone’s throw from the Coliseum, was the No. 3 quarterback thrust into action as a starter against Baltimore after Roethlisberger (concussion) and backup Charlie Batch (wrist) were ruled out.

Dixon’s 24-yard touchdown run put the Steelers up 17-14, only to have the Ravens tie the score and win it in overtime. Dixon threw an overtime interception against a zone blitz to retreating linebacker Paul Kruger to set up the Ravens’ winning field goal.

“Dennis is a talented guy. Everybody is aware of his skill set and what he did at the University of Oregon. He’s been a pleasure to coach here. He’s a young professional guy. He has a desire to get better,” Tomlin said. “It’s not too big for him. I think he proved that. He showed great poise and presence playing on the road in a hostile environment against a good defense. He’s just going to continue to get better. His best days are ahead of him. That was just a step in the process.”


Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer