Time will tell whether the selections during the first two days of the NFL draft will help pull the Raiders out of a seven-year tailspin, but the philosophy for the selections of Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, Texas defensive end Lamarr Houston and Hillsdale offensive tackle Jared Veldheer were accomplished with a different mindset.
“As I said last week during the predraft press conference and again last night, it was important for us to make this team better and put some real need-fitters in this program rather than just numbers guys, if you will,” coach Tom Cable said.
Remember Bruce Campbell, the inconsistent Maryland tackle Al Davis supposedly couldn’t pass up after he blew everybody away at the combine?
He’s still available. The Raiders instead went with Veldheer, an impressive athlete in his own right who was dominant at the Division II level if not quite as perfect physically.
And for those of you who think Davis may have taken a step back from the process _ hence the philosophical shift _ guess again.
When Veldheer visited Oakland about a week and a half ago, he got a 20-minute sit-down with the boss.
“It was great to meet Mr. Davis, being able to meet with the guy who put the league where it is today was a very special thing,” Veldheer told Bay Area reporters by conference call. “He said that he had watched my tape and liked the way I played, discussed with me how he wanted to win another Super Bowl and I know I’m definitely on board with that.”
Because of Veldheer’s small college roots, he was investigated in some ways more thoroughly than McClain and Houston, both of whom were surprised to be drafted by Oakland because of limited contact. Oakland was able to investigate the two run-stoppers through the combine and their own contacts in the business.
“I talked to ‘em at the combine and that was the end of that,” Houston said. “It never crossed my mind that I’d be a Raider.”
While Cable said the Raiders have been even more secretive than usual during the process, they did pretty much what the coach said they would do at a pre-draft press conference _ do something to fortify the offensive and defensive lines and look for players who wanted to come to work and contribute immediately.
“We don’t need knuckleheads, we need champions,” Cable said.
Houston, at 6-foot-2, 305 pounds, will be played at end, and not tackle.
“He’ll play defensive end in our scheme and I suspect the transition will be easy for him,” Cable said. “He played it the first half of his college career. It gives you a guy that gives you the right qualities, in terms of, the football player, the power, the speed, all those things. Very productive. Comes out of a program that’s used to winning, understands how to do that.
“He fits a need for us in the defensive front.”
If Houston is playing end, doesn’t that make the Raiders still in need of defensive tackles? Cable said Friday they were still a 4-3 team, but it’s clear there will be some interesting changes in scheme.
“You’ll see the plan when we get there,” Cable said. “It’s good. You’ll like it. You will like it. We have some things we’re putting together to get it all sorted out. But you’ll see it in minicamp.”
Cable said Houston would play end “because we’re trying to get a little more physical on the defensive front. I think that’s obvious with the first two picks. You’ll see some people moved around a little bit, and it gives us a chance to line (Houston) up at a left end and go wrestle with a tight end all day, and that’s a good thing. I think he’s going to win a lot of those battles.”
Cable said the Raiders had their sights set on Houston, moved back twice to get extra picks Saturday, and still were able to select him. At Texas, Houston was one of the leaders on a defense that led the nation in rushing defense in 2009 (72.36 yards per game) after finishing third in 2008 (83.54) and sixth in 2007 (93.38).
As for Veldheer, Cable doesn’t see a protracted developmental period and said there was no set plan on whether he’d play right tor left tackle.
For the record, Cable said there was no thought to drafting Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen.