The Raiders won’t come out and say it, but if they open the season in their traditional 4-3 defense, the starting weak side linebacker will be Quentin Groves.
“We’re just kind of experimenting with some things right now to make sure we get the right 11 guys on the field,’’ coach Tom Cable said. “That’s the most important thing to us.’’
Trevor Scott opened warm-ups and drills working with the defensive linemen Sunday, and said afterward he’s been exclusively as an end in recent days and noted Groves has been working with the first team at weak side linebacker, although he said he didn’t know who would actually start.
Groves smiled when asked if he was the starter.
“You never know. You just gotta tune in and see, right?,’’ Groves said. “One game I might be the starter, the next I could be a third string guy. I just have to come in and prepare myself as the starter.’’
Acquired from Jacksonville for a fifth-round draft pick, Groves, like Scott, was predominantly a defensive end.
“Now I’m a standup will linebacker and it’s kind of different,’’ Groves said. “Got to make checks and audibles and gap fits, things like that.’’
The same adjustments that Scott, who took over the position last season from Thomas Howard, apparently struggled in making.
The difference, according to Cable, is Groves showed the ability to play the pass in college at Auburn.
“There were some things that we asked him to do the last couple of weeks and he was able to do that, and one of them was play in the pass defense with a little more instinct and a little more break on the ball and keeping the ball in front of him,’’ Cable said.
Groves said in the last two games he started doing more playing and less thinking.
“I think I just let it go,’’ Groves said. “Started playing football. The first two games I was thinking, `I’ve got to fit here, where do I have to be?’ I just said, `Man, see ball, get ball.’’
Scott shrugged off the position shift, saying, “I’m playing pretty much where they send me. That’s the NFL for you. It could change week to week.’’
With the release of Jay Richardson and Richard Seymour playing mostly on the inside, Scott has been working in a three-man rotation with Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy and against the Seahawks played on both sides.
With Scott playing end, the other weakside option would be Thomas Howard, who has started 62 of 64 games since being drafted in the second round in 2006 but moved to the strong side to make room for Scott in the last six games of the season last year.
Besides the challenge of facing the NFL’s leading rusher in Chris Johnson, the Titans feature a quarterback in Vince Young who poses a run-pass dilemma for linebackers who must decide whether to come up and play the run, potentially leaving an open receiver.
More news, notes and quotes from Sunday’s practice session and media availability:
— Cable went ahead and made official what looked obvious against the Seahawks after incumbent left cornerback Chris Johnson gave up four catches for 120 yards _ Stanford Routt will be the starter.
“I just see a guy that has a real focus about him right now,’’ Cable said. “He has gone out and shown it. We’ve asked him to do some things to improve his game and he’s done those things. That’s just a matter of going out and doing your job and playing well.’’
Early in training camp, Johnson was enjoying far better practice sessions and appeared to be on track to be the starter. However, Routt played better in preseason games and then in practice as well. Then Johnson injured a hamstring, returning to get torched against the Seahawks.
The Raiders raised a lot of eyebrows when they tendered Routt, who has started just 23 of 78 career games, at a first- and third-round rate _ a salary of $3.268 million.
—The center position, a model of stability for the franchise through the Jim Otto-Dave Dalby eras, will have its fourth different starter in four years. Jared Veldheer, the 6-foot-8 rookie out of Division II Hillsdale, follows Chris Morris (2009), Jake Grove (2008), and Jeremy Newberry (2007).
Quarterback Jason Campbell said it’s the first time he’ll open with a rookie center.
“We’ve just got to work together, work together, do what we have to do to make our calls and make sure everyone is on the same page and do as much as we can to help him,’’ Campbell said.
Veldheer was putting in extra time following practice working on shotgun snaps.
– Cable on the cutting safety Stevie Brown, who spoke the media the pervious day believing he had made the 53-man roster:
“I told you all along there was going to be some tough cuts,’’ Cable said. It is what it is. Unfortunately, he went out and practiced and you guys got a chance to talk to everybody – which, you’re doing your job. And so that’s on us to get those decisions made. I am not surprised it took as long as it did, but it was tough for the kid, definitely.’’
Brown declined comment.
– Seven players were officially added to the practice squad: Brown, defensive tackle Kellen Heard, linebacker Slade Norris, fullback Manase Tonga, cornerback Joey Porter, wide receiver Shaun Bodiford and offensive lineman Alex Parsons.
“We’ve got one more to add and we’ll do so here in the next day or two,’’ Cable said. “We’re keeping our options open and looking at everything, the waiver wire, who’s available, who has practice squad eligibility, all those things.’’
– Injury updates in some form will be on Wednesday, Cable said. That’s the day the Raiders are mandated to turn in an injury report to the league. Running back Michael Bush was going through some agility drills following practice with his left hand either casted or heavily wrapped to protect his thumb.
Bush declined comment.