By Steve Corkran
Saturday, September 10th, 2011 at 8:13 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Slow news day at practice today, one day before the Raiders board a plane for Denver.
Raiders public relations director Mike Taylor delivered the participation report before coach Hue Jackson spoke. As expected, tight end Kevin Boss, wide receiver Louis Murphy and safety Mike Mitchell are out of Sunday’s game against the Broncos.
Beyond that, nothing new, and Jackson wasn’t about to deliver on his promise of saying who is going to return punts, who is going to return kicks, who his starting wide receivers are, or anything else that might give the Broncos an edge, real or perceived.
With that in mind, we’ll indulge you with a transcript of offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who spoke with the media for only the second time since he was hired by the Raiders.
Q: What kind of challenges does a typical John Fox defense bring you?
A: A typical John defense is a good defense. You know what I mean? He’s been in the league a lot of years and he’s done a terrific job and he has some outstanding talent. He has two corners who are are outstanding players. (Brian) Dawkins had done a great job with them at strong safety — we competed against him in Philadelphia for years and those two outside pass rushers are just tremendous. Their speed is exceptional. Judging from the preseason, they’ve done an outstanding job in all phases of defense so we’ve got a good challenge.
Q: Is Elvis Dumervil the kind of guy you have to accountable for every single play?
A: Yeah, yeah, you need to know where he is but you need to know where (No.) 58 is too and you need to know where 20 is and you need to know where Champ Bailey is so he’s got a lot of guys you end up trying to figure out were they are. But there was a big difference in that defense when he didn’t play last year, obviously.
Q: Because it’s a new coach and scheme, do you completely throw out what happened last year against Denver, or can you look at tape and carry anything over?
A: Well, conceptually, they’re way different. I mean, they’ve gone from a 3-4 team to a 4-3 team. Personnel-wise, they’ve got a lot of different players on that front group and on the backup group and they’ve added that young safety from UCLA that’s played real well for them in the preseason. SO the personnel is different, the scheme is different and certainly, playing an opening day game, on Monday night, is different. And I think the second time the Raiders played them last year, it was only a one-point game. There’s a lot of things to look at that we can take from last year from a personnel standpoint, those players that are returning and playing, but there’s also some things that are a little bit of a mystery sometimes in the first game.
Q: Personnel-wise, with guys coming back from preseason injuries, how many more toys do you have, how much more comfortable are you?
A: Well I think I would mirror what Hue would say, the more players you have, the better players you have, the better you feel. We’ve got some guys that have worked real hard and I know they’re very anxious to play this game and we’re anxious to see how they do play. I think we feel very confident about what we’re doing and the direction we’re going and Hue’s done a great job of putting this team together in a real positive way so we’re looking forward to this thing.
Q: Need your wide receivers to get off to a fast start?
A: That’s important for any offense. We have some young receivers but gosh they’ve had a tremendous training camp. They’re not rookies. Jacoby (Ford) had a great year last year as a young kid, Darrius has been here for a few years and (Chaz) Schilens looks like he’s going to be ready to go. So we’ve got some guys who have caught some balls and done some things in this league. We expect them to step up and play at a very high level.
Q: How is Darrius Heyward-Bey’s confidence?
A: I think he’s a very confident young man. I’ve just been around him a short period of time but I really like what I see of him. I think he’s worked real hard. That’s why we play the games, to see how far we’ve come. I know he’s looking forward to doing it.
Q: Have you ever been around a team with this much pure speed?
A: We didn’t have this kind of speed in St. Louis. We had some great football players that played fast, but pure speed? This is a special group.
Q: How do you harness pure speed and make it into football skills?
A: I went to school with Tommie Smith, Lee Evans and John Carlos and Ronnie Ray Smith. They came out in the spring and they just came back from the 68 Olympics and there were some gold medals in there but they didn’t turn out to be football players. Speed and playing the game are two different things. People can run fast in a straight line but when you have to change directions and there’s another 200-pound defender over there trying to re-route you, you have to have the other skill of catching the ball. It is really different. I had a great privilege of coaching a guy for a lot of years, Charlie Joiner, who’s in the Hall of Fame. Charlie wasn’t a real fast guy but he played the game as fast as anybody around, like Freddie Biletnikoff did here. The really great ones that can transfer that speed into playing explosion, a guy like Lynn Swann, those guys are really special. It takes a while to do that.
Q: Is speed so valuable it’s worth the risk?
A: You can teach guys to run faster. Usain Bolt’s working right now to run the 100 a second faster so there’s some techniques and things you can do to make guys play faster. But that innate speed factor, it really gives you an advantage because of the open field. When you get the ball in the open field you run fast, and the faster you run the better chance you have of getting into the end zone before somebody else catches you.
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