Gap integrity, discipline, attention to detail and responsibility are phrases being thrown around more than footballs at the Raiders year-round facility in Alameda this week.
That’s what happens when you’re fresh from a game in which you allow 183 yards rushing, and you are last in the league at an average of 5.9 yards per carry.
As I write, the players are getting an earful from defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan on the proper ways to defend against the Houston Texans’ famed zone-blocking scheme, the one used to great success against the Raiders by the Denver Broncos for so many years.
The point has been hammered home during practice, as well. Coach Hue Jackson said he is spending more time overseeing the defense.
What needs to be done isn’t a great secret, he said.
“It’s a matter of going to get the guy with the ball, get off blocks, go and get the guy with the ball and take the guy down and take the guy down hard,” Jackson said. “Over the last two days, we’ve done a good job with that, getting better at it.”
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour played end and tackle during his eight seasons with the New England Patriots. It’s conceivable that the Raiders could move Seymour to end and insert run-stopping specialist John Henderson into the lineup in Seymour’s regular spot.
If that’s what it takes, Seymour said, he is up to playing end again.
“Wherever they ask me to go, that’s what I’ll do,” Seymour said. “If they ask me to play on the nose, I’ll play on the nose. If they ask me to be on the end, I’ll be on the end. Wherever I’m needed, I’m willing to go. It can’t be, ‘Hey put a guy over here to stop this’ because it’s all over the place. If everyone takes care of their responsibility and take care of their job, then we’ll be fine.”
The problem might be widespead, but it’s also fixable, Seymour said. Players aren’t trying to do too much, they just aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do from time to time.
“It’s just a matter of taking care of your responsibilities,” Seymour said. “My job is the B gap, take care of the B gap. As simple as it sounds, that’s the defense that we play, a one-gap responsibility defense. You have to take care of your responsibility, first and foremost. That’s what we preach around here, do your job. If everyone takes the same approach we won’t have any problems.”
The Raiders are expecting the Texans to run early and often Sunday. Why not? Jackson said. He would do the same thing if he were playing against a Raiders defense that allows 136 yards per game.
NOT SO HAPPY RETURNS
Only one of the Raiders 11 kick returns has yielded field position beyond their own 20-yard line the first four games.
Nick Miller, Taiwan Jones, Jacoby Ford, Rock Cartwrigtht. All have returned kicks this season. None has figured out how to get past the Raiders 25.
To hear Jackson tell it, there’s a list of factors conspiring against the Raiders reaping the kinds of results they did last season, when Ford returned three kicks for touchdowns and routinely got past the Raiders 20.
“The ball’s been kicked pretty well by the other team, hang time, balls been kicked deep, and we’ve got to continue to block better,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to give those guys a little bit more opportunity if we decide to bring it out.”
Jones and Ford returned kicks in practice Wednesday. It remains to be seen who will handle that duty against the Texans.
MOVING ON, NOT LOOKING BACK
Earlier in his career, it might have been difficult for quarterback Jason Campbell to put behind him a game like last Sunday, when he had two passes intercepted against the Patriots.
That no longer is the case. As evidence, offensive coordinator Al Saunders points to the way Campbell has looked in practice this week.
“I know one thing he’s had two of his best days of practice these last two days,” Saunders said. “And Jason is very, very competitive. This kid has taken a team to the National Championship in college, he’s taken a high school team to a championship. Everywhere he’s been he’s been a successful player.
“In that position, if you don’t have the ability to put a play behind you and go on to the next play, it’s real difficult. But he has an ability to do that.”
Campbell said he had no difficulty letting go of the frustration that came with a second-quarter interception in the end zone, when the Raiders were in position to take the lead.
The fact the Raiders bounced back from that interception and wound up with 507 yards offense showed that they moved on, Campbell said.
“You have to shake it off and move forward,” Campbell said. “We came back in the second half, we got the ball back and we went right back down the field. … We responded really well to come back in the second half and try to go down and score a touchdown. … Guys are able to put it behind us. I know I have to as a quarterback.”
Wide receiver Louis Murphy said he feels good after two straight days of practice in his return from a groin surgery. Whether he makes his 2011 debut Sunday remains to be seen.
Murphy said he feels as if he’s ready to go. The decision won’t be made until Sunday morning, during pre-game warm-ups.
Yet, at some point, the Raiders are going to have to find a way to incorporate Murphy and five other wide receivers into the offense.
Saunders said the key is designing certain packages of plays for each receiver and playing to each player’s strengths.
“We have the availability of some players that will give us an opportunity to do different kinds of things and typically you will have different packages for those,” Saunders said. “We try not to ask a player to do what he can’t do and accentuate the positives of his abilities. So there will be different packages for the players that we have.”
Murphy was Oakland’s most-productive wide receiver each of the past two seasons. Yet, that was before the Raiders drafted Denarius Moore and signed veteran Derek Hagan.
Campbell now has more talented receivers than he did last season. Murphy said he is confident that he won’t get lost in the shuffle and become the odd-man out, given he hasn’t played in a game of any kind since last season.
“I just let my actions speak on that end,” Murphy said. “Other than that, guys know what I’ve done around here. It’s nothing big. I just want to go out there and help the team.”
Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder), cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring), fullback Marcel Reece (ankle), linebacker Ricky Brown (concussion) and tight end Richard Gordon (hand) missed practice Thursday, and they haven’t practiced at all this week.
Jackson typically is hesitant to shed much light, if any, on the status of his players in the days before a game. However, he let slip with a rather telling remark about how he views the status of players who miss practice the week before a game.
“If a guy doesn’t practice, (people) have seen how we go about,” Jackson said. “If a guy doesn’t practice, it’s hard to help this football team.”
Translation: it’s unlikely that any of the aforementioned injured players will play against the Texans.
Jackson also said that some of those players are “close” to returning to action, while others are “a long ways away.”
He refused to attach names to either category.
Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa attempted to practice Wednesday with a sore hamstring, but he suffered a setback, he said. His status for Sunday is questionable, at best.
If Johnson and Chekwa can’t play, rookie DeMarcus Van Dyke and Joe Porter will get added playing time. Jackson intimated that Van Dyke might even start opposite Stanford Routt.
“Absolutely,” Jackson said. “Next man up. Hey, throw him in there. Let’s go.”
TONGA ITCHING FOR DEBUT
Fullback Manase Tonga spent last season on the Raiders practice squad after getting released at the end of training camp. He finally might get his shot at playing in a regular-season game for the first time.
Tonga said he received a majority of the reps at fullback in practice Thursday in the absence of Reece and Gordon. He should know Friday whether the Raiders intend to promote him from the practice squad.
“I haven’t heard anything yet but I’ll make sure I’m ready just in case,” Tonga said.
All this waiting has made Tonga eager to take it out on someone in a game.
“Whenever that day comes, I’ll make sure that first person is going to feel it,” Tonga said.
Jackson said Cartwright or one of the tight ends, presumably Brandon Myers or David Ausberry, also are options as a blocking back.
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