By Steve Corkran
Friday, November 4th, 2011 at 4:26 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has developed into a lightning rod for criticism in his brief NFL career. Some think Tebow deserves a chance to mature into the role. Others think he should be playing another position. One way or the other, everyone has a strong opinion.
Through it all, Tebow takes the high road, talks about how blessed he is to have an opportunity and keeps plodding along as if he’s oblivious to things being said.
This week, it’s the Raiders’ turn to weigh in on Tebow, given he is starting against them Sunday. Coincidentally, he made his first NFL start against the Raiders, late last season.
So far this season, he has started two games. He rallied the Broncos from a 15-0 deficit for an 18-15 overtime victory against the Miami Dolphins. He followed that up with a dreadful performance against the Detroit Lions in a 45-10 loss.
“He came in here last year and played really well, and I expect he’ll come here again with the same thought,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “The guy has talent. I’ve never questioned that. He can throw. He can run. And he’s on the opposing team, so we have to do everything that we can to get him under control.”
Plenty of other people have questioned Tebow, including some of the Lions last Sunday. Raiders defensive end Jarvis Moss played at the University of Florida for two seasons with Tebow, including the year Tebow won the Heisman Trophy. They also were teammates the first nine games last season before the Broncos released Moss.
On Friday, Moss found himself in the awkward position of talking about a former teammate who has struggled finding success in the NFL after a collegiate career that featured nothing but success.
“He’s a good athlete, Man,” Moss said. “He’s a strong dude. He can definitely hurt you with his legs.”
When asked about whether Tebow can hurt a team with his throwing arm, Moss paused for 13 seconds.
“Uh, I don’t want to answer that question because I really want to … Never mind. I can’t answer that question,” Moss said.
Raiders defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan echoed Jackson’s comments about Tebow posing problems for opposing defenses because of his rare ability to keep alive plays with his feet and run over defenders with his 240-pound frame.
“I see an offense that’s trying to take advantage of his skill set,” Bresnahan said. “It’s not my job to grade them. Until I get paid by (Broncos owner) Pat Bowlen, I’m not going to grade them on their efficiency or effectiveness. I’m just going to prepare ourselves to defend what they’re trying to do with him and the rest of the group around him.”
BRESNAHAN RAVES ABOUT CURRY
Bresnahan was asked about the play of linebacker Aaron Curry so far since Curry arrived at the Raiders via trade with the Seattle Seahawks. He acted as if there’s only one answer, and it’s obvious to everyone.
“This is a guy who loves to play football,” Bresnahan said. “And when people came in here and when I came in here we talked about having a clean slate. So I don’t look at the past. I don’t look at anything but what he’s doing here.”
Bresnahan said he, as well as Jackson, welcomed in Curry without judging him based on his failed stint with the Seahawks. The Curry they know and see every day is a far cry from the guy run out of Seattle.
“These are the type of players you want to bring in,” Bresnahan said. “They go into the meeting room, they attack their job in the meeting room, they attack their job on the practice field, they carry it to the game field, they act like professionals when they’re not on the field.
“And out of the building, they act like professionals. He is a prototypical professional for us. He’s brought a lot of experience, he’s brought a lot of excitement, emotion and passion to the defensive unit, and it shows on the field on the field on Sundays.”
MCCLAIN’S VALUE FOR THIS GAME HIGH
The Raiders are hopeful that middle linebacker Rolando McClain (leg) will be able to play Sunday for more than the fact that he is the leader of their defense and calls the signals.
Jackson said McClain’s presence in the middle of the field is paramount against a quarterback like Tebow who is a threat to run at any time, especially up the middle.
“The middle linebacker is a huge key to that, as teams try to run the ball up the middle against your defense,” Jackson said. “You got to make sure that you’ve got your stoutest guy in there to take that on.”
If McClain can’t play, the man in the middle will be Darryl Blackstock, who filled in for McClain when he came out against the Chiefs.
McClain was not available for comment all week.
It’s likely that whoever plays in the middle will be employed as a spy on Tebow, following his every movement and ready to pounce if Tebow pulls down the ball and takes off.
SUCCEEDING AGAINST THE RUN
Bresnahan pointed out that the Broncos still managed 195 yards rushing against the Lions, even though teams that lose by 35 points tend to turn toward a pass-heavy attack.
Based on recent results, that should play right into the Raiders’ hands. They allowed a league-worst 5.9 yards per carry through their first four games. At that time, Jackson and Bresnahan promised to get the issue resolved at all costs.
Sure enough, the Raiders have allowed only 3.2 yards per carry the past three games. There isn’t any secret as to the impressive turnaround, Jackson said.
“We’re just getting people on the ground, basically,” Jackson said. “Getting off blocks. All the things that everybody says, all the clichés that people use, we’re doing them the best we’ve done them. Kudos to the defensive staff and Chuck Bresnahan, but the players, when it’s all said and done, they have to make a decision in that locker room that they’re tired of having the ball run at them like that, and that’s what they’ve done.”
HOUSHMANDZADEH MAKING IMPRESSION
Recently signed wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been on a crash course since he signed with the Raiders on Tuesday.
To hear quarterback Carson Palmer tell it, it won’t be long before Houshmandzadeh is tutoring the other wide receivers on the Raiders playbook and the nuances of the game.
“He understands concepts, he understands schemes, alignments, all the little things a lot of receivers overlook,” Palmer said. “He’s a student of the game, and it’s going to be a really big help, especially for these young guys to have him around. Just in the first day, they were kind of taken back by how much he knows. For him to know the playbook in just his first day out, getting here late (Tuesday), shows a lot about his football knowledge.”
That comes as no surprise to Jackson, who coached Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati from 2004-06.
“When I put guys on the football team, I put guys on the team to help us,” Jackson said. “If I thought he couldn’t pick it up or learn it, I never would have made that decision. T.J. knows how to play. He’s played a long time in this league.
“He brings vast knowledge, obviously game experience, to the receiver room, to the practice field, familiarity with the quarterback. Those are some huge factors. On top of that, he’s the one guy that I know I can go to a game with on Sunday and say, ‘T.J., go in there and do this,’ and he can do it.”
Running back Darren McFadden has had nearly two weeks to recover from the mid-foot sprain he suffered against the Chiefs. On Friday, Jackson ruled out McFadden from the Broncos game.
Jackson likely did so thinking the Raiders should be able to beat the Broncos without McFadden and in hopes of having McFadden at full strength for the San Diego Chargers on Nov. 10.
Yet, there’s a possibility that McFadden could miss the Chargers game, too, based on the fact he still is on crutches, wearing a protective boot on his right foot, and hasn’t practiced in two weeks.
“I don’t know that,” Jackson said. “I know we’re making progress each and every day. He’s getting closer and closer. To me, that mid-foot sprain, you just got to take it day to day. I don’t want to say, ‘Boy, it’s going to be this or that.’ Every day, he’s gotten better. A lot better and I just think we’ll continue to evaluate that. I’m not going to put him out there if he’s not healthy.”
VELDHEER READY FOR SPEED RUSH
The strength of the Broncos defense lies in their ability to create pressure on the quarterback through pass-rush specialists Elvis Dumervil and rookie Von Miller.
Raiders left offensive tackle Jared Veldheer is accustomed to playing against much bigger defensive ends. Even so, he said he isn’t about to change his approach.
“The key is to just stay disciplined in your set, maintain a good body posture and just use your mechanics and fundamentals that the coaches teach us,” Veldheer said. “I don’t think everything needs to be changed up.”
In the end, it’s likely that the Raiders will use the eagerness of Dumervil and Miller against the Broncos by countering with an array of screen passes, draw plays and quick-hitting passes.
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