With no sign of Shawntae Spencer as practice got underway Friday, the Raiders went behind closed doors to prepare for life without both of their starting cornerbacks.
Spencer, still in a boot and on crutches Thursday, will likely be declared out today, joining Ron Bartell on the sidelines. Bartell is out with a broken shoulder blade suffered in the season opener.
Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will attempt to piece together a secondary to deal with a Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense which puts great strain on even experienced defensive backfields.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger does some of his best work against confused secondaries, breaking containment and throwing on the move.
“Our deal is, we’ve got NFL football players and we got to go out and play at a certain level and we hold all our guys accountable at the same level,’’ Allen said.
Exactly how the Raiders will line up is a secret. All Allen will say is that free safety Michael Huff has been working in different spots in the defensive backfield and that it’s a “next man up’’ philosophy.
Huff has played slot corner in the nickel defense before. He was told by the previous staff there was thought given to moving him to cornerback full time. Given the availability of Matt Giordano to fill in at free safety, having Huff on the move makes sense.
While Allen said there was no thought given by the current staff upon arrival for a position change, he said Huff has “speed and athleticism. That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to be able to run and play out there on the edge and he can certainly do that.’’
Huff, normally a willing and available interview, has made himself scarce during media availability periods this week.
The Raiders’ biggest challenge will be on the two outside corners, given the way Pat Lee and Joselio Hanson struggled last week against Miami and Brian Hartline. Hanson arrived with the reputation of doing his best work as a slot corner.
Phillip Adams and Coye Francies are also cornerbacks on the roster but had only special teams responsibilities against Miami.
Considering the speed and skill of Pittsburgh receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, Roethlisberger the outside targets, whether it Lee and Hanson or Lee and Huff _ will be inviting.
Tarver was getting his first new look Thursday at cornerback Brandian Ross, claimed off the Packers practice squad, and it seems unlikely he’d have an immediate role.
“I like his movement,’’ Tarver said. “I don’t know much more than that. Reggie and Dennis know a lot more about him than I do. I’m looking forward to working with him.’’
Roethlisberger, in a conference call with Bay Area media, has noticed the difference in defensive philosophy.
“From what I’ve seen, it looks like they have started to throw some more zone coverages, where before it was like they just did a lot of lining up man-to-man and challenged you from that perspective,’’ Roethlisberger said.
– Middle linebacker Rolando McClain was on the field and going through drills with the first team, but cannot play until he has passed all cognitives tests. The Raiders didn’t learn of Jon Condo’s availability last week until Saturday.
Francies, who also had a concussion, was also on the field.
– Tackle Khalif Barnes (groin) was not at practice and will likely be declared “out’’ this afternoon, with Willie Smith filling in as the starter.
– Running back Mike Goodson, who has practiced all week and not been on the injury report, was a spectator on Friday.
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