Michael Huff didn’t have much time to digest the switch from free safety to cornerback two games into the season. Yet, it hasn’t taken him long to make himself right at home.
In the past two games, Huff has been on the field in pass coverage for 84 plays. He had seven balls thrown his way during those plays, with one completion for 2 yards.
It’s enough to make coach Dennis Allen and defensive coordinator Jason Tarver think twice before moving Huff back to safety if Ron Bartell makes a successful return from a shoulder injury.
“Listen, I’m not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, alright?” Allen said Wednesday. “I don’t think Willie Brown has anything to worry about yet. But he has improved. That’s what we expect and that’s what we will continue to expect that every day he has an opportunity to go out and work he’ll get a little bit better every week.”
Huff’s first three games at cornerback, he faced Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan. Huff had his struggles during those games, to be sure. However, it also enabled him to learn trial by fire.
“I had those couple of rough games early,” Huff said. “I knew I would go through some growing pains. I had never really played outside for a whole stretch. I knew I’d go through some growing pains and I’m starting to learn from them.”
Indeed. Quarterbacks no longer are targeting Huff as often as Roethlisberger, Manning and Ryan did his first three games.
Yet, Huff said he still feels as if he is a target every game because he spent his first six NFL seasons playing mostly safety.
“They’re still looking at me,” Huff said. “Every time I’m out there, I think the ball is coming my way. (They look at me) like I’m a safety playing corner, especially anytime I’m out there against a big-time receiver, like this week against Vincent Jackson. Every time I’m out there lined up out there on him, I have to assume the ball is coming my way because I’m a safety out there at corner against their best receiver.”
Bartell takes great delight in chiding Huff for his seamless transition.
“I kid him all the time (that) he’s a hell of a lot better corner than he is safety,” Bartell said. “I’ve been impressed with Huff. That’s tough to ask a guy to do. He hasn’t played a lick of corner all camp and all OTAs and then guys go down and he’s able to go in in a pinch. He’s gotten better every game, and he takes pride in it. I’m really impressed with him. He’s a pretty good corner. He’a s great football player.”
Coincidentally, the Raiders are playing against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is led by Ronde Barber, a career cornerback who switched to safety this season.
It’s widely considered more difficult for a player to go from safety to cornerback, rather than the other way around.
“It’s probably harder going from safety down to corner,” Barber said. “That’s not a transition you see very often. Actually, I can’t think of any that have actually done it off the top of my head.”
— Allen said he isn’t in any hurry to decide what to do with Bartell just yet.
Bartell practiced today for the first time since he suffered a shoulder injury in the regular-season opener Sept. 10. He isn’t eligible to play in a game until Nov. 11.
Allen said he will evaluate Bartell in the coming days before deciding how to proceed. The Raiders have 21 days to decide whether to activate Bartell to the 53-man roster, waive him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.
— Curious what the Raiders offensive game plan is going to be against the Buccaneers? Check out the stats, and you should get a pretty firm idea on what they’re going to do before the game starts.
The Buccaneers are tied for first in the league against the run, holding opposing ballcarriers to an average of 3.5 yards rushing through seven games. The Raiders are tied for 26th in yards per carry on offense at 3.5.
On the flip side, the Buccaneers are 31st against the pass, with an average of 309.6 yards per game so far. The Raiders are 10th in passing offense at an average of 264 yards through seven games.
That doesn’t mean that the Raiders won’t at least try to establish the run game, Palmer said.
“We’re never going to abandon the run. They are very good against the run, and they’ve struggled some against the pass and they’ve had some big plays happen to him over and over again. But it’s a good football team.”
Palmer said Allen pointed out to the players that the Buccaneers are a lot like the Raiders in that they started off slow, overcame adversity and now they are riding some momentum after stirring upset of the Minnesota Vikings on the road.
“If you’ve got four guys that can rush the passer like they do, you can’t just go out and throw the ball on every play, because those guys are going to get to you, they’re too good up front,” Palmer said. “But we’re never going to just go into a game and completely abandon the run game. We’re going to pick our spots and definitely go in and be physical and run the ball, but when we have our shots downfield we need to hit ‘em this week.”
— Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is having a bounce-back season after a disastrous season last year.
He is the league’s eighth-highest-rated passer at 93.3, with 14 touchdowns and only five interceptions. This, from a player that was intercepted 22 times last season versus only 16 touchdown passes and finished with a pedestrian 74.6 passer rating.
In 2010, Freeman burst onto the scene as the unquestioned starter with 25 touchdowns and only six interceptions, as well as a 95.9 passer rating. He has nine touchdowns and one interception the past three games, with three touchdown passes in each game.
First-year head coach Greg Schiano said he and his offensive coaches broke down the video of Freeman’s past games and devised a strategy that centered on having him doing what he does best.
“We all spent time with him early on in the process, reviewing just so we knew where his basis was, and then Ron (Turner) and Mike (Sullivan) did an awesome job of teaching the system and continue to teach the system,” Schiano said. “We’re a long ways off from being all-in as far as implementation. What we’ve given him he has done a nice job with.
“The one thing about Josh is, he is just an incredibly hard worker and is committed to the whole process, the meeting room, walkthrough, classroom and practice. He loves every part of the preparation as well as at the game.”
— Here’s what Schiano thinks of Palmer after watching video of his play the first seven games.
“He’s a guy that there’s no uncertainty with what he wants to do,” Schiano said. “You can see he’s well coached, he’s been well coached. You can see the reads. He reads things very quickly. Just the entire Raider football team is a fast, fast football team. His receivers are fast, his running back is fast — running backs are fast. So you cannot make a mistake. If you do it gets exposed.”
Safe to say, Schiano is not in the camp that thinks Palmer isn’t the long-term answer for the Raiders at quarterback.
— Running back Mike Goodson said the turf-toe injury he suffered against the Chiefs isn’t about to keep him from playing in a game. Sure enough, he was at practice today acting as if nothing happened.
He said he got hurt at the end or a run when he jammed his toe as he was going to the ground.
Goodson and Darren McFadden credited the zone-blocking scheme for the Raiders late success against the Chiefs running the ball.
McFadden rushed for 73 yards on 12 carries in the fourth quarter after amassing only 41 yards to that point.
“Wear ‘em down, wear ‘em down,” Goodson said, “and it’ll start kicking in the third or fourth quarter.”
McFadden had runs of 19 and 28 yards in the fourth quarter en route to a 114-yard effort. He had only 17 yards on 12 carries at halftime.
“It’s one of those things, the zone scheme is designed to get 1 or 2 yards here and there, then eventually they’re going to start popping,” McFadden said. “That’s what happened last week.”
— Allen remains non-commital on whether he intends to activate linebacker Aaron Curry before the 21-day evaluation period expires next Wednesday.
“That’s a crystal ball you have to look in to say if there’s any chance that he wouldn’t (be activated),” Allen said. “Our anticipation is we will activate him. But again I don’t have that crystal ball.”
If the Raiders don’t activate Curry, their two others options are to waive him or place him on season-ending injured reserve. Curry missed all of training camp and the first seven regular-season games while recovering from sore knees.