Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Other July Questions

First I must note that question #1 has only become more worrying at the Tackle position. Sims remains unchallenged, and now career backup Cornell Green is leading the RT race? Hmm.

So before August starts, here are a few additional July questions:

2. Can we stop the run?

Last year the defense did well thanks to a terrific pass defense and increasingly conservative play calling by opponents as the score differential swelled into the double-digits by the third quarter. But quality RBs continue to hurt the Raiders - and we see plenty of those in the AFC West. The defense is fast but lacks bulk in the middle. This year, Sapp lacks even more bulk in his middle, which should improve his ability to beat Burgess to the QB but will not keep interior linemen off of Morrison. The linebackers are built to get to the sideline, not to plug running lanes in the middle.

The Raiders' only moves to address this were to lock up Terdell Sands and sign a run-stuffing Safety in Donovin Darius. The Raiders think so much of Big Terd that they passed on Alan Branch in the draft. Of course this move may have been prioritization, because they turned Alan Branch into Zach Miller, Josh McCown, and Mike Williams. Darius should be a big help in running situations...but that brings us to the next question.

3. What is the plan at Safety?

During OTAs we heard a lot of talk about "Right" and "Left" Safeties rather than Free and Strong. The obvious reason: the Raiders drafted Michael Huff #7 overall to make big plays, and last year he was a bit cramped at Strong Safety (and Gates/Gonzo specialist). He and Schweigert combined for zero INTs. So was this some sort of Kiffin Cover-2 scheme or was Schweigert being moved aside in favor of Huff? The answer that Darnell Bing's move to Safety hoped to bring was delivered in the Donovin Darius signing. Huff will play in space this year. The first reports out of training camp indicate that Huff will be an every down Safety with Darius playing Strong Safety in running situations and Schweigert joining Huff in passing situations. A wildcard may be fifth round pick Eric Frampton, although he may be waiting in the wings while Darius gives us one year of service. It will be interesting to see how this will play out. How will they scheme against Gates and Gonzo? Who is our nickel DB?

4. How good is this group of WRs?

The key to a Raider resurgence may be the talent we have hiding at WR. Every player carries some level of risk, but the Raiders appear to have placed enough bets to cover a few busts. This is Porter's year to finally break out. He's in shape, well rested from a year in the doghouse, and playing with something to prove. Reports from OTAs were that he looked like an elite WR. But will he stay happy? Meanwhile, Curry has come into his own after recovering from two Achilles tears. He was open all the time late last year in an offense with no weapons. But can he stay healthy? Mike Williams is pure upside. If he can get serious and reclaim some magic after being reunited with Kiffin, it would be a huge bonus for the Raiders. But is this realistic?

Doug Gabriel is back. He has shown flashes of brilliance during his tenure in Oakland. But why was New England so quick to cut him? Johnnie Lee Higgins was a bit of a surprise pick in the third round, but he appears ready to take on return duty. Will his speed make Whitted and Francis expendable? Preseason superstar Johnnie Morant seems to be on the verge of starting in August, only to ride the bench all year long. Rumor has it he's extremely unintelligent. Will he grasp Kiffin's playbook or be sent packing? Travis Taylor appears to be insurance. When all else fails he should provide steady contribution.

Additional good news for the passing game: Zach Miller signed today. Now if only we had a rookie to throw all these guys the ball.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

July Question #1

With a day off for Al's birthday, I thought it a good time to post some thoughts on the Raiders' chances in 2007. McDonalds' lively blog is keeping us going through the summer doldrums. He's even got fans throwing statistical analysis at us! Perhaps imperfect, but some remarkably intelligent takes for an offseason blog. And great entertainment to see the predictable meathead reply: "Wins and losses are the only stats that matter!"

But as I looked for conclusions to be drawn in July, I realized instead I must go to the "offseason questions" format for today's post. It feels like we are a long way from answering a number of questions surrounding the team. The top question is not a new one:

Have we solved the offensive line problem?

While obvious to the naked eye last season, greater detail surrounding the disaster that was the Raider 2006 offensive line continued to ooze from Alameda during the first half of 2007. Conflicting instructions from the coaching staff, lack of or changes in direction, seemingly whimsical personnel moves. It's hard to evaluate the Raiders' talent based on last year alone. But this is the SECOND year in a row that the O-line has been labeled the Raiders' most glaring weakness. Has enough been done in the offseason?

New coaches with track records and a cut-block (gasp!) scheme will help. An experienced, starting guard (Carlisle) will help. Newberry - at a minimum for his leadership capabilities - will help. But what is the answer at tackle?

Perhaps there exists some explanation that tackles are not particularly important in a cut blocking scheme. Otherwise 2007 may shape up to be a rocky one. The obvious question is Gallery. My pessimism stems from his try-outs at guard on a team that has no strong starting tackle. Sims appears to have locked down the left tackle spot with ease - not a good sign whether you believe in a Sims resurgence or not. The Raiders did draft a tackle on the second day this year (Henderson), but the current sentence marks the most words I've ever seen between his name and the word "project."

The answer may rest in the moves the Raiders made at tight end. Fred Wakefield and Tony Stewart play more like third tackles than tight ends. And drafting Zach Miller ahead of every other area of need shows the priority Kiffin places on changing the approach to the TE spot. Miller will be the go-to TE, and blocking is a big part of his game. John Madsen and other matadors will likely go the way of Teyo Johnson.

So the tackles will get a lot of help this year while Gallery's career is evaluated and the Henderson project begins. It will be exciting to see McQuistan, Boothe, and Grove develop under an accomplished staff. But let's all cross our fingers that Sims holds up and Gallery comes around. I've seen enough of Shawn Merriman's dance for one lifetime.

Happy Birthday, Al!

Thanks to Jerry McDonald for pointing out that today is Al Davis' birthday. Why is this not surprising that he was born on the 4th of July? I didn't know that until today. I guess I should have.

One question, is that a coincidence? It's well known that the president of the United States can pardon criminals and commute sentences of anyone he wishes; but can he bestow eternal life? Of course not.

Al Davis apparently can.

It's called THE CLOAK OF IMMORTALITY. He most recently bestowed it upon John Madden at his Hall of Fame induction. The first time I heard him use the term was in a statement after Bill King passed, saying,

"I say this with great admiration and love that Bill becomes one of the people that I give the cloak of immortality. Time never stops for the great ones."

That's why we named this blog "CLOAK OF IMMORTALITY." As a tribute to a football genius, a rebel, a god amongst men with the ability to stop time.

As Jerry points out in his post, the lawsuits are over, it's time to win some football games.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Davis. That cloak fits you well.