Saturday, March 1, 2008

Filling Gaps

The Raiders had two major on-field problems in 2007:
  1. The defense couldn't stop the run
  2. The offense couldn't stretch the field

To fix those problems - and, indeed, to field a full team - the Raiders need to acquire players at four key positions: Safety, Defensive Tackle, Wide Receiver, and Offensive Tackle.

Safety - this gap appears filled as of yesterday's Gibril Wilson signing. If we are to believe the coaching staff, the most significant contributing factor to Problem #1 was a penchant for giving up the big play. Stu Schweigert's name has become synonymous with the missed tackle, and Hiram Eugene, whose name sounds more like a suggestion, did no better. It's no coincidence that the Raiders' press release leads with this stat: "Over his pro career, Wilson has averaged more total tackles per game (6.9) than any other NFL safety." His versatility should give the Raiders some flexibility to transition Michael Huff from a relatively anonymous TE coverage specialist into a playmaker who begins to live up to the expectations of a #7 overall draft pick.

Defensive Tackle - maybe losing Rod Coleman and Grady Jackson in recent years has caused Al Davis to develop an intense fear of losing home-grown DT talent, leading to Terdell Sands' multi-year invitation to laziness last year and Tommy Kelly's bank-breaker this year. But there is a sense of desperation here, too. Downhill, up-the-gut runners destroyed the Raiders in 2007. Warren Sapp was never a power run stuffer, but his retirement leaves a major hole. So throwing this money at Tommy Kelly means the Raiders thought this was their best shot to address this critical need in free agency, especially in light of the Haynesworth and Williams franchise tags. Kelly can play end, but the money seems to indicate that this is meant to fill a hole at DT. The other tackle position could be filled by Sands, Warren (due a large bonus if he's retained), or by taking Dorsey or Ellis at #4 in the draft. Do we risk speculating that Kelly could play end in a Rob Ryan 3-4?

Either way, the money is outrageous given Kelly's limited track record, but not out of line with top DTs. Combine the Raiders' desperation with this year's availability, and Kelly's rich. At least he's described as a "character guy."

Wide Receiver - The Jerry Porter era has finally come to a close. As a result, the Raiders really have one proven WR on the team: Ronald Curry. Johnnie Lee Higgins got my vote for most disappointing rookie last year. At least this situation helps temper the "Interim Coach in Waiting" theory regarding James Lofton. He'll have his work cut out for him as WR coach. But who will he coach? Berrian signed with the Vikings. Stallworth signed with the Browns. Keary Colbert (Broncos), Devery Henderson (Saints), and Ernest Wilford (Dolphins) are off the board. Javon Walker? Just what the Raider locker room needs . Bryant Johnson? He may be signed by Buffalo by the time I finish typing this. That guy from New England?

At least I see that one of my favorite names is still available: Craphonso Thorpe. But this position must be high on Davis' list given the strength of JaMarcus' arm. I'm just not sure how they are going to find the bodies.

Offensive Tackle - The Barry Sims era has finally come to a close. As a result, the Raiders really have no proven and healthy tackle on the team. Given Problem #2 and $60 million worth of JaMarcus to protect, this is a gap. Living in the Bay Area I've even come to dislike Kwame Harris, so I was pleased to see him leave Alameda without a fat contract. But it illustrates just how desperate the Raiders have become at this position. Will we see Cable plug in some unknown free agents or draft some guys on the second day to play the zone scheme? Will the Mario Henderson Project ever result in playing time? Or do they spend pick #4 on another Big Ten Tackle?

One last question: Should we read anything into the fact that since free agency kicked off we are +2 on Ryan's defense (Kelly, Wilson) and -3 on Kiffin's offense (McCown, Porter, Sims)?


John Sousa said...

Craphonso Thorpe? I had to look him up just to make sure that wasn't a made-up name. Maybe getting him would be a reverse jinx, having a guy whose name is LITERALLY "crap," instead of all the figuratively crap receivers we've had since Timmy and Jerry (#80) retired...

Sllaacs said...

Good luck finding a decent receiver.