Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Is Campbell Consensus a case of DHB backlash?

By Fran Vaughan

Over the last couple weeks the consensus among the mock draft crowd is that the Raiders will draft Bruce Campbell of Maryland to fill their offensive tackle needs. This consensus doesn’t seem to be based on Campbell’s ability but rather a subtle implication the Raiders will do something foolish. Now mock draft pioneer Mel Kiper Jr. has confirmed as much, sort of. Don’t blame Kiper though; blame Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Jerry McDonald of Inside the Oakland Raiders quoted Kiper Wednesday admitting the Campbell pick had a bit of sarcasm attached to it. “(Camp0bell’s) a workout warrior and the Raiders have tended to reach for players in the past, and I thought as a hunch, maybe they would . . . it was a grins and giggles type thing.”

Before anyone labels Kiper a ‘Raider hater”, in fairness he doesn’t think the team will actually reach for Campbell. He thinks QB Jimmy Clausen or T Trent Williams are more likely. So where does the Campbell Consensus come from? On Monday McDonald surveyed 50 mock drafts (paid by the hour are we?) and 23 of them had Campbell going to the Raiders at number 8.


In 2009 the consensus was the Raiders would fill their need at wide receiver by drafting Michael Crabtree. The Raiders instead drafted a speedy athlete from the ACC with questionable football skills. When that exact same scenario unfolded at the combine last month the mock draft hordes planted their tongues firmly in their cheeks and the Bruce Campbell Consensus was born. “Only the Raiders would be foolish enough to draft him in the first round,” was the implication. How so?

Evan Silva of is one of the dozen or so who has the Raiders drafting a player other than Campbell (Williams). Where in the first does Silva have Campbell? He doesn’t. In fact you’ll be hard pressed to find Campbell in the first round of any mock where he isn’t picked by the Raiders. In other words, “only the Raiders.”

Campbell has only 17 starts and couldn’t crack the second team all ACC squad. He is a raw physical specimen who may need a few seasons to develop in the NFL. His technique in college of attacking defenders in pass blocking is not a fit for the Raiders zone blocking and is a problem in any blocking system against NFL zone blitzing teams.

On NFL Network Mike Mayock had Campbell listed as the fifth best tackle but also said if he was a GM he wouldn’t draft him. Campbell is a bang-or-bust project best suited for later rounds. The Raiders could get him at number 39 if they want him that badly but don’t expect him to go at number 8, even if that’s the consensus.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Raiders offensive line needs to step up

Sixth in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Offensive Line

In 2008 the offensive line took a step in the right direction. In 2009 they slid back big time. Line Coach Tom Cable was promoted and three of the five projected starters were injured early. If the Raiders are going to have any success in 2010 the line needs to rebound in a big way.

Left Tackle – Mario Henderson

Henderson was the most stable lineman in 2009 in terms of health and performance and did well protecting the QB considering the Raiders throw deep philosophy. It’s time for Henderson to assert himself as the team’s starting left tackle and shake that journeyman vibe that’s hanging over him.

Left Guard – Robert Gallery, Chris Morris, Langston Walker

Gallery was going to make a run at the pro bowl in 2009 at his newfound home at guard. Instead he missed most of the first half of the year with injury and played the end of the year sparingly with a bad back. Gallery raises Henderson’s play and is the leader on the line. The Raiders need Gallery healthy in 2010. The fact that Oakland started Walker, a tackle who didn’t know the playbook at guard, is all the evidence you need to know they lack depth.

Center – Samson Satele, Chris Morris

Every Raiders team that has played in a Super Bowl has had a big name center. In fact, Barrett Robbins pre Super Bowl meltdown marked the end of the Raiders winning ways. Satele had trouble learning the system and injury issues in 2009. He was often injured in Miami as well. This could be the year he stays healthy and plays well or gets hurt and is labeled ‘fragile’. Chris Morris is the best center-guard back up on the team but not a starter. With the way the Raiders reached in the 2009 draft you kind of wish they’d reached for Alex Mack instead.

Right Guard – Cooper Carlisle, Langston Walker, Brandon Rodd

The Raiders released Carlisle before the 2009 season. After nobody else signed him they brought him back to be a starter. Nothing personal against Carlisle but that implies the Raiders have one of the weakest links in the NFL. The team needs to add power even if it is a zone blocking system. Don’t be shocked to see Cable giving Walker a shot to win the position in camp. Cable often says he wants his best five guys on the field and Walker could fit the bill.

Right Tackle – Khalif Barnes, Eric Pears

Cornell Green is gone. That does not guarantee the position will improve. Barnes was a question mark in 2009 prior to getting hurt and missing the season. Pears most notable duty was as a blocking tight end in power run packages. Walker could play RT but then the team needs help at guard. If Barnes can stay healthy and play better at RT than he did at LT…that’s a lot of question marks. Maybe we’ll hear,“…the Raiders select Trent Williams tackle…” in a few weeks, if we’re lucky.

The Raiders offensive line has several holes and question marks going into the 2010 draft. They’d be wise to draft line help early and often.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Can Bruce Almighty lead Raiders to promised land?

Fifth in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Quarterback – Bruce Gradkowski, JaMarcus Russell, Charlie Frye, JP Losman

The media loves to focus on JaMarcus Russell but the fact is he finished 2009 third on the depth chart and may be a non-factor or an ex-Raider when the 2010 season opens. Gradkowski finished 2009 the injured favorite of his teammates and opens the off-season the leader of the team.

Bruce Gradkowski – Comp 54.7%, 1,007 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT, 80.6 Rating

The accepted theory is that Gradkowski has the leadership, accuracy, mobility and smarts to run the offense but just can’t throw deep. That theory is flawed. Russell may have a stronger arm but Gradkowski is a better deep ball QB. The fact is Gradkowski can throw deep and does so with accuracy. With almost 100 fewer attempts in 2009, Gradkowski had 12 pass plays over 20 yards and two over 40 compared to Russell (10 / 2). He averaged 12.3 yards per completion to Russell’s 10.7.

The other theory is Gradkowski is a career journeyman. If he is then the Raiders should label Russell a career bust. Gradkowski has 16 career starts compared to Russell’s 24 and has never got starter type attention or reps in training camp or practice. It is too early to call Gradkowski the next Gannon or Plunkett but consider two facts and there is cause for hope. Gradkowski’s 80.6 rating in 2009 was the highest of any Raider QB since Gannon in 2003. More importantly he is the first QB since Gannon who has inspired his teammates.

In this highlight package Gradkowski hits the 17-yard out to Higgins and the bomb to Murphy among others.

JaMarcus Russell – Comp 48.8%, 1,287 yards, 3 TD, 11 INT

So if Russell loses weight it means he’ll be a good QB? Weight, like arm strength is one of those measurable attributes that time and again are proven useless when it comes to the most immeasurable position in sports, NFL quarterback. If Russell comes to camp weighing 225 pounds (right) he’ll only have about a half-dozen other problems to fix. Truth be told, Russell’s weight is only a problem because he is so bad. Watch old footage of Jim Plunkett versus Dan Fouts and I guarantee you’ll never hear anyone worrying about how chunky they looked.

Accuracy is a huge problem. On a team built for speed does it make sense to have a QB who can’t hit a moving target? Most of Russell’s completions come on hooks, curls and routes where the receiver sits in a zone. His attempts to throw with touch down the field are usually over the wrong shoulder or out-of-bounds. To throw deep in today’s NFL a QB has to be aware in the pocket. Russell seems unaware of the rush even when it is coming right at him. His lack of awareness has resulted in 25 career fumbles in 24 starts.

The biggest problem has is his lack of understanding and leadership. The Raiders ran Camp Russell in 2009 and he still seemed clueless. How many times will coach Cable have so say they are simplifying the playbook for Russell? He obviously lost the confidence of his teammates last year and has a lot to prove.

Charlie Frye and JP Losman

The two former quarterbacks of the future on other teams are unknown commodities in the Raiders system. They could both make the team if Russell comes to camp looking terrible and the team decides to cut him in a year when there will be no salary cap repercussions. Don’t be shocked if the team drafts a QB or acquires one elsewhere.

Can Raiders defense hold the line in 2010?

Fourth in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Defensive Coordinator – John Marshall and assistant Mike Waufle

The numbers are so ugly it is impossible to simply assume the defense will be better if the Raiders offense plays better. The Raiders time of possession and the number of plays the defense faces are about average by NFL standards. The real problem is what happens on those plays.

The Raiders D faced 548 rushes against (most in the NFL), allowed six runs of 40+ (tied for most), and had 24 rushing TD allowed (tied for most). The run D was so bad teams only tried 438 pass attempts (fewest by 44 attempts). So the pass defense was good? No. With so few attempts the Raiders still gave up 16 pass plays of 40+ (tied for 3rd most) and 8.1 yards per pass (tied 2nd most).

The pressure is on second-year defensive coordinator John Marshall to stem the tide. Really, how many times do we have to see punter Shane Lechler pin an offense inside their own five just to watch the defense give up a 95-yard TD drive?

The Raider defensive scheme
It is common knowledge that owner Al Davis loves defense, particularly the Raiders defense. The Raiders run a Cover 0 Free or Cover 1 Man defense primarily. They are two terms describing the same defense. Whichever name you prefer it is all man-to-man coverage with one deep safety. The defense works best when it can pressure the QB so defenders only have to cover a short time. Since you have seven defenders in coverage it is an excellent defense to blitz out of.

The problems the Raiders are having in this defense are due to its all-or-nothing approach. Given the low number of pass attempts the fact they tied for 11th in the NFL with 37 sacks shows they can rush the passer. When they don’t get pressure though, things get ugly. Man coverage is susceptible to big yards after the catch, mismatches (like Vincent Jackson versus Kirk Morrison), draws, delays, screens and QB scrambles.

In 2010 Marshall needs to look at his strategy versus the Eagles and find ways to mix things up. Going into the game the Raiders 13.1% blitz ratio was the lowest in the NFL. The Raiders brought the pressure and allowed only nine points. “They did a lot of things that we weren’t really expecting,” Eagles tackle Winston Justice said after the game. Amen to that.

Contrast that to the ugly blowout on Thanksgiving Day when a humiliated Nnamdi Asomugha complained that the defense was too predictable. The cliché’ that Al Davis expects the Raiders to play man is trumped by the fact he expects to win even more. Marshall won’t be fired for mixing it up successfully. Remember The Tuck? Charles Woodson on the corner blitz. Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks crushed the QB on the blitz more than a few times. Marshall isn’t going to “get in trouble’ in 2010 if he mixes it up and stops somebody. Success has a way of improving job security.

Mike Waufle – Defensive line
Speaking of The Tuck, the Raiders brought back DL Coach Mike Waufle. Waufle coached the Raiders line from 1998-2003. He spent the last six seasons coaching a New York Giants defensive line that dashed the Patriots perfect season in the 2007 Super Bowl. Waufle will be charged with getting the most out of a unit that has struggled against the run and been inconsistent rushing the passer.

The Raiders offense needs to score points but if the defense doesn’t find a way to stop opponents the team will still be losing, just take the over instead of the under (not that we condone gambling or anything).

Sunday, April 04, 2010

McNabb not coming to Oakland

ESPN is reporting that Eagles QB Donovan McNabb will be traded to division rival Washington and it is a done deal. Of course ESPN has been reporting that Oakland was leading the race for McNabb over the last week. Raiders sources denied interest in the veteran last week.
We may never know if reports that McNabb didn’t want to play for Oakland were true but if they were Oakland may be better off without him. It’s hard to imagine a QB inspiring his teammates if his heart isn’t in it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Hue Who? Raiders new OC looks to turn things around

Third in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Offensive Coordinator – Hue Jackson and key assistants

New Raiders Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson was a guy most Raiders fans had probably never heard of when Oakland announced his hiring. The fact that Jackson doesn’t carry the reputation or giant playbook a guy like Mike Martz does means nothing come game day. Jackson needs to find a way to develop a young offense into a scoring machine. Based on his background Jackson may be just man for the job.

The Raiders averaged a meager 12.3 points per game in 2009 (31st in the NFL). The offense struggled in almost every area. It also showed its potential it brief flashes like the fourth quarter of the victory over the Steelers. It’ll be up to Jackson to bring out that potential on a more consistent basis.

The initial reports were that Jackson was brought in to develop JaMarcus Russell the way he developed Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Not so fast Head Coach Tom Cable said at the owners meetings. “With him (Jackson), it’s not just one guy. He’s got to get 11 guys on the same page and moving in the right direction. We need to score at least two touchdowns and a couple field goals a game. If we can do that, if we can get better play at quarterback, we’ll be fine.”

Jackson has the resume to suggest he can get the most out of young quarterbacks. He coached Carson Palmer at USC and Flacco in the NFL to success. Jackson will get a mixed bag of youngsters in Russell, Bruce Gradkowski, Charlie Frye and JP Losman to work with.

The receiving corps may also benefit from Jackson’s time coaching Chad Ochcinco and company in Cincy. Tom Cable may find himself with more time to get the offensive line back on track as Jackson handles primary game planning and play-calling duties.

Other key offensive coaches in 2010 –

Sanjay Lal – Wide Receivers
Young Raiders wide receivers had mixed results in 2009. Under Lal’s care, Chaz Schilens looked ready to roll but was shelved early by injury. Rookie Louis Murphy had a solid year especially given the woeful QB play early. Murphy’s ability to read the Steelers blitz, adjust his route and catch the game-winning pass is a testament to solid coaching. Then there was Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Raiders first round pick is an athelete the team hopes to turn into a football player. The guy most responsible for making that happen is Lal. If Lal can groom DHB into a playmaker, he’ll have proven himself as a coach in a big way.

Jim Michalczik – Offensive Line
In fairness to the Raiders line coach 2009 got off to a horrendous start. Injuries early to Khalif Barnes, Samson Satele and most importantly, Robert Gallery left Michalczik looking like a huge drop-off from the promoted Cable. In 2010 Cable will have more time to help get a healthy line back on track. Michalczik also needs to develop some depth and may have a draft pick or two to work with as well. The line needs to improve at pass protection and find a way to run short yardage plays effectively.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Raiders 2010 Preseason schedule revealed

The NFL announced the Raiders preseason schedule and it includes three familiar faces. The Raiders will open at Dallas in Week 1 (August 12-16) action and travel to face the Chicago Bears (August 19-23) in Week 2. The Raiders begin the 2010 home schedule against the San Francisco 49ers at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Week 3 (August 26-29) before wrapping up the preseason slate against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4 (September 2-3), reports.

In recent years Oakland has faced Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle often. Chicago and Oakland have only played in preseason nine times, most recently in 1993.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Can Tom Cable Keep Them Working Hard?

Second in a series evaluating the Raiders prior to the draft and 2010 season.
Position: Head Coach – Tom Cable

It may not mean much but Tom Cable has one distinction that offers hope for the Raiders future. He is the winningest coach in the Raiders post-Gannon era. Sure, being 9-19 (.321) is nothing to crow about but when one considers the circumstances he’s been presented with you have to wonder what he can accomplish if given a reasonable shot. Cleaning up after the Lane Kiffin mess, dealing with Randy Hanson and coaching JaMarcus Russell doesn’t make for an ideal circumstance. There are two very important reasons Cable may not be the perfect coach but the perfect coach for the Raiders.

Works well with Al Davis
Not since Art Shell Part I have the Raiders had a coach that worked as well with owner Al Davis. The team has alternated between incompetent yes men that did what they thought Davis wanted (see Joe Bugel, Norv Turner) and strong-willed rebels bent on trashing Raider tradition in the name of progress (see Mike Shannahan, Lane Kiffin). (Gruden had Bruce Allen as a buffer) Cable has managed to bring his own ideas to the table but in a way that shows respect to tradition and Davis.

A yes man would’ve rode QB JaMarcus Russell to a 2-14 season. Kiffin would’ve cut Russell in a media circus. Cable had every reason to bench Russell but showed his respect for Davis by talking it over with him first. The Raiders will only be successful as long as they have a coach that can work side-by-side with Davis. Davis has said he doesn’t want yes men but he does expect his coach to provide a level of respect. Cable has found that balance. Now he just needs the wins Davis also expects.

Works well with the players
After the Lane Kiffin debacle put the 2008 season in the scrapheap a strange thing happened. The team that has phoned it in after every Thanksgiving since 2003 kept playing hard. They ended 2008 by knocking Tampa Bay out of the playoffs and secured Cable’s hiring. The Russell-oriented meltdown to open 2009 could’ve been the end for Cable but his 2-7 team kept playing hard and finished a tough run 3-4.

Cable has kept his players motivated and that is huge in a franchise grown accustom to losing. If the Raiders are going to turn things around they’re sure to encounter setbacks. The man who handled the Randy Hanson incident as if it was another day at the office is equipped to handle any of the traditional growing pains coaches face.

Cable in 2010
Cable is a manager. In today’s NFL the Head Coach is less and less likely to act as play-caller, offensive coordinator and line coach. In 2010 Cable should be better able to manage the team as new Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson takes those duties off Cable’s plate. Expect to see Cable more hands-on with his offensive line after they took a step backward in 2009.

The Raiders need to get off to a fast start in 2010. Whatever locker room pearls he’s used to get his guys fired up in December will start to lose their luster if the team is just playing for pride, again.

Are the McNabb rumors full of something chunky?

The talking bobble-heads are certain the Raiders are going to trade Nnamdi Asomugha or a draft pick for QB Donovan McNabb. The biggest problem with the Asomugha trade is that the Raiders traded Asomugha to the Jets last month. Wait, they didn’t? Didn’t ESPN say it was going to happen? It didn’t happen right after Tom Cable got fired? hmmm

We all love a good rumor but at some point a little common sense should prevail. Look at the rumors and ask what makes sense.

- The Eagles want to trade McNabb. Makes sense. The Eagles have a young Kevin Kolb they want to get on the field without McNabb’s presence dividing the locker room.

- The Eagles aren’t shopping McNabb. Please. If the Eagles can’t trade McNabb they don’t want him having a Jay Cutler meltdown. So they float the idea teams are asking about McNabb so they can say, “It wasn’t us. We love this guy.”

- The Rams want McNabb. Exhibit A your honor. The Eagles put a price tag on McNabb of the Rams 33 overall pick via the rumor mill. Before anybody could take the bait (like the Cardinals), the Rams denied everything and the Eagles were left looking silly.

- The Raiders want McNabb. Doubtful. The Raiders are looking for youth not a veteran QB, ask Jeff Garcia. McNabb is a career west coast offense QB with diminishing mobility. Unless McNabb’s long-lost distant cousin (per rumor) Hue Jackson is going to a WCO McNabb has the makings of the next DeAngelo Hall. He doesn’t fit.

- Asomugha is part of the deal. Are you kidding? The Eagles via the NFL version of eBay (aka ESPN) said they’d take the Raiders 39 pick for McNabb. Unless the Raiders think they can draft a guy at 39 who is a lock to start and virtual lock to go to the pro bowl, why would they part with Asomugha? If they want McNabb the Raiders 3rd (yes third, not second) rounder makes more sense.

When you look at all the rumors floating around it looks like the Eagles were exposed by the Rams and have decided to float rumors about the franchise least likely to go public with a rebuttal. It is far more likely McNabb will stay in Philly and the Eagles will proclaim they never shopped him or they’ll deal him on draft day to a team that misses out on their targeted QB of the future. Until then McNabb rumors seem to be full of something chunky that smells much worse than soup.