Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Oakland Raiders 2012 Final Roster Predictions

I have a few theories on the Raiders final 53 man roster.

No surprises at QB (Palmer, Leinart, Pryor).  As for protecting the QB, this is the first season in as long as I can recall where there is a good core in place.  Jared Veldheer (LT), Cooper Carlisle (LG), Mike Brisiel (RG), Khalif Barnes (RT), Joseph Barksdale (RT), Alex Parsons (C/G) and Tony Bergstrom (G/T) will all make the team. Stefen Wisniewski (C) will too but if he is not ready to go, he could end up on PUP or even injured reserve.  They will have to weigh the pros and cons of keeping Wiz out and opening that roster spot for some help where it is needed.

No surprises either at RB.  Darren McFadden and Taiwan Jones will get the bulk of touches.  There is no depth if either of these guys get injured. A longshot to make the team, Lonyae Miller, would only be useful for short yardage and Mike Goodson has been slow to emerge as a factor.  Can’t go wrong with Marcel Reece and Owen Schmitt at FB.  I am very glad they got rid of Manase Tonga (FB).

No surprises at TE. Brandon Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon will battle it out. Hopefully, one of these guys just wins the position.  They all seem even in skill.

At WR, new signee Roscoe Parrish has a good chance to make the team on the basis of both Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford being injured. Parrish needs to play well in his chances at kick and punt returns as well as receiver. If Ford can come back healthy, Parrish could be expendable unless he shows his old form.

Receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, Juron Criner, Rod Streater are all sure bets to make the team.  I like what I have seen from rookie Brandon Carswell but he may very well end up on the practice squad. 

Defense is going to need a lot of healthy bodies.  The deepest position is at DL.  Matt Shaughnessy, Lamarr Houston, Richard Seymour, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant and Dave Tollefson are sure to make the roster. Christo Bilukidi is a 6th round draft pick and has played well enough to warrant consideration as well.  Though he faces strong competition from fellow rookies Jack Crawford and Dominique Hamilton.  Jamie Cumbie is a second year player who has made his presence felt.  He was in camp last season and ended up on the practice squad.

My impression on the DL is injuries will play a factor with who they keep. It is possible Bilukidi’s speed and athleticism will earn him a place on special teams.  Speed is where Crawford, Hamilton and Cumbie don’t equal Bilukidi.

LB is dicey and the one area where the Raiders are desperate for quality play. It looks like Aaron Curry will not be returning, at least not anytime soon. I don’t think he would be effective even if 100% healthy. That leaves the door open for  Miles Burris to receive a baptism of fire very early in his NFL career.  Rolando McClain, Philip Wheeler are obvious locks.  Beyond that, I would think you have to go with the most impressive performers in preseason.  Chad Kilgore and Carl Ihenacho should make the team on that basis alone.  Both of those guys are quality LB backups and would impact special teams.  Travis Goethel is a toss-up.  Personally, I don’t think he has shown much but other observers seem to feel he is the right guy to be backup MLB.  I get the impression the coaching staff is not high on Nathan Stupar who will be lucky to even make the practice squad.

At CB, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer will start.  I think Pat Lee is a lock to be a backup.  I also don’t think they will give up on Chimdi Chekwa or DeMarcus Van Dyke just yet.

At Safety, you have to go with the obvious: Michael Huff, Tyvon Branch, Mike Mitchell and Matt Giordano.

My gut feeling is both K Eddy Carmona and P Marquette King will be practice squad players if they clear waivers.  I suspect both Janikowski and Lechler will be trade bait after the 2012 season to try and fill other needs.  As stated previously, both Jano and Lechler are overpaid, despite their productivity, the team needs to clear cap space to bring in more talent.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Some Observations on the Raiders Offensive Strategy Part II

The Raiders finally win a preseason game.  Does it really matter?  Of course not. Though, my latest experiment with social media leads me to believe some Raiders fans actually take the preseason seriously.  I am not only stunned by the very low level of intelligence being generated by the Raider Nation on Facebook, I am irritated.  Usually on fan sites there is debate and maybe not everyone has the same level of insight into topics but my forays on myspace and facebook have left me lost for words other than "Wow, I have never seen such a collection of morons - ever."  Shit for brains doesn't even come close to describing it.

Then of course you don't need social media to clearly see there is a stupid ass inside a gorilla suit in every photograph on every fan page - even beyond facebook.  The gorilla tard must have such a need for attention that he makes himself the focus everywhere he goes by acting like a clown. The black hole in general is a sad sack parody. The gorilla makes it worse. I'm no psychologist but it's easy to see his strategy is to catch people's attention so they can chuckle and be entertained.  Ha ha, isn't that clever.  A Raiders themed gorilla suit clown.  Ok, we've seen the joke and it is no longer clever or funny.

Onto some observations of the Raiders preseason victory over the Lions....

Carson Palmer did not look very good.  While he must take the blame for that, the offense is in serious trouble with Greg Knapp. The guy is not a legitimate offensive coordinator and now we are starting to see what to expect this season.  As discussed a few times already, Knapp has never succeeded as an offensive coordinator in the NFL  He is qualified to be a QB coach.  No argument there but he did nothing of note in Atlanta or Seattle or his last stint in Oakland for that matter.  Do you see Jim Mora Jr still in the NFL?  Then why is Knapp?  Mora was the guy who hired Knapp in Seattle and Atlanta.  Naturally, Knapp deflected attention to everyone but himself when describing reasons for the offensive failure in all his journeyman stops.

If you noticed in the preseason game against the Lions, Terrell Pryor created plays that led to points but not the way Knapp drew it up.  Pryor has been upset with his play lately and has now lit a fire under himself to improve.  He did take steps forward, even if his success came against Detroit Lions backups.

Jano on the other hand has returned to his inconsistent ways. Last season was a fluke.  The guy has no training other than eating well and playing golf. Raiders fans only have a memory span of a few nanoseconds but if they did have memory cells, they would know Jano has been very unreliable throughout his career with the exception of a few hot streaks (last season being his best, achieving All-Pro).

Too bad Marquette King could not overtake Shane Lechler.  I don't like Shane Lechler because I think he is overpaid.  Both Shane and Jano laugh all the way to the bank.

King just did not have the enough polish to be a legitimate threat to Shane's job though they may keep him on the practice squad as insurance.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Oakland Raiders Have Big Questions at Linebacker

There are six rookie linebackers in the Oakland Raiders 2012 training camp. Not all of the rooks will make the final roster of course.  There are just a handful of veteran linebackers in camp, none of whom can be considered above average in NFL performance to date.  What this tells us is the defense will be hard pressed to solve stopping the run.

The defensive line is looking pretty solid with depth.  Though it will take more than big bodies and athleticism to shut down opposing running backs.  Having top linebacking is crucial to the success of the defense.

GM Reggie McKenzie could have sought out free agent veterans to bring in but thus far, only Phillip Wheeler qualifies as a veteran LB signing.

Does the coaching staff expect so many rookies to actually make the team and contribute?  Early progress in training camp indicates all of the rooks have a long way to go before they can be counted on to make a difference. The preseason will reveal more of course. The idea being live game reps will resolve inconsistencies.

A lot has been put on the shoulders of Miles Burris, a fourth round pick out of San Diego State. While he was the first pick made by the Raiders in the 2012 draft we have to put into context that he is a fourth rounder. Transforming that reality into an impact player in year one of his pro career is a lot to ask out of the guy. Burris does have the advantage over other rookie LBs in that he is getting first team reps due to veteran Aaron Curry being out with a knee injury.

The other rookies are not currently getting first team reps. This includes Chad Kilgore (Northwest Missouri State), Carl Ihenacho (San Jose State), Kaelin Burnett (Nevada), Mario Kurn (San Diego) and Nate Stupar (Penn State). With the exception of Burris, all of the rooks are longshots to make the final roster and if they do, are likely to be utilized for special teams coverage - an unheralded but much needed role.

The real unknown involves veteran MLB Rolando McCLain. Does he actually care?  Is he just doing enough to get by, putting in minimal effort to collect a big paycheck? Based on his NFL experience to date, it sure looks like he takes plays off sometimes. It has been widely speculated he may not be interested in or capable of living up to the first round talent he is supposed to be.

There are far too many questions surrounding McClain's performance as well as off the field issues that will loom for the entire season unless McClain has a breakout year. If he does not fulfill his potential, that leaves a very weak area on the field at MLB.  Not to mention the wasted investment.

In addition, there is Aaron Curry who has already blazed the path Rolando McClain seems headed towards. Curry is a fellow first round pick who was cast out of Seattle after not fulfilling his potential there. Draft pundits were sure Curry would be the second coming of Lawrence Taylor. It is unsettling that McClain and Curry are two key components to the 2012 Raiders linebacking unit.

Backing up McClain are more questions. Travis Goethel is not a rookie but he may as well be. He has been consistently injured since joining the team a few years ago.  Maybe he will show something in preseason games and finally make the team this year. Behind Goethel, is Nate Stupar.  According to beat writer reports out of camp, Stupar is not ready for prime time.

I can't believe I find myself wondering if the Raiders would have been better off keeping Ricky Brown for another season at MLB.

While Burris mans the weakside in place of unreliable Aaron Curry, the strong side is handled by veteran free agent Phillip Wheeler, to replace Kamerion Wimbley.

The strong side is so named because that is where an extra man is lined up on the offensive line.  The strong side LB has to account for that extra man (typically a Tight End) who will either be a blocker or a receiver on each play. So the strongside LB has to read and react quickly as well as get past his blocks to make plays.

In 2011, strongside LB Kamerion Wimbley had little success in pass coverage and he was also marginal against the run. In nickel defense situations an extra defender plays "centerfield" giving the LBs some flexibility to pass rush. Wimbley looked like a world beater in these situations where he became the club's most consistent pass rusher as a result. Though, this is not what is needed from Phillip Wheeler.

At Indianapolis last year, Wheeler had 47 solo tackles and assisted on 37 more. If we look at just his stats, he looks pretty good. As a team however, the Colts ranked 29th in the NFL against the run in 2011. The Raiders really need a strongside LB with a run stopping pedigree. You want a guy accustomed to reading run plays, making contact off the line of scrimmage when needed. Wheeler fit Indy's 4-3 alignment, cover2 scheme which did not rely as heavily on the LBs to stop the run at the line of scrimmage.  Wheeler was making most of his tackles conceding significant yardage.  The bottom line is Wheeler seems ok.  We just don't know how he will adjust to his new role with the Raiders as both a run stopper and being effective in pass coverage.

Maybe the new look Raiders defense will utilize 4 LBs at times. I expect a lot of guys will cycle in and out of the defense in 2012 as they may use different formations to try and find the right balance.

Do Raiders fans remember Chris Clemons?  He played for the Raiders in 2007 and opened everyone's eyes as a defensive playmaker, standing stout against the run and tallying eight sacks. I forget how he good he was against the pass but I get the feeling he is exactly what the Raiders need right now at strongside linebacker.  BUT... he recently renewed his contract with the Seahawks.

Isn't it ironic that the Raiders now have Aaron Curry and the Seahawks now have Chris Clemons. Curry flopped as a long term solution as the Seahawks' strongside LB.  The Raiders should have signed Clemons to a long term deal when they had the chance after the 2007 season.

Overall, there is a lot of rookie depth and highly questionable veterans at LB for the 2012 Raiders. Unless the coaching staff can get this unit to overachieve and the players mature into their roles, the defense is going to be seriously challenged to prevent yards.  Since as we know, every NFL opponent is ruthless in taking advantage of vulnerable areas of the field.