Scouting The Opponents: Oakland Raiders

The Oakland Raiders have a healthy Randy Moss, but can Aaron Brooks get him the ball? If he can't, there could be a lot of problems and a potential quick QB change in Oakland. The Raiders and Eagles meet in the Hall of Fame Game August 6th.

The Raiders, only $1.8 million under the salary cap, let go of four players although only one would be considered a mild surprise.

The Raiders released guard Cameron Spikes, a seven-year veteran with 30 starts, including 24 in 2003 and 2004 with the Arizona Cardinals. The development of rookie Paul McQuistan, who is expected to emerge as the starting right guard, helped hasten Spikes' demise.

The Raiders also waived linebacker Roger Cooper, defensive end Jeff Green and linebacker Shawn Morgan, none of whom were expected to make the team.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Aaron Brooks. Backups - Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo, Kent Smith, Reggie Robertson.

When Rich Gannon became the Raiders quarterback in 1999, it was in large part due to his mobility. Once Gannon suffered a career-ending broken vertebra in 2004, the torch was passed to Kerry Collins, who was as immobile with that torch as the Statue of Liberty. Enter Brooks, who has the arm strength to get the ball upfield to an explosive group of receivers but also the mobility to escape trouble. Raiders quarterbacks were sacked 45 times in 2005. If Brooks struggles, there will be considerable pressure to get Andrew Walter, a second-round pick in 2005, on the field. Critics contend he has the same characteristics as Collins, while others claim he is more athletic than he appears and is really not all that different in terms of skill-set than Ben Roethlisberger. Marques Tuiasosopo, drafted to run a Gannon-style offense, appears to be biding his time until he is waived or his contract runs out.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB LaMont Jordan, FB Zack Crockett. Backups - RB Justin Fargas, FB John Paul Foschi, RB Walter Williams, RB DeJuan Green, FB Joe Hall, RB Reshard Lee, RB J.R. Lemon, RB Rod Smart, FB Zach Tuiasosopo.

Jordan gained 1,025 yards on 255 carries in 14 games in first year as a feature back. On the minus side, he dropped too many passes and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry - well under the 5-yard average he accumulated as Curtis Martin's backup with the Jets. He accounted for more than 75 percent of Oakland's meager rushing yardage. The bad news is the Raiders brought in no one as a change-of-pace back despite Shell's grand plan of restoring the organization to prominence through physical football. Fargas, whose rushing totals have declined each year, may be getting his last chance to be a contributor. Crockett remains a reliable short-yardage back who can run occasionally as a tailback. Foschi is an adequate block-and-release receiver who doesn't run from scrimmage. Smart was acquired largely because of his special teams skills.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Courtney Anderson. Backups - James Adkisson, Marcellus Rivers, O.J. Santiago, Randal Williams, Derek Miller.

Anderson, a seventh-round pick in 2004 who chased off second-round picks Doug Jolley and Teyo Johnson, remains an intriguing specimen with the size of a blocker and the soft hands of a receiver. Consistency has been an issue in both areas, as has been his durability. Williams, a converted wide receiver, should stick because of his prominent role on special teams. Veterans Rivers and Santiago will battle it out with Adkisson, a gifted athlete who was talked into switching to tight end last year by Al Davis himself. Early indications in mini-camps were tight ends could be more a part of the offense than they were in the Norv Turner system.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Randy Moss, Jerry Porter. Backups - Doug Gabriel, Ronald Curry, Alvis Whitted, Jason Boyd, Will Buchanon, Carlos Francis, Johnnie Morant, Rick Gatewood, John Madsen, Kevin McMahan, Burl Toler.

Moss is healthy and counting on a big season after groin, knee and rib injuries rendered him mortal much of last season. Porter caught 76 passes but averaged just 12.4 yards per catch and vanished for games at a time. Gabriel plays strictly outside, never in the slot, and has a penchant for making the spectacular catch. His name always comes up in trade talks, but the Raiders to date aren't dealing. Curry was Oakland's best receiver in 2004 before Achilles' tears cut him down two years in a row. It would be a huge plus if he could return to form, although that seems unlikely given the seriousness of his injuries. Whitted's speed has kept him around this long, and Morant was among the NFL preseason leaders last season in receiving yardage before taking a seat on the bench.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Robert Gallery, LG Barry Sims, C Jake Grove, RG Paul McQuistan, RT Langston Walker. Backups - G Corey Hulsey, G Kevin Boothe, G Brad Badger, G Kelvin Garmon, T Jabari Levi, T Brad Lekkerkerker, T Chad Slaughter, C Adam Treu, C Chris Morris, T William Obeng.

If all goes according to plan, Gallery will establish himself as a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle, Sims will extend his career and minimize his problems against speed by moving inside, Grove will stay healthy and prosper from not moving back-and-forth to guard, McQuistan will win a starting job as a rookie and Walker will be a better player for having moved inside to left guard for a year. On the other hand, if Gallery is average, Sims doesn't take to playing guard, Grove gets hurt, McQuistan isn't ready and Walker simply isn't the player they think he can be, it will be another long year. Badger is a reliable backup, as is Treu. Garmon is a former starter who hopes to stick, while Boothe is a project. Morris has long-snapping skills if the Raiders decide to part ways with Treu.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - RDE Derrick Burgess, T Tommy Kelly, T Warren Sapp, LDE Tyler Brayton. Backups - E Lance Johnstone, E Bobby Hamilton, E Bryant McNeal, E Kevin Huntley, E Javon Nanton, T Anttaj Hawthorne, T Donnell Washington, T Michael Quarshie, T Terdell Sands, T Rashad Moore.

Burgess was one of the top free agent signings of 2005 and had an NFL-leading 16 sacks, giving Oakland its long-sought pressure from the outside. Kelly, who played both end and tackle, will play exclusively inside following the release of nose tackle Ted Washington. Sapp was flashing his old form until suffering a torn rotator cuff; the Raiders went 0-6 without him and need to see he still has something left. Brayton, miscast as a linebacker for two years, is back where he belongs at end. Johnstone could provide Burgess with a second threat from the edge but will be used sparingly. Sands could have a big role if the Raiders struggle early inside against the run, and Moore will also be looked to in this area. Hawthorne played well in NFL Europe but remains on the fringe.

LINEBACKER: Starters - SLB Sam Williams, MLB Kirk Morrison, WLB Thomas Howard. Backups - OLB Robert Thomas, OLB Grant Irons, OLB Darnell Bing, MLB Danny Clark, OLB Ryan Riddle, MLB Isaiah Ekijuiba, MLB Ricky Brown, MLB Pasha Jackson.

Morrison was so strong and heady as a rookie outside linebacker the Raiders figured he could be a defensive leader in Year 2 and moved him into the middle heading into training camp. In theory, he would direct Williams, who has played in 10 of 48 games in three years and who missed all last season with an ACL tear, and Howard, a rookie who is considered a raw but gifted athlete. If Williams' history of injury continues, that plan could change by mid-August, with Clark moving back into the starter's role in the middle and Morrison going back outside. In any case, Clark figures to be off the field on passing downs. Bing is a converted safety who the Raiders hope will help in coverage with the difficult running back and tight end matchups in the passing game. Williams broke through as starter last year only to suffer a torn ACL. Thomas, a former first-round draft pick, could emerge if Howard and Bing struggle as rookies. Irons' is strictly a goal-line and short-yardage player, while Ikijuiba and Riddle are predominantly special teams players.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, RCB Fabian Washington, FS Stuart Schweigert, SS Michael Huff. Backups - CB Stanford Routt, CB Duane Starks, CB Tyrone Poole, SS Derrick Gibson, SS Jarrod Cooper, S Eugene Hiram, S Alvin Nnabuife, CB Dennis Davis, CB Chris Carr, CB Raymond Washington.

The Raiders exhibited the ability to cover receivers last season but were short on playmakers. They intercepted only five passes, the lowest total in NFL history over a 16-game season. The hope is Huff, the first-round pick out of Texas, will help with forcing turnovers, whether it be interceptions or fumble recoveries. He will be used much in the way the Raiders used the oft-injured Charles Woodson, although he will play deep as a safety more often. Huff will play some man coverage, single up on difficult inside matchups, rush the passer on occasion and play in the box as a run defender. Asomugha is going into his fourth year and has yet to intercept a pass, although he is a rangy if conservative pass defender. Washington held up well as a rookie starter, and Schweigert has flashed some big play capability as well as the occasional big mistake. Expect one of the veteran free agents -- Starks or Poole -- to emerge as nickel or dime defender. Routt, as a rookie, had the look and athletic skill of a prospect but it remains to be seen whether he has the sense or instinct to justify his second-round selection in 2005. Carr has a safety's taste for hitting but a corner's size.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Sebastian Janikowski, K Tim Duncan, K David Kimball, P Shane Lechler, P Glenn Pakulak (P), KR/PR Chris Carr, LS Adam Treu.

Janikowski, drafted in the first round in 2000 because of his leg strength, was 7-for-15 from 40 yards or further in the worst season of his career. He'll get another year to straighten it out. Lechler remains among the NFL's premiere punters, and would be an even better weapon if Oakland ever had coverage teams to match his skills. Carr had his moments as a rookie return specialist, although he never broke one for the distance. Treu is as reliable a long-snapper as there is in the NFL.


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