Scouting the Raiders: Positional Analysis

SCOUTING THE RAIDERS: UNIT-BY-UNIT POSITIONAL ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Josh McCown. Backups -- Daunte Culpepper, Andrew Walter, JaMarcus Russell.
    McCown's strength is on rollouts and bootlegs, both of which are big parts of the Raiders offense under Lane Kiffin. He has historically not passed as well in the pocket and over the middle. Culpepper looks great at times, poor at others, and should be nothing more than a backup at this stage in his career. Walter's style as a dropback passer may not ever suit the Raiders under Kiffin, and they will try and move him in the offseason. The Raiders have tried to get Russell a little bit of playing time each week to try to better acquaint him for next year.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB LaMont Jordan. Backups -- RB Dominic Rhodes, RB Justin Fargas, FB Justin Griffith, FB Oren O'Neal.
    Fargas has taken on more of a role as the season has progressed, and has eclipsed 1000 yards for the first time in his career. The Raiders gave Jordan a take-it-or-leave it proposition and forced him to take a $1.25 million cut in a roster bonus and want to see something this season. Rhodes, who ran well in training camp after a strong postseason with the Colts, arrives as a second back after a four-game suspension and appears to be a bust. Kiffin must work out the fullback logjam among Griffith and O'Neal, with Griffith being the best receiver of the group.

TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter -- Zach Miller. Backups -- John Madsen, Tony Stewart.
    Miller simply doesn't drop passes and seems to have an innate understanding of how to find open areas. He could be Oakland's best third-down receiver at tight end since Todd Christensen. The only reason his numbers are somewhat limited is the presence of Madsen, a tight end/wide receiver tweener whose receiving skills bring to mind Ed McCaffrey and Joe Jurevicius. Stewart does not catch the ball as well but his role is as a blocker.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry. Backups -- Johnnie Lee Higgins, Tim Dwight.
    Porter, whose feud with Art Shell essentially cost him an entire season of his career, is in the good graces of Kiffin and has put forth a solid effort this year. Curry was Oakland's top receiver last season with 62 receptions for 727 yards even though he didn't become a starter until the final four games of the season following a remarkable comeback from Achilles' tears in back-to-back seasons. He is Oakland's best third-down receiver, and their leading receiver this year, as well as an offensive team captain. Higgins is potentially the best game-breaker in terms of run-after-catch and catching the long ball, but as a rookie, needs time to develop.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Barry Sims, LG Robert Gallery, Jeremy Newberry, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Cornell Green. Backups -- T Mario Henderson, T/G Paul McQuistan,C Jake Grove, C Chris Morris.
    Line coach Tom Cable has reprogrammed the Oakland line to try to be similar to the one he had in Atlanta, and the ones Denver has used to run roughshod over the AFC West. The emphasis is on zone blocking and cut blocking. Gallery, in particular, seems to have taken to the scheme and may end up being a quality guard instead of the left tackle the Raiders selected in the 2004 draft. Sims has been a survivor at left tackle, with Carlisle and Green forming a new right side of the line. Green has predominantly been a backup throughout his career and could be pushed. Depth is a question, although second-year player McQuistan got a lot of playing time as a rookie.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Derrick Burgess, DT Gerard Warren, DT Warren Sapp, RE Tyler Brayton. Backups -- DE Jay Richardson, DE Chris Clemons, DT Josh Shaw, DT Terdell Sands.
    Ideally, the Raiders like to create pressure with their front four. Burgess came into '07 with 27 sacks in 32 games with Oakland, has added six more this year, and has more than held up his end of the bargain. Sapp had 10 sacks last season and came into camp having lost 49 pounds this season for more quickness at age 33, but father time is quickly catching up to him. Sands is Oakland's most immovable force and signed a four-year contract with a $4 million signing bonus for run defense. The Raiders took a shot on Warren to see if he could return to his form in Denver two years ago, and has played well.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- SLB Sam Williams, MLB Kirk Morrison, WLB Thomas Howard. Backups -- LB Robert Thomas, OLB Jon Alston, OLB Isaiah Ekejiuba, MLB Ricky Brown.
    The two linebackers that are on the field most of the time are Morrison and Howard, two active, aggressive tacklers who are excellent pass defenders and must prove they can be stout against the run. Howard, in particular, has star quality because of his sideline-to-sideline play-making ability. Williams has had his moments on running downs but is first off the field in nickel and dime alignments. Thomas is a quality backup in that he can play all three positions well. Ekejiuba and Brown are both special teams players.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Nnamdi Asomugha, LCB Fabian Washington, SS Michael Huff, SS Stuart Schweigert. Backups -- CB Chris Carr, CB Stanford Routt, CB John Bowie, CB Chris Johnson, S Hiram Eugene.
    Asomugha suddenly became one of the NFL's top corners in 2006, intercepting eight passes and shutting down virtually everything on his side. He worked his hands for three years and finally began coming down with opportunities that had eluded him. Washington is Oakland's fastest corner and is ahead of where Asomugha was after two seasons. The two form one of the NFL's better cornerback tandems. Huff had a solid, steady rookie season as the No. 7 pick in the draft but was not an immediate playmaker. He has shown signs of being more of an impact player in '07. Schweigert misses the occasional open-field tackle but operates as the glue of the secondary in terms of assignments and leadership. In the conventional nickel, Routt will compete with Carr as the slot corner. Routt is bigger and faster, but Carr might be the better football player. Ward assumes the backup safety/special teams enforcer role of the departed Jarrod Cooper. Johnson's speed and experience should let him see the field on occasional downs, while Bowie's main attributes are speed, raw skill and the fact that Oakland used a fourth-round draft pick acquired in the Randy Moss deal to get him.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Sebastian Janikowski, P Shane Lechler, LS Jon Condo, KOR Chris Carr or Johnnie Lee Higgins, PR Johnnie Lee Higgins.
    Janikowski, whose leg strength was a legend at Florida State, has instead developed into a fairly reliable kicker from 39 yards and in (98-for-108, 90.6 percent) and is an unremarkable 62.4 percent (58-for-93) from 40 yards and beyond. The endless stream of touchbacks he was supposed to create have never materialized. Lechler, if given good coverage, is one of the NFL's top punters. He too often outkicks his coverage and punts into the end zone -- a career-high 19 touchbacks last season -- but he could be a valuable field-position weapon given a capable supporting cast. Condo has been steady and reliable. Carr has struggled on punt returns and is a dangerous kickoff returner. Higgins has been the Raiders best punt return man.


Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of JagNation.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustated.com. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.



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