Inside slant

Grant Irons' father, Gerald, was a linebacker for theRaiders in the 1970s. When the son made the team's roster a year ago, it was a nice story and would have been a better one had not Grant been a defensive lineman.

Now the story has come full circle.

When starting right outside linebacker Sam Williams tore an ACL in his right knee Thursday during a workout with the Texans in Houston, the Raiders madewhat appears to be a radical decision.

The 6-6, 285 pound Irons was not only no longer a lineman, he was elevated to Williams' spot in the lineup as a linebacker.

That gives the Raiders a pair of starting outside linebackers with astounding size. The other starter is former defensive end Tyler Brayton, who is 6-6 and 280.

Coach Norv Turner said he felt confident Irons would fill the spot nicely because "he's had an awful lot of reps and handled things awfully well."

But it also portends a potential problem. Can linebackers that size be expected to cover backs out of the backfield man-to-man and will they be quick enough to handle deeper drops on tight ends? One outside linebacker that size is one thing -- adjustments can be made in the defense. But two lineman-sized linebackers?

"People who are capable will try and spread us out," Turner said. "I think they are both more skilled now. Grant has played the last two or three games (in 2004) at outside linebacker and played extremely well. He's physical against the run and does a nice job jamming receivers and that's a big part about defending the pass."

Meanwhile, as insurance, Jay Foreman will be moved from inside linebacker -- the position he started at in Houston before signing a free agent contract with Oakland -- and will start getting reps at the outside spot.

As for Williams, the injury was a devastating blow. A third-round pick in 2003, he has now suffered major injuries early in each of his three seasons.

He had right knee surgery after one game as a rookie and missed seven games last year after surgery to repair a torn labrum. All three injuries began prior to the start of the season.

A popular local product from Clayton Valley, Williams earned the Raiders Ed Block Courage award for the way he fought back and wedged his way into the starting lineup at the end of last season.

"I told him he's good at bouncing back," middle linebacker Danny Clark said. "He's always bounced back. This can't keep him in the tank too long. I know he is down right now. He was expecting to contribute a whole lot to this team this year. We'll keep him in our prayers and keep moving."

CAMP CALENDAR: Training camp at Napa concludes Aug. 24, at which point the team returns to Alameda for the final 15 days leading up to the opener at New England on Thursday, Sept. 8.

NOTES, QUOTES

--When the Raiders decided to spend an extra day in Houston prior to their Saturday game to practice against the Texans, it marked the return of what had been a tradition in the '90s. They used to practice against the Dallas Cowboys in Austin virtually every summer.

It had its benefits (competition) but also had its pitfalls (a career ending eye injury to Don Mosebar, a Leon Lett late hit on QB Jeff Hostetler). Eventually it was abandoned at about the same time the Cowboys started training in Wichita Falls.

Now, the Cowboys are training at Raiders' old camp facility in Oxnard, Ca. But when the Raiders decided to renew the summer tradition, they opted for Houston.

The reasons are fairly obvious.

"If we open up in New England or get Philadelphia on a hot, humid day, I think this is a little bit of an eye-opener," coach Norv Turner said of the heat in Houston; which topped out at 97 degrees and was in the mid-90s in the humidity department.

"It will feel a lot hotter than it does here, even on the hot days," left tackle Barry Sims said. "It's good to get into that and at least experience it a little bit so when we do have to go play a team in a warm climate, it's not a shock to us. It'll be something we've gone through. This will be good for us."

There was one major difference between the old Raider-Cowboy summer workouts. This time the workouts (they were NOT scrimmages) lasted just one day with two workouts. In the Austin days, it was three and sometimes four days.

"To me in this day and age, that (three days) is a long time," Turner said. "What worked for us is we're not making an extra trip."

--Wide receiver Jerry Porter has been working out on the side after a hamstring pull and the questions have cascaded over him -- When would he be able to get into a game?

Apparently the inactivity is boring him enough for him to work on an appropriate response.

"Well, I'll have to get out my crystal ball," he said. "I'm thinking right around the first Denver game, I should be ready to go."

The first Denver game is Nov. 13, so Porter was doubling over, laughing at his little joke.

It's worth a little light-hearted humor, because Porter actually expects to be back for the third preseason game against Arizona in the Raiders' exhibition home opener Aug. 26.

Furthermore, Denver has meaning. It was where he torched Champ Bailey time and again last year, catching six passes for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

In the meantime, he's out rehabilitating, doing occasionally strange-looking workouts and biding his time.

"I'm anxious to play football," Porter said. "I'm not out here to rehab. It's kind of like I don't even need a trainer anymore. I just go through the routine. But it's coming."

One of the routines has him jumping up and down on one leg. What the heck is that, anyway?

"I guess they want to see my tolerance for B.S.," Porter said with disgust.

--WR Johnnie Morant has taken advantage of the absences of Porter and Carlos Francis and the gradual return of Ronald Curry to have an impressive camp.

Against San Francisco in the opener, he had four catches for 76 yards. He came to Oakland as a fifth-round choice last year with a reputation for making circus catches, but also lacking consistency.

So far he hasn't made many catches that would be called spectacular.

"I still can (make them) but it's much easier here because the quarterbacks are so on the money you really don't have to make those kinds of catches," he said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Good question. Ask somebody else and they would probably say it was me." -- QB Kerry Collins, asked who on the team was most in need of an extreme makeover.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: It was originally a training camp move to see how well he played with the first unit, but Derrick Gibson's promotion to the first unit at strong safety appears headed to being a permanent one. He has sparkled in practices, making interceptions and generally outplaying the man he replaces, Marques Anderson. However, it is the most unsettled position on the entire roster.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: At RG, Ron Stone got the start over Brad Badger in Houston after Badger started against San Francisco. Although the team has functioned well with both, the running game was much superior in the Houston game with Stone helping LaMont Jordan rush for 49 yards in 6 carries in the three series Stone was on the field... A pending battle could be developing with QB Marques Tuiasosopo struggling with interceptions in each of his first two games. Rookie Andrew Walter did not play in Houston due to a groin injury but will be back to mount a challenge after a strong outing in the opener... Likewise, with Carlos Francis returning from a hamstring injury, WR Johnnie Morant, who has sparkled, will get a chance to vault past his roommate.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Doug Gabriel caught two touchdown passes in the first quarter against Houston, one of them on a 70-yard sprint down the left sidelines. He has also excelled in practice and has been tabbed the team's punt and kickoff return specialist.

ROOKIE REPORT: CB Fabian Washington still has not made a major impression and the comment by the head coach tells the tale: "He's coming along." At Houston he was called for interference, but Turner insisted it looked like both defender and receiver were complicit... No. 2 pick Stanford Routt did better in his second game and had a good week of practice. He remains ahead of Washington, although he plays the left side, Washington the right... Pick 3-a, QB Andrew Walter, missed most of practice with a groin strain and did not play in Houston... Pick 3-b, LB Kirk Morrison, had a second solid game and his positioning on the depth chart improved with the season-ending injury to LB Sam Williams because LB Jay Foreman will now get time at Williams' position and less at Morrison's... Pick 6-a, DT Anttaj Hawthorne, had a sack against Houston and appears solidly in control of a roster spot... Pick 6-b, DE Ryan Riddle, had a big impact at Houston with a pair of quarterback pressures... Pick 7, T Pete McMahon, was elevated to the No. 2 squad at guard with mixed results.

INJURY REPORT:

LB Sam Williams is out for the year after tearing an ACL during workouts in Houston. His spot was taken by Grant Irons with Jay Foreman moving outside for backup... WR Jerry Porter (hamstring) did not play at Houston, but is ready to return to practice and should face Arizona... WR Carlos Francis (hamstring) is also scheduled to return to practice for the first time since the opening days of camp... No. 3 QB Andrew Walter has been out a week with a groin injury but may play against Arizona... P Shane Lechler (hamstring) missed the Houston game and although the injury is believed to be non-serious, the team will be cautious about using him until he is fully healed... RB DeJuan Green (sprained ankle) remains out indefinitely... Ronald Curry (Achilles) sat out the Houston game, but is practicing normally and is expected to make his return from off-season surgery for the Arizona game the following week.


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