Raiders use first pick on solid cornerback

Facing the prospect of losing Eric Allen to retirement, the Raiders took a big step forward toward improving their defensive secondary when they selected cornerback Phillip Buchanon with the first of their two first-round picks Saturday. Oakland had to do some fanagling to get Buchanon, pulling off a pair of trades with Washington and Atlanta to move up in the first round, but by all estimations it was worth it.

Bucahanon is widely considered the top cover cornerback in the draft who also doubled as a punt returner at the University of Miami. The 5-9, 186-pounder was a second-team All-America his senior season with the Hurricanes after picking off five interceptions.

 ''In Phillip Buchanon we really felt that we attained a corner that has excellent coverage skills,'' said head coach Bill Callahan. ''We feel that we have a corner, not that has great feet, that has great explosion, that has the cover ability that it takes to play in the National Football League. Obviously he is the fastest corner in the draft and that is a prerequisite and it is a position that is crucial for success in this league against the pass.''

Though the Raiders have repeatedly said they didn't need any of their draft picks to come in as a starter this season, Buchanon might be the exception. Allen has been contemplating retirement for some time now and it might just be a matter of formality. An official decision probably won't come until after June 1, when Oakland wouldn't take as big a salary cap hit. A source within the Raiders organization said the team expects such a scenario.

If Allen does retire, Buchanon will have a chance to step into the void. He'll have to beat out veterans Tory James and Terrence Shaw, who was signed in the offseason. Buchanon will have to make a bit of adjustment, though. He played left cornerback at Miami but will be asked to switch to the right side in Oakland.

''This guy played against some great talent in Miami,'' said Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown, who will likely hand over the punt return duties to Buchanon. ''With Eric Allen going into his 15th year and with us having some problems back there (in the secondary), it's a pick we have to take. He's a lot like Charles Woodson. He's a guy that plays defense like he's on offense.''

Critics of Buchanon pointed to his size as a drawback but that didn't deter the Raiders.

''No not at all,'' Callahan said. ''In the reports that you'll see you'll see that size was a negativity but not in our eyes. We feel that he is tall enough. But he does so many other things well. He is a 2-for-1 player. We felt that we got two players in today's draft with Phillip Buchanon. Not only does he serve the coverage elements necessary at the position but he is obviously an outstanding punt returner as well. So that had addressed a need in the special teams area that I know Bob Casullo is ecstatic about.''

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