Howard combines production and speed

When the Oakland Raiders tabbed linebacker Thomas Howard in the second round, they had a couple of things in mind. They wanted a linebacker who would make tackles, could rush the passer and was excellent in coverage. It seems as though they accomplished all three.

Staying in tradition, Thomas Howard boasts the speed that Oakland craves in its players. He ran a 4.45 forty at the NFL Combines, a feat that was surpassed by just one other linebacker.

The Raiders belief is speed can overcome mental deficiencies but have also veered more towards productivity in this year's draft.

Howard is a raw player but an incredible athlete. A three-year starter for UTEP, Howard started 30 of 40 games amassing 245 tackles, 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and four interceptions. Howard is also very durable, only missing one full game and part of another due to an injury in 2002.

It was 2004 that Howard showed off his skills as a blitzer, sacking the quarterback eight times. Last year, Howard was needed in other areas and used more in coverage, limiting his chances at taking down the quarterback. In fact, he has spent time at every linebacker position while he was at UTEP.

He comes to Oakland where he has a good chance of starting at outside linebacker.

"Wherever the coaches need me to play," Howard responded of his expectations.

Howard admitted the Raiders selecting him came as a surprise but it did nothing to put a damper on the team he joins.

"It is a long life dream. What a better organization to go to than the Raiders. You can't beat it."

The Raiders clearly have made fixing the defense a priority with the addition of Michael Huff and Howard. Huff, a versatile defender, will aid the defensive backfield and Howard, a former high school safety, will be a welcome addition to the front seven.

And Howard comes from strong bloodlines. His father, Thomas, Sr., was a first team All American at Texas Tech and played professionally for the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Cardinals.

He also had the advantage of having Mike Singletary, the former Chicago Bears great linebacker, as his position coach in college for a period of time. "He's a very intense coach," said Howard. "One thing he harped on was staying low. Me being such a tall guy, sometimes on contact I do rise and I do get high. Otherwise, he was a very intense coach, a player's coach. We were in awe when I first heard going to be our coach."

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker chalked up 85 tackles during his senior season and the Raiders hope he will be lighting up the scoreboard in the Coliseum this season.

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