Raiders want to be more aggressive on D

After five years of playing fairly conservative on defense, the Raiders appear to be adopting a more aggressive philosophy under new coordinator John Marshall. Find out what that means and what Oakland's players think about it in SBI senior writer Michael Wagaman's minicamp roundup.

For the past five years the Raiders fielded a defense that was, for the most part, mediocre at best, one that struggled against the run and had only marginal success defending the pass. In getting rid of the ultra-conservative Rob Ryan -- who seemed to have a serious aversion to blitzing – and bringing in John Marshall as his replacement, the hope is that the Raiders can improve on a unit that finished 31st against the run and 27th overall in 2008. Linebacker Kirk Morrison, who played his entire career under Ryan before the veteran coordinator left Oakland to join good friend Eric Mangini in Cleveland, likes what he's seen so far. "More or less the main differences are in terminology but it's much different, different in how we line up against the run, in blitzes and other little things," Morrison said Saturday in between practices. "You look at where (Marshall) came from in Seattle. They had an attacking style and that's what we're trying to do here." Marshall hasn't been made available to the media since being hired by head coach Tom Cable and isn't expected to talk to reporters during the three-day minicamp. That's left it up to Oakland's players and Cable to discuss the changes being made defensively. Not surprisingly, the early reviews are good. Most noticeable has been the Raiders' willingness to blitz more. They ran a few run blitzes in practice on Friday, then had cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha blitzing at various times on Saturday. For a team that is averaging less than two sacks a game over the previous two seasons, that's a significant step forward. "We hated to see Rob go but sometimes you need a fresh start," Morrison said. "Even Rob, he took the opportunity to go to Cleveland for a new start. We like what we have going on here and it's just a matter of getting us all on the same page. Now everybody has to know where everybody else is instead of just one or two guys knowing it." Other news and notes from camp: X Jeff Garcia acknowledged that adjusting to life as a backup quarterback after being a starter for most of his 10 years in the NFL. "It's not an easy role to accept because of the competitive nature that is within me," Garcia said. "I struggled with it when I was in Philadelphia. I had a hard time just sitting on the sideline watching." Still, the 39-year-old Garcia understood what the parameters were when he signed with the Raiders in the offseason. "It's about understanding your role, and I understand what I have into with this team," he said. "I understand that JaMarcus (Russell) is the starting quarterback. I do believe that I am a starting quarterback, as far as caliber is concerned. Hopefully by the example that I set … JaMarcus can see and understand that this is why I've been able to play this game so long and why I've been able to have the success that I've had. "Hopefully that competitive drive is just what allows JaMarcus to increase his own competitive spirit. The greatest understanding that needs to come out of all this is that this is a small window in our lives. It's a small window of opportunity to and to make the most of this opportunity." X Darrius Heyward-Bey had a rough day of practice. The rookie wide receiver, Oakland's first-round draft pick, dropped three passes in the morning workout then was held out of the afternoon workout for unspecified reasons. One of the criticisms of Heyward-Bey in college was that he wasn't consistent enough catching the ball but Cable didn't seem too concerned. "What he got in two days is probably what he got in an entire spring football (in college)," Cable said. "So there is a lot on his brain. He's probably worried a little bit too much (about) ‘Am I in the right place?' in terms of routes and maybe focused a little less on the football." Cable didn't speak with reporters following the afternoon workout but a team spokesman said the head coach with address Heyward-Bey's health on Sunday. Heyward-Bey attended the second practice but did not participate in any drills. X Wide receiver Javon Walker was somewhat cryptic when discussing why he didn't notify team officials that he was having knee surgery in the offseason. "Because that was something where, at the time, I was going to make a decision based off what was going to be beneficial for me and it was nothing to do with the team," Walker said. "Obviously last year when I was contemplating not playing football anymore, it wasn't that I didn't want to play football. I still got a love for the game. It was that I was going to retire from the pain. So with this decision, I was making it upon, OK, if I do this, I want to do this and live my life where I can still do my extracurricular activities and I didn't want the team or anybody to let them have to deal with that burden on their back or anything. They had the draft and everything coming up. When I was coming in, there's a great understanding. The Raiders have been a great organization to me and I just didn't want to bother them with that. I was just going to go ahead and do it, that a way, like I said, I went out and did this basically to keep playing the game. It was just a situation where I didn't want to bother no one." Walker said his knee hasn't been completely healthy since 2005 when he was in Denver but added that he's getting closer to full strength since having the surgery. "It's actually pain free and now I'm just working on the rehabbing," Walker said. "With any type of injury, now you've got to get it stronger, you got to get all the muscles that kind of shut down at the time to back working again because obviously anytime you do anything to the body, all the cells and stuff go, 'Wait a minute, what's going on here.' Now I've just got to get everything back and ready to where I'm back out here with the young guys, which I want to be because it's a great group out there. Obviously, I'm not old but I feel like I'm the oldest one. Hopefully we can all learn from each other." X Robert Gallery is nursing a left calf strain he suffered during conditioning work two weeks ago. Gallery is being limited to one practice a day, as is backup offensive lineman Paul McQuistan. X Linebacker Ricky Brown was given the day off, a precautionary measure after he missed most of 2008 with a groin strain that eventually required surgery in the offseason. X Newly acquired tackle Khalif Barnes got off to an inauspicious start when he false started during a drill in which there were no defensive players. X There appears to be a more concerted effort to get Darren McFadden more involved in the offense. McFadden, who was slowed by a pair of turf toe injuries last season as a rookie, has been lining up all over the field and has been getting a lot of work in the passing game. Three times in Friday's practice the Raiders threw passes to him on swing routes, then on Saturday quarterback Jeff Garcia launched a deep throw down the sidelines for the second-year running back. X Speaking of running backs, Gary Russell continues to turn heads with his performance in practice. While Cable cautioned it's too early to gauge depth charts, Russell is keeping things interesting by flexing off his potential. He took a handoff from Garcia and started to his right before cutting back across the grain of the field and taking off downfield to the left while the defense chased behind him. X Second-year defensive end Trevor Scott has been getting plenty of work with the first-team defense because Derrick Burgess remains out with the stomach flu. Scott, who tied for the team lead in sacks last year as a rookie, abused rookie tight end Brandon Myers during one drill, driving the seventh-round draft pick four yards into the backfield before planting him in the turf. X Backup center Chris Morris and linebacker Ike Ekejiuba had to be separated after getting into a brief scuffle during the morning practice. No punches were thrown but the two men had to be separated by Cornell Green and Terdell Sands. X Defensive back Darrick Brown collided with tight end Chris O'Neill toward the end of the morning practice, but neither man appeared to be seriously hurt. Brown looked like he took the biggest brunt of the collision and was looked at by a team trainer on the sideline.

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