Behind Enemy Lines: Raiders, Part I

Denis Savage of sends his inquiries about Chester Taylor, Tarvaris Jackson, the wide receivers, offensive line and E.J. Henderson as the Raiders prepare to face the Vikings.

Denis Savage: Chester Taylor had a great season last year and Adrian Peterson took the league by storm, until his injury. Has the confidence in Taylor waned and what does he need to do to return to the player he was last year?

Tim Yotter:
There hasn't been any decline in Taylor's ability, it was just that he suffered a minor injury in the first game this season and Adrian Peterson is just such a phenomenal talent that they really had no choice but to make him the starter. Even after the Vikings' win over the Bears in the fifth game of the season, when Peterson rushed for a franchise-record 224 yards, Brad Childress tried to maintain that the Taylor was the starter, but I think he finally realized that Peterson gave the Vikings the best chance to win. Taylor had a 1,200-yard season in 2006, but that also came on a franchise-record 303 carries. Peterson has 1,081 yards on 169 carries and is obviously the more explosive back while not giving anything away in power.

However, since Peterson suffered a lateral collateral ligament tear last week, after rushing for an NFL-record 296 yards the previous game, he is out for at least the Raiders game, maybe longer. That means a return to Taylor, who should still be effective and actually seems to have picked up a few moves from Peterson. It's just that Taylor will probably never have three rushing touchdowns in one game with each of them going for more than 30 yards.

DS: Tarvaris Jackson has obviously struggled this year, particularly with his accuracy. Is there any one thing you can point to with his struggles?

He has a strong arm and was a fairly accurate passer in college, but I think he's struggling for three reasons: 1) He simply doesn't look all that comfortable being an NFL quarterback yet; 2) He hasn't been able to stay healthy and work on a consistent progression to his development; 3) He doesn't have that talented, or at least that experienced, of a receiving corps around him.

Right now, there isn't a receiver on the roster that would be a No. 1 receiver for another team. The best they probably have is second-round rookie Sidney Rice, who offers them good size, hands and body control, but he doesn't have great speed. Still, he at least has the potential to turn into a legitimate No. 2 or maybe even a No. 1 receiver in time. For now, they are trying to find a way to succeed with an inexperienced quarterback and unproven receiving corps. It's been a bad situation, to say the least.

DS: E.J. Henderson has really improved his game since year one to year three. What is the major difference in his play?

Mostly confidence. They tried to make him a middle linebacker in Ted Cottrell's scheme when Henderson was a rookie, and Henderson has admitted to me that he just didn't feel comfortable trying to tell other veterans how to play and making vocal checks during the game. His talent was there, but he isn't a naturally vocal, outgoing leader, and in his rookie year that was too much to ask. When he moved to the weak side, he excelled in the Tampa-2 defense and has really grown into a more vocal leader now that he moved back to the middle this year while Chad Greenway has taken over at the weak side. In the Tampa-2 defense, the weak side is considered the playmaker side (think Derrick Brooks), but Henderson easily led the team in tackles last year in that role and still leads the team this year with 93 so far from the middle. It doesn't hurt that Henderson has Pro Bowl defensive tackles in front of him with Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. They allow the linebackers to be aggressive and flow to the action.

DS: Minnesota has a talented offensive line – what has been the secret to their success, and that of the running game?

Actually, in some ways I'd say the offensive line has underachieved. They seemed to struggle for quite a bit of last year getting used to a new zone blocking scheme that was installed. The rushing average wasn't great last year, but this year they have seem more comfortable and the trio of left tackle Bryant McKinnie, left guard Steve Hutchinson and center Matt Birk appear to be getting better at working together. Birk and Hutchinson went to the Pro Bowl last year, but I think they'd admit it was a challenge with all the changes that were happening at once (including Hutchinson's first year in Minnesota). McKinnie has still struggled with the real speed rushers on occasion, but he seems to be improving, although he probably isn't quite to that Pro Bowl level yet. The right side of the line continued to struggle to start the season, but they've been doing better with the insertion of Anthony Herrera at right guard in place of former starter Artis Hicks. The Vikings seem to have equal success running to either side of the field, but the right side still has work to do in pass protection.

DS: The Vikings receiving corps doesn't boast a top talent at face level – is there a player that you expect will become that top-tier talent from the current group?

The only possibility I see there is with Rice. He could turn into a top-of-the-line red zone and third-down receiver with his height and jumping skills, but he needs a good quarterback to complement him. Troy Williamson hasn't been able to find any amount of consistency. He has deep speed, but still doesn't always get separation from a cornerback and he continues to drop catchable passes, a problem that has plagued him since he was the No. 7 overall draft choice in 2005. While some point to too much pressure trying to replace Randy Moss, I don't think Williamson has ever really felt that pressure. I just don't think he's ever been worthy of that lofty of a selection. The Vikings at the time just got too enamored with his speed at the NFL Scouting Combine and figured he just wasn't used properly in Lou Holtz's offense at South Carolina.

Besides Rice, other guys like Robert Ferguson and Bobby Wade are mid-level veteran receivers who are good blockers and try to be leaders, but they probably will never be go-to receivers who regularly put up 100-yard games (the Vikings haven't had one of those yet this season). Rookie Aundrae Allison might eventually develop into a decent No. 3 guy, but he hasn't been used much at all, so it's hard to say if he has the potential to be anything more than that.

Denis Savage is the managing editor of Tim Yotter is the editor of

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