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Players on the bubble to perform

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#1 Icker


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Posted August 15, 2008 - 10:49 AM

from http://mvn.com/nfl-r...m-in-tennessee/

Preseason games are nothing more than a double edged sword for coaches. One edge, the blunt one, is the improvement of the team and for getting everyone on the same page prior to the season. The other edge, the sharp one, is where you try to keep the players you really need healthy. Winning teams have fewer holes to fill, enabling them to rest starters during meaningless games. The Raiders and other losing teams are still shuffling their lineup creating a higher relevance to the game.

There’s no doubt that even the most feared pass rusher still needs to prove that he hasn’t lost a step, but it’s the players playing for positions that aren’t fully set that have the most to gain or lose. I figured in this game preview, I’d go through a few players that need to step up or start packing. You can take a look at the Raiders ‘unofficial’ depth chart here. It’s already a little outdated, but that’s all we’ve got for now folks. Two dates to keep in your mind are the following:

Aug 26 - NFL Roster cutdown - maximum 75 players
Aug 30 - NFL Roster cutdown - maximum 53 players
QB - Marques Tuiasosopo and Jeff Otis

I’m unsure if Jeff Otis will get any game action at all, but Tuiasosopo should see some time in the fourth quarter. Jerry McDonald is reporting that he’s hearing a rumor that the Raiders are thinking of going into the regular season with only two QB’s on the roster. If that’s the case, we already know which two are on the team.

Unless Andrew Walter suddenly reverts back to his 2006 form and Tuiasosopo begins to amaze the staff in Oakland, the Raider Nation could be waving goodbye to the 2001 draft pick a second time in his career. JaMarcus Russell is of course a lock to make the team, and Otis is a camp arm that could probably go back onto the practice squad (don’t hold me to that, I’ll have to check on that).

Analysis - Tui needs a really good game, and needs to show that he can throw the ball like an NFL quarterback. Otis needs to pray that he gets a chance to outshine the veteran. Walter needs another solid performance to put a lock on the backup job.

RB - Adimchinobe Echemandu and Louis Rankin

If Rankin keeps running like he did in the first preseason game and doesn’t let up in practice for the remainder of the preseason, he could force the Raiders to keep him on the 53 man roster. There’s a good possibility that he wouldn’t last long on the practice squad due to another team signing him away.

Echemandu, who’s currently working behind Rankin, needs to continue impressing during games, but probably also has to step it up in practice. There have been reports that he hasn’t been the camp phenom that he was last year. In his limited time last week against the 49ers, he seemed to do a good job during his runs, but if he can show that he can pick up a blitzing defender, it will go a long way towards putting him on the team.

Analysis - Rankin is in the driver’s seat for now. Even a few ‘rookie’ mistakes won’t hurt him badly, as long as he continues to show the promise that he has to date. On the other hand, the Raiders coaching staff (Lane Kiffin and Greg Knapp) believe that you can’t have enough good backs because injury is always a concern. In a perfect world, Echemandu would make the team as the fourth back and Rankin would hang out on the practice squad.

FB/TE - Marcel Reece and Tony Stewart

It’s a little odd to combine the two positions, but the fact is that Justin Griffith, Oren O’Neal, Zach Miller, and John Madsen are pretty much locks to make the team. Fred ‘do everything’ Wakefield can also play the tight end position and I wouldn’t put it past him to line up as a fullback either. That leaves Marcel Reece playing the H-Back position or Tony Stewart playing the Tight End spot.

Believe it or not, Marcel Reece holds Stewarts livelihood in his hands. If he can perform well enough to impress the coaching staff as a fullback/tight end (h-back) positions, he could make Stewart seem like a luxury. A luxury that the Raiders don’t necessarily need to have. While Stewart can catch and block, he’s still only third on the depth chart and he’s more expensive than keeping an undrafted rookie, whom the Raiders like, and would like to develop.

Analysis - Tony Stewart needs to have a break out game of sorts. He needs to block like he’s never blocked before, while also running crisp routes and make catches when he has the opportunity. In other words, he needs to make sure that the Raiders staff view him as so valuable they can’t cut him. Reece needs to continue to impress the staff with his ability to learn and function within the system. There’s a good chance that there is room on the roster for both of these guys, but they both need to have good games in Tennessee.

Wide Receiver - Arman Shields, Chaz Schilens, Chris McFoy, Drisan James, and Jonathan Holland

It’s safe to say that Javon Walker, Ronald Curry, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Todd Watkins have entrenched themselves with spots on the final 53 man roster. Higgins and Watkins still need to continue to perform to keep it that way, but if they do, they’re set.

The bigger question remains out of the final five receivers, which one or two guys make the squad? Shields and Schilens definitely have the upper hand by being this year’s Raiders draft picks. It also helps that none of the other guys have stepped up and made a big impression on the staff to discount their draft pick status.

Analysis - Unless McFoy, James, or Holland make big impressions, the final roster spot or spots will go to Schilens and Shields. Between Shields and Schilens, my guess is that Schilens has done more than Shields to warrant keeping.

Offensive Center - Jake Grove and John Wade

As crazy as it may sound, the only center with a solid footing on making the team is Chris Morris, the backup. Morris can play on special teams, can long snap, and plays the offensive guard position when asked to. Jake Grove can do those things as well, but he makes starter type money. John Wade was brought in for one purpose only, help make the center position stronger.

There’s no telling if the Raiders would keep both players, but there have been some rumors floating around that the loser of the starting battle will not make the team. Right now, Jake Grove has done nothing but show that his second round status is justified. He’s in charge of his own destiny right now and tonight, he’ll get an opportunity to show how much he’s improved while facing Albert Haynesworth, the best defensive tackle in the league. It won’t be easy. From some reports Haynesworth has been even better this year than last, and he tore up the Raiders line last year. This could be the best match up of the night, or the saddest.

Analysis - Wade and Grove should both get opportunities to block Haynesworth tonight, as long as the Titans leave him in long enough. Whichever center has to face him, winning the battle will go a long way in being the starter for preseason week three, the week where the starters play the most.

O-Line - Paul McQuistan, Jesse Boone, Mario Henderson, Chris Morris, and Brandon Rodd

Currently, there are 13 offensive linemen on the depth chart and the Raiders keeping 10 may be a stretch. Seth Wand and Fred Wakefield are the only backups, besides the loser at the center starting spot, that aren’t on this list. Wakefield has proven to be so versatile that he may be too valuable NOT to keep, while Wand has played well and practiced well. With the lack of decent offensive tackles on the squad, that makes Wand that more valuable.

Chris Morris has a leg up on the competition. He can play all five spots on the line and has gotten good reviews on his ability to run block. Jesse Boone, my favorite, is a nasty-take-no-prisoners type of lineman with some ability. Brandon Rodd is an undrafted guy that may end up making the practice squad, but unless something catastrophic happens or he blossoms in the next seven days, that’s exactly where he’s headed.

Mario Henderson and Paul McQuistan will probably make the team. They haven’t impressed the staff as much as they should, both men should be better than they are, and there is still the possibility that neither of them make the team. Of the two available spots, there will be a fierce competition between these two for one of them.

It would seem that the Raiders couldn’t cut Henderson, but McQuistan can play tackle and has shown last season that he can even play it better than the Raiders starter, Cornell Green. The problem with McQuistan is that he’s very inconsistent. The problem with Henderson is that he’s been consistently bad. Both need to play very well against a strong Tennessee defensive front to secure positions on the squad, otherwise they could be sharing the title of ‘former Raider.’

Analysis - Look for Kiffin to call enough runs and passes while these guys are in the game. This game is critical for the Raiders coaching staff to find the guys that will stay with the team through the first round of cuts. Not all of these guys can make the squad and that’s not even taking into consideration another team’s cut could still end up playing in Oakland. Players like McQuistan, Morris, and Boone have a leg up due to their abilities in more than one position.

DT - Terdell Sands or Gerrard Warren

Sands hasn’t been completely healthy during training camp. That could make this competition over already. The Raiders will need their starter to play starter minutes, and an injured guy can’t do that. As long as Sands is draining that knee, Warren has the upper hand. Make no mistake about it, Sands will still be given every opportunity to take the starting spot.

Warren has been a monster one week and invisible the next throughout his career in Cleveland, Denver, and now Oakland. Last year, he was a dominant force when the Raiders played the Browns, and nonexistent most other weeks. It’s unlikely that the Raiders want to put their hopes for an average run defense on a player that they can’t count on.

Analysis - If Sands plays like he did last week against the 49ers and stays healthy, the competition is over. If he has an average week, while still needing to drain his knee, we’ll be watching him come off the bench in a rotation.

D-Line - Greg Spires, Kalimba Edwards, Trevor Scott, Greyson Gunheim, William Joseph, and Darrick Gray

Derrick Burgess, Tommy Kelly, Jay Richardson, and the two defensive tackles I just mentioned are locks to make the squad. That leaves a possible five spots open, but most likely even four would be a stretch. Trevor Scott being a draft pick and also showing up well in week one gives him the inside track on the rest of this group, but he’s no sure bet to make the squad of 53.

Spires and Edwards are two veterans that have had solid careers. Edwards has mostly disappointed due to the fact that when he’s on his game, he’s unstoppable, but he’s not always on his game. Spires has been more consistent against the run, just not as flashy as other defensive ends with sacks. Both of these veterans need to continue to hold off rookies Trevor Scott and Greyson Gunheim. They both have to show that they are a huge leap over the rookies in order to justify staying on in September.

Both Gunheim and Scott need to continue to improve. Both men had great first outings in silver and black and if they continue to improve, there will be no reason not to keep either guy. The reality is that Gunheim will probably find himself on the practice squad to start the season, but it’s not out of the question for the Raiders to cut both of the veterans manning the spot in front of them on the depth chart.

William Joseph and Derrick Gray are in tough spots. Joseph is looking up at Sands and Warren, while Gray is looking up at Kelly and Josh Shaw. Judging by last week’s debut, Shaw is Tommy Kelly with a different name. If he continues to be that, Gray will be gone by the first cut.

Joseph needs to show the coaching staff that he can fill in at both defensive tackle positions. He has a better shot at making the team than any of the backup defensive ends, but he needs to make sure to continue to show that first round talent. There was no dropoff in performance from Warren to Sands to Joseph last week in Oakland, and as long as that remains the case, the first round bust can make a return to viability.

Analysis - Edwards, Scott, and Joseph have the best shots at filling the defensive line openings. Spires caused a fumble in the first preseason contest, but was nowhere to be found after that. Gunheim has an outside shot of making the team if he continues to get better. Position coach, Keith Millard, has taken a special interest in the rookie and that could help his chances. The defensive line will face a much stronger opponent this week, and the players that can stop the run and rush the passer with some frequency will make or solidify a spot for themselves.

Strong Side Linebacker - Ricky Brown, Sam Williams, Robert Thomas, Grant Irons and Adam Archuletta

It’s odd to put Irons and Archuletta into the mix at this spot. I am still having trouble seeing a 225lb linebacker handling the strong side. Irons, to me, has never shown that he can play the linebacker spot in the NFL. I thought he was better at the defensive end position, and about as good as Tyler Brayton playing linebacker.

Ricky Brown quickly put himself in the starting role and it helps that he’s also good on special teams because the strong side spot is probably not getting too much time on the field. Having a player that can do more than play part time linebacker helps his chances.

Robert Thomas got extensive playing time last week with mixed reviews. There were plays that made him look like a starting linebacker in the NFL, while others made him look like an average backup. He’ll need to be better against the run, something he was shaky on last week. His biggest weakness is his ability to read and react fast enough to avoid facing the big guard or tackle. He rarely breaks free from the block once he’s engaged.

Sam Williams needs to show the ability that he’s flashed throughout his career. For every unbelievable play he makes, there are five more that make you scratch your head and ask yourself, “What the hell was he doing on that play?” Haven’t seen him show up much thus far, but he’ll need to show up in a big way tonight.

The Raiders only need five linebackers and they’ve already cut one, leaving them at ten if you count longsnapper Jon Condo. We won’t count Condo, so let’s just call it nine with no more than six spots available.

Analysis - Ricky Brown needs a good game to get the starting spot. He doesn’t need a good game to make the roster, just needs to keep from having a bad one. Brown can play backup to Morrison and is a special teamer as well. In other words, his versatility make him valuable to the Raiders. Thomas and Williams need to show that they can play the position and play it well, otherwise they could become former Raiders quickly like Edgarton Hartwell has become. Irons and Archuletta will have to be very impressive to make the squad at this position, but I don’t see it happening. I could see Archuletta backing up at the weak side and playing special teams though.

Linebackers - Jon Alston and Isaiah Ekejiuba

So far so good, but the addition of Archuletta could bump one of these guys off of the roster. Ekejiuba is a special teams force and is probably pretty safe, while Alston is still a guy that the coaching staff likes, but is still expendable. These guys won’t be playing for a starting spot, but they’ll have to play to keep their spots.

Analysis - Alston will have to show up much more tonight other than picking up a dead ball and running it into the end zone. He’ll have to be very good on special teams and leave no opening for one of the guys vying for the strong side spot to take his place. As long as he plays well on special teams and can show that he’s a viable backup to Howard, he could solidify his roster spot. Any opening that he leaves tonight, will give Archuletta an opportunity to take that spot away. Ekejiuba just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing on special teams and not get injured. He has many deficiencies on defense, but his skill as a gunner on special teams was sorely missed last season after his injury.

Cornerback - Michael Waddell, John Bowie, Nick Sanchez, Rashad Baker, and Darrick Brown

Waddell picked up two fumbles last week, one he caused, but he was beat often in coverage. That’s more than can be said about the compensation for Randy Moss. John Bowie is attrocious. He’s injured right now, and probably won’t get any time, but even before he was injured he was an easy mark. The Raiders may put him on injured reserve if he can’t start playing, but if it were my decision he’d be gone.

Rashad Baker and Darrick Brown both play corner and safety, but neither has made much of an impression at either spot. Sanchez was just signed and has fared well in practices so far. He’s also a safety manning the corner spot, so he should see some action tonight. If he has a good evening, the field is wide open for him to come in and take a spot. All three of these guys have an open invitation to join the team, they just need to start RSVP’ing now to get the spot.

Analysis - With the Raiders having Routt and Johnson as backups at the corner position and Cooper, Eugene, and Branch backing up the safety spots, they’ll want a guy or two that can do both. Regardless, Waddell could take one of those spots, leaving only one spot left. Whoever plays well tonight will make it past the first cutdown, but they’ll have to play just as good, if not better next week too.

our depth is looking alot better
and i found an oakland raider blog http://www.silverandblackpride.com/

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