After three days of fan-attended practices, the Oakland Raiders returned to a normal practice schedule on Monday. For the first time this preseason the coaching staff allowed players to tackle to the ground, albeit only for a short amount of time, late in practice, during a short-yardage drill.
Dennis Allen likes to talk about being consistent and not making the same mistakes repeatedly. On Monday, the team had issues with both consistency and making the same mistakes. The defense beat themselves with offsides penalties and by allowing a few big plays, and the offense turned the ball over a few times and struggled to generate the type of passing offense for which the offense has shown to be capable.
It wasn’t a bad practice, but it is perhaps a sign that while progress has been made on both sides of the ball, the team has not yet turned a corner.
It’s the mental mistakes that Dennis Allen said he addresses with the team in the meeting room. “Those are the things that costs you games.” Allen said. “To learn to win the National Football League the first thing you gotta do is learn how to not beat yourself. Penalties, turning the ball over, those types of things cost you football games. Until we get that corrected we’re going to stand up here and say the same things over and over.”
Allen, like his predecessors, knows the Raiders will be limited more by their ability to play tough and smart than their raw talent. Part of the plan this offseason was to bring in veterans that fit this mold: Mike Brisiel, Dave Tollefson, Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.
Spencer was among the bright spots for the Raiders on Monday after a few padded practices, where it became apparent he would be challenged by sophomore cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke. The coaching staff stuck with Spencer with the first team as Ron Bartell returned to practice on a limited basis and bumped Van Dyke down the depth chart.
Spencer rewarded the coaching staff’s patience by breaking up several passes intended for Jacoby Ford and he had consistently tight coverage. Spencer not only responded on the field, but also off the field. “I play my game.” Spencer said. “I do what I got to do, my coaches (don’t have any) complaints.”
Spencer was complimentary of the other defensive backs and said that he and the entire group have been gelling since OTAs. “We all love the scheme.” Spencer said. It would seem that the defensive secondary, once considered the weakness of the defense, is becoming a strength. If a fourth cornerback emerges, the Raiders secondary might be poised to exceed expectations.
One area Dennis Allen would like to see the team improve from last year was their tackling. “Tackling, it’s about body position and more so than anything else it’s about a willingness and a want-to to get the guy down on the ground.” Allen said. “We’ve talked about tackling and how we’ve got to be a great tackling team if we want to be a good defense.”
Allen said the hardest tackles to make are in space, so the linebackers and secondary need the most work. It’s an assessment Spencer shares. “It’s one of those things where we are the last line of defense,” he said. “Sometimes you may get ran over but who cares? You’ve got to just get him down any way you can. Those are the toughest tackles.”
Spencer said there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to tackling in the secondary and playing against the speed of Darren McFadden prepares the defense. "Worst-case scenario we won't see nothing faster than (McFadden),” Spencer said. “We're practicing against one of the best."
Although tackling is a component to playing in the secondary, covering receivers is also a big component and Spencer had high praise for the Raiders’ speedy receivers. “They’re great receivers,” Spencer said. “They’re moving the ball. They’re completing some passes and things like that and we understand they are going to do that.”
Tight End Competition
It wasn’t just the secondary that is starting to sort itself out; Dennis Allen said tight end Brandon Myers has played his way into being the starter. Allen likes the unique features of each tight end and singled out Richard Gordon as the best blocker.
It is Myers, though, who has been healthy and has put together several nice practices. Myers has been able to get open consistently and he’s been as sure-handed as any pass catcher on the team during training camp.
On one series Monday, Myers was wide open down the left sideline, but Palmer opted for his first read which fell incomplete to Darren McFadden. A few plays later, Myers snared a ball in front of Rolando McClain on a crossing pattern and turned up field for a big gain.
It’s that type of consistent play from the tight end that the Raiders haven’t had since Zach Miller flew north to Seattle last fall and didn’t have last year because the tight ends were slowly phased out of the offense.
Asked why the previous regime phased out the tight end, Myers said the media would have to ask someone in Cincinnati.
Defensive Line Consistency
Desmond Bryant moved from defensive tackle to defensive end last season after Matt Shaughnessy was lost for the year with a shoulder injury. Bryant has played defensive tackle almost exclusively during training camp and even got a few snaps as the nose tackle in the few 3-4 defense looks the Raiders have shown.
Bryant said he feels comfortable playing wherever the coaches need him to play and that the defensive line is just hoping to play to the best of their ability this season. The defensive line in Oakland is probably one of the most talented in all of football, but they were inconsistent last season. Inconsistency is something Bryant acknowledged wasn’t totally due to the personnel. “I think it had a lot to do with our rotation,” Bryant said. “Guys were getting tired maybe and other guys didn’t get to play enough.”
Bryant said the defensive line is working to be consistent, regardless of who is playing, and that the return of Shaughnessy and the addition of Tollefson should help.
“We are going to try and work on that rotation and try to be as consistent as possible to have the first group and whoever goes in for him to not let there be any drop off,” Bryant said. “Most coaches would say, ideally all four positions would have a backup so that they can put them in there and not have to worry about what’s going to happen.”
Injury Report (missed practice)
Shane Lechler (knee): non-football injury (NFI) list.
Aaron Curry (knee): physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
Richard Seymour (knee)
Denarius Moore (hamstring)
Taiwan Jones (hamstring)
Eddie McGee (hamstring)
Injury Report (during practice)
Matt Shaughnessy (ankle bruise): Was walking fine after practice and it didn’t appear to be bothering him.
Christopher Hansen is a Lead Blogger at Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.