Michael Huff has quietly gone on to become one of the biggest defensive leaders this season, in my mind at least.
After signing two veteran cornerbacks this offseason, the Raiders found themselves looking for another cornerback by Week 3 because of injuries.
That led to the coaching staff having to move one of their starting safeties in the secondary. Luckily for the Raiders, both of their starting safeties had cornerback experience. Tyvon Branch played corner at the University of Connecticut, while Michael Huff had his fair share of time at the position last season and at Texas.
Being the superior player in pass coverage, the Raiders opted towards moving Huff to corner and keeping Branch at safety.
Against the Steelers, Michael Huff was clearly looking uncomfortable. In almost every snap, he lined up deep against the speedy Pittsburgh wide receivers. Normally, in years past, this would be a smart move as those receivers would run deeper routes.
However, with Todd Haley and his "dink and dunk" offense, playing off is a terrible strategy. To give players like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders room to catch the ball and run is plain stupid. Despite winning, the Raiders allowed Ben Roethlisberger to complete 74 percent of his passes for 384 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
In his second game at cornerback, Huff showed minimal improvements. He was still lining up deeper than he should have and for the second time in a row, the opposing quarterback had the Raiders defense looking confused.
But against Atlanta, Michael Huff looked good. Scratch that, the team looked good. Michael Huff looked great. Facing Roddy White, one of the league's premiere receivers, Huff looked like he played at cornerback for years. He was physical, aggressive and smart.
He held Roddy White to six receptions for 72 yards, deflected four passes and intercepted another.
Over the course of the next few games, Huff continued that upwards trend. His biggest test of the season came in Week 9 against Tampa Bay and Vincent Jackson.
Let's be blunt here, Huff did not have a great game, but he can't take all the blame on Jackson's longest catch of the day. He was expecting Giordano over the top, but Giordano bit on Jackson's route and both Raider defenders saw the 6'5" receiver run past them.
Huff has to take the blame on Jackson's next catch, however, as he was beaten at the line, failed to recover and saw Jackson make a great catch for a touchdown.
In all, Huff has had a lot of ups and downs playing cornerback, but I'm going to say that he's had more positives. However, Steve Corkran of the Mercury News reports that Ron Bartell may return to the field this week. He also reports that Huff will stay at cornerback. That raises the question, will Michael Huff stay at cornerback when Shawntae Spencer returns?
Up until this past week, the Raiders were fine with Huff playing at corner. Matt Giordano is an average player, but hurt his hamstring against Tampa and is limited in practice. Both Branch and Mike Mitchell are strong safeties who could struggle playing free safety.
If Giordano's injury lingers and Spencer comes back, should Michael Huff, who has invested so much time into playing cornerback already this season, move back to free safety?
I say no, and here's why. Huff, despite the hiccup, is showing that he could get better at cornerback. He certainly showed that after the bye week and it would be foolish to have a player switch positions twice in a season.
The way I see it, Huff has shown more improvements in his six games at cornerback than his six seasons at safety. I really believe that he can be a great player at the position if he continues his progress.
Throughout all of this, Michael Huff has never once complained about having to be the player who doubles his workload by learning a whole new position. Hate him or love him, you can't deny that it's admirable what he has done so far this season.
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