Continuing on from yesterday's assessment of the Raiders offensive players that may have some intriguing competition at their positions, we now take a look at the defensive side of the ball:
Hiram Eugene/Michael Huff
Both of these men haven't really made a case for being a starter at free safety for the Raiders. Eugene essentially got the starting job after the Raiders were done with Schweigart (2007) and Huff (2008) at free the last two seasons more or less because they couldn't tackle, but that's not to say that they couldn't cover well, either.
Eugene has proven to be the best tackler of the two, but still has struggled in coverage. Huff has not showed anything since coming into this league besides shadowing tight ends for two years from 06'-07' and gathering one interception.
The Raiders really like second year safety Tyvon Branch (4th round pick in 2008) and drafted Michael Mitchell this year in the second round, who may be able to switch from free to strong safety in games-so Huff and Eugene have a lot to improve on if either wants to start this year for the Raiders.
He is decent in coverage, along with weak-side starting linebacker Thomas Howard. That's about it, and you would think the Raiders might feel the same way by recently trying last years starting SAM linebacker Ricky Brown at middle linebacker during their mini-camp which took place this past weekend.
Raiders also signed un-drafted free agent linebacker Frantz Joseph (Florida-Atlantic) who was projected to go anywhere from the 4th round to the 7th, but ended up going un-drafted. Joesph originally started out at Boston College, but made the switch to Florida Atlantic to be closer to his mother and help her out.
He holds the single-season FAU record for tackles. He finished the season ranked No. 2 nationally in tackles per game and was named the Defensive MVP of the Motor City Bowl as well as the Texas versus the Nation All-Star game, so he may be the physical presence the Raiders have missed (if they give him a chance).
Bottom Line; this is Morrison's last year on his rookie deal. If the Raiders are trying Ricky Brown out in the middle, who knows.
They are definitely looking for a more physical presence against the run given that Morrison shows little physical distinctiveness, makes most of his tackles five yards down-field and misses tackles constantly when he should be the best tackler on the field. It will be interesting to see if Morrison is on the field for running downs this year.
He got the nod at the SAM linebacker spot last year because of his ability to run from sideline to sideline, something Sam Williams wasn't too good at. He also had his struggles against the run, but it didn't help that he had Derrick Burgess trying to hold ground on running-downs in front of him when he is nothing more than a perennial pass rusher.
Frantz Joesph, David Dixon, Stryker Sulak and Slade Norris may all see some reps at the SAM position, a position the Raider haven't had stability at for a long time now. Brown is seeing some time at middle linebacker, and Tom Cable said he would try Sulak and Norris at the SAM, so that position is up in the air.
Derrick Burgess/Jay Richardson
The Rob Ryan staff saw fit that Derrick Burgess was on the filed for the majority of the snaps on defense ever since his 16 sack season in 2005. Well, in 2005 he was a situational pass rusher so maybe the new staff can keep him healthy (which happens to be a contract year) and productive this year by playing him at the appropriate time(s).
Richardson has been looking to develop more of a pass rush ever since being drafted by the Raiders in the 5th round in 2007. He is big at 6'6 280 pounds, but he needs to be more consistent or he will not be starting.
With recently drafted defensive end Matt Shaugnessey (4th round 2009) and tweener linebacker/end types in Slade Norris and Stryker Sulak, the Raiders are looking to upgrade the front seven and if Richardson wants to start he will really have to come into his own this year and be more than just a situational player.
He's gotten lighter, and maybe can be more productive for the Raiders this year. The problem with Sands is he gets gassed easy, and with how the Raiders used Gerard Warren last year at the nose with Sands, that might be a better duo now with Sands being in better shape.
Don't hold your breath on Sands though, the guy simply has been too inconsistent and taken out of plays during most of his time with the Raiders as he get stood up a lot. He will be the key player to the defense though, because if he can't be the run stuffer the Raiders think he can be, look forward to the Raiders being next to last again in run defense for the sixth consecutive year.