It must be difficult for the old school generation to watch their Oakland Raiders suffer at free and strong safety. Gone are the days of bone-shattering smacks on receivers who dared to test the middle against the Raider defense. Quarterbacks have confidence to take chances downfield due to the Raider safeties lacking any playmaking ability.
Embarrassing is the realization that our safety play is among the worse in the entire NFL even though Al Davis has an extreme obsession with defensive backs.
Since offseason programs have begun in Alameda, second-year player Tyvon Branch has received the majority of reps as the first team strong safety. Last week it was reported that Branch is the sure shot to be penciled in at free safety.
This is a move that the author of this article happens to be in line with. Why did it take a couple of months to see the obvious?
Branch is a former cornerback from his days in Storrs (Connecticut). His uncanny blend of speed and ferociousness made him attractive to Davis and the Raiders in the 2008 draft.
Being a special teams player on top of being a defensive back, Tyvon was injured and lost for the season. The year netted an impressive interception returned for 36 yards in week two vs. Kansas City and 10 total tackles. Not enough to give a true analysis of what he will do in 2009.
Now that our FS has been selected, who will be the strong safety?
One of the more disappointing draft picks Davis has ever made, hope for a Nnamdi Asomugha-esque player seems quite dim for the Huffster. Having started both safety slots, an estimated 100 percent of what people call the Raider nation see the guy as a total bust. With his release imminent, Raider folks can breath a sigh of relief as the bad taste washes out from passing over a much-needed NT like Haloti Ngata in 2006.
After getting chances to start in 2007 and 2008, Eugene's slot has been snatched away after seeing all the reps as a first teamer in the offseason workouts. While the effort and heart have always been there for the Louisiana native, the talent and big-time plays are nonexistent. Still, Eugene can be a valuable member for the unit as a backup and even give some added help to special teams play.
This signing was done with special teams being the deciding factor. Known as a special teams ace, Raider supporters can't expect much from Davis in a starting role for Oakland. Signed in May, Davis has already lobbied for Jeff Garcia as the team's signal caller.
Upset may be the understatement of the year when the Raiders used their second round pick on a MAC conference safety in this year's past draft. Impressing the front office brass, Mitchell is seen as a guy who brings instant physicality to a defense that has been anything but imposing. Knockouts were a regular occurrence for Mitchell at Ohio University.
Tom Cable linked him to old school Raiders like Jack Tatum and George Atkinson, but Mitchell possesses excellent makeup speed and versatility that the former Raider greats could only dream of. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury and NFL rules for graduating senior classes prevented Mitchell from showing the Raider staff what his full capabilities can produce for the squad.
No matter what combo is sent on the field, the organization must be concerned with what will be for 2009. I'm sure any upgrade from the previous six seasons will be welcomed with full embrace, but having set in stone starters for years to come is what will be needed to be an annual contender in the AFC.
Huff may be gone, and Eugene lacks the talent to be a starter. Davis has been in the NFL for the better part of this decade and can't crack the starting lineup. Can it be that before season's end the Raiders go young with Branch and Mitchell as the last line of defense?