Asking the Big Questions: Oakland Raiders in 2009

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IJuly 12, 2009

On review of the roster for the Oakland Raiders, I am left with many questions.  Though I believe that the Raiders have plenty of great talent in the mix, I wonder about the team's direction.

Great talent can often drift when a team lacks direction.

Whether Coach Cable has resolved the issue of direction, I cannot say.  I however, can raise the questions that I do have.


Quarterback: Jeff Garcia

Once the Raiders signed Jeff Garcia, many in the media began to question the team's faith in JaMarcus Russell.  Some even speculated that the Browns have more confidence in Brady Quinn than the Raiders have in Russell.

To me, that is just nonsense.

For any other team, the media would laud the acquisition of a veteran quarterback behind a young franchise quarterback. 

With the Raiders, it was just a chance for the media to fuse a union of yellow journalism and muckraking.

Russell essentially played as a rookie in 2008 without a go-to receiver.  He did however find targets like Zach Miller and Johnnie Lee Higgins. 

Yet, some have already begun to spread anti-Raider propaganda in order to undermine the confidence of Oakland's personnel.

The acquisition of Garcia was simply to create competition for Russell.  Russell was not exactly feeling the heat from Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo.


Runningbacks: Justin Fargas

Justin Fargas does not appear to be going anywhere, but I have started to wonder if he is log-jamming Darren McFadden, Michael Bush, and even Louis Rankin.

At 30, running backs tend to decline rapidly, although Fargas was not a starter from day one, so he could still have the necessary durability to be a running back in the NFL.

Nevertheless, I still wonder if the Raiders should trade Fargas.  Surely, the Bengals and others would be interested in Fargas (Carson Palmer and Fargas were college teammates).

He will pick-up yardage, but will struggle with touchdowns—which would work for Cincinnati, because Cedric Benson is a better short yardage runner.


Receivers: Javon Walker

Whether you like it or not, Javon Walker is the most seasoned wide receiver on the Oakland roster. 

Walker nearly retired in 2008 after he was beaten and robbed.  Walker later agreed to a restructured contract.

I do believe that in order for the Raiders to be successful in 2009, they need a go-to receiver to emerge for JaMarcus Russell.

Nevertheless, Walker no longer seems interested in playing, but perhaps that will change.

If it does, then Walker can give the Raiders a good stopgap at receiver until the others, such as Derrius Heyward-Bey, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Louis Murphy can develop.


Offensive Line:  Cornell Green, John Wade

In the offseason, the Raiders pursued value for the offensive line by the acquisitions of C Samson Satele, LT Khalif Barnes, OT Erik Pears, and OL Marcus Johnson.

Whether they will each make the cut is another story, but they should provide good competition in training camp.

The big question is the future of OT Cornell Green, OT Mario Henderson, and C Samson Satele. 

The Raiders selected Henderson in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, with a pick they acquired by trade.

Henderson started his first game against Kansas City in 2008—the one where Darren McFadden ran wild on KC's "defense."

Henderson was not penalized that game.  Yet, Henderson still had to rotate with Kwame Harris, and now must outperform Khalif Barnes.

Meanwhile, Cornell Green on the right side appears to be mostly a stopgap player, while the Raiders would seemingly have more talent on the field with Henderson and Barnes opposite each other.

Finally, the Raiders also acquired C Samson Satele from Miami after the Dolphins signed former Raider Jake Grove. 

I do not fully understand why Grove had a greater appeal to Miami than Satele, because both have durability issues.

It seems to me that they offset each other, and that the only gain was perceived by the front office.

Nevertheless, the Raiders acquisition of Satele has created the impression that the Raiders could tinker with the Wild Cat formations, because of their trio of running backs (McFadden, Bush, Fargas), and blockers (Neal, O'Neal).

It seems to me that the Raiders cannot rely on John Wade as a full-time starter at his age, and thus need Satele to succeed.


Defensive Ends: Derrick Burgess

Derrick Burgess has been on the trading-block, yet the Raiders have yet to decide on Burgess.

The Raiders selected DE Matt Shaughnessy in the third round of the NFL Draft, which would suggest that he has an inside track to make the cut. 

The Raiders also selected Stryker Sulak and have retained Greyson Gunheim, but could serve mostly as training-camp competition.

The Raiders also signed veteran DE Greg Ellis, but it is hard to say whether he will make the cut.

Then there is Jay Richardson and Trevor Scott.  Richardson has done well against the run, while Scott has shown good pass-rush skills. 

The idea that the Raiders will carry five defensive ends is unlikely, so the question is, 'Who is the most likely to go?'

I would think that Derrick Burgess is, since they have tried to trade him in the past. 

At the same time, he is the best of the defensive ends, so unless the Raiders can acquire good value for Burgess, I would hope that they retain him.

Since Shaughnessy was an early draft pick, it is hard to say whether he will go, but the Raiders have cut high pick rookies in recent years.

That leaves, Ellis, Richardson, Scott.  Simply because of age, I would think that Ellis is going uphill against Richardson and Scott, but I do know that Al Davis wants the best talent on the field, no matter what.

Moreover, if Ellis is impressive in the preseason, and Derrick Burgess is as well, then the Raiders could consider trading Burgess (if they can get value).

Ultimately, it is Ellis' spot to lose.  If Ellis performs highly in camp, I think they will retain him, regardless.


Defensive Tackle: Terdell Sands

The Raiders have shopped NT Terdell Sands recently.  Whether they acquire another defensive tackle, who can improve the defensive tackle position, is hard to say.

Though several positions on defense are in question, defensive-tackle is easily the one that lacks promise.

New defensive coordinator John Marshall has made a point to sweep those deficiencies under the rug with schemes.

Whether that will work is another story.

Whether a defensive tackle emerges (Desmond Bryant?) from this group should determine the success or failure of the Raiders defense.  Despite the blowouts, the Raiders defense has performed highly only to be torched in the last eight minutes of the game. 

That tells me that the defense is gassed.  That can change by better offensive play in controlling the clock, but also from an improvement at defensive tackle, so that the backers and backs do not have to shoulder the load.


Linebacker: Jon Alston

Many questions and rumors have flown about the Raiders linebacking corp.

The big question was strongside linebacker.

Now, some have wondered whether ILB Kirk Morrison is still in the Raiders' plans.  I think that the best way to explain it is to say that it is very competitive.

I think that Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison will ultimately start, and that the question is whether Jon Alston can fend off his competition.

That would be the least "dynamic" scenario. 

I do not mean "dynamic" in a good way, I mean that if Alston cannot emerge as a starter, then the Raiders will have a "linebacker by committee" situation, which would not be good.

With that said, undrafted rookie linebacker Frantz Joseph could be a sleeper, but I think he would be better on the strongside, rather than on the weakside.  The bottom line is however that I think Alston is the better immediate option at linebacker, and that I hope he can prove it outright. 

Safety: Michael Huff

The Raiders selected S Michael Mitchell in the second round in the 2009 NFL Draft, which has raised the question about Michael Huff's future in Oakland.

Personally, I think the best scenario for Oakland would be if Mitchell can earn the position out-right, which would allow the Raiders to use Huff as a cornerback to see what he can do.

From 2003-2005, Nnamdi Asomugha played safety and was labeled a bust.  Now, Asomugha is the most dominant cornerback in the NFL, probably since Deion Sanders.

Thus, I would like to see what Huff could do at his natural position of cornerback.


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