The second preseason game is tomorrow night against the Chicago Bears, and after a stellar defensive performance against Dallas last Thursday night, coach Tom Cable appears satisfied that his team is ready to be physical once the season starts.
I am not convinced.
The biggest issue this team has had over the last seven years of futility is the inability to stop the run. The main contributing factor to this weakness has been a lack of fundamental understanding of positioning, gap control, and proper tackling. These are all things learned during the physical dog days of July and August when teammates bash each other silly in preparation for doing the same to their opponents.
This weakness has perpetuated a steady stream of losses and affected both sides of the ball by having the defense on the field far too often, giving up far too many yards and points on the ground, and causing what have been overmatched offenses to have to play catch up, which this team has certainly not been built to do over the better part of the last decade.
And now the team is running what is essentially a two-hand touch camp and sitting any player with a stubbed toe to ensure he doesn't get full-blown injured.
I'm not asking Tom Cable to be Gunnery Sargeant Hartman out there, but this team needs more toughness, and the way he is running camp is not going to build that toughness.
Letting players rest with the most modest of physical ailments, especially the inexperienced wide receivers who need more snaps with their new quarterback, is not the usual mentality of an NFL franchise. And while I understand erring on the side of caution, it seems Cable is taking things in this respect to the extreme. If Darrius Heyward-Bey is getting rest because he is "fatigued", I'm sorry, but I can NOT stand behind that for a 23-year-old making a ton of money.
These receivers need as many snaps as they can get in "live-action" practice scenarios to build a rapport with Jason Campbell and get their timing right. But it's impossible to do that when Cable seems to hold them out of the lineup at the slightest appearance of injury.
I'm sure a big part of this is the 'ol clandestine Raiders not being forthcoming about how serious some of the players' injuries actually are. But still, based on what we're given, Chaz Schilens and DHB should be practicing more often, and certainly the offense needs them to. They don't have to be physical, but they do need to work with Campbell to establish a cerebral connection. Thus far, they've been too injured or "fatigued" to do so.
And Cable is absolutely, positively unwilling to risk injury to any of his players by overplaying them. To wit about DHB:
“He is fatigued. We wrap him up, we keep him out of things,’’ Cable said. “When it gets to the point where if we push it anymore he might get injured, I’m not going to do that. I backed off.’’
Understandable; but this is a 23-year old guy in incredible physical shape. If Tommy Kelly isn't fatigued, how the hell is DHB? Just tell us he's hurt and get it over with already.
The Raiders had one padded practice this week in preparation for the Bears. One. This is a team that hasn't been able to tackle for seven years, yet there seems to be no reason to work on that aspect of the game in Cable's eyes. They're already where they need to be.
“It would be stupid or ridiculous for anyone to say, ‘You need to hit more’ or anything like that,’’ Cable said. “We’ve already proven who we are that way.’’
Really? After ONE preseason game? After being the worst tackling team in the NFL for the last several years? This bothered me quite a bit.
I like Cable; I think he's a good players' coach who has aptly put his finger on the pulse of this team and understands the nuances it takes to be the Oakland Raiders' head man. He has the respect of Al Davis, who has allowed him to make personnel moves and changes he sees as improvements, which is of paramount importance when in the unique position of coaching the Raiders. If you don't have Al's respect, you don't have a job for long. Cable has done all the right things in the PR aspect of the coaching job, and he's a likable guy.
But after four days of non-padded practice, allowing guys with the seemingly the most minor of injuries to sit out multiple practices, and then following up by taking the pads off after seeming satisfied based on one preseason game that the team can tackle, I'm worried that Cable is coddling this team too much when that's been a big contributing factor to the lack of success lately.
The coddling is different. We aren't seeing good players rewarded with superstar contracts, or the enabling of a quarterback who never wanted to play football here anyway. What we are seeing, though, is a coach who doesn't seem to think the physical aspect of training camp is all that important.
I'm excited for the prospects of the season, and I really like the moves we've made, but I must admit I'm a little perplexed and annoyed that the Raiders have essentially had a two-hand touch camp when they've struggled with the fundamentals of the physical side of the game for so long.
As I said, I understand erring on the side of caution, and being careful with players like Schilens and Darren McFadden, who are injury-prone and big contributors when healthy, is somewhat understandable. It just seems like Cable is taking it a little too far, being a little too cautious, and the lack of on-field practice may cause continuity issues with the offensive players due to their lack of snaps.
Schilens, McFadden, and Bruce Gradkowski will miss their second straight games tonight with what appear to be less-than-significant injuries. That's our No. 1 wideout, our potential No. 1 back, and our No. 2 QB, all with no preseason snaps thus far. Just to be "safe." Now, DHB also most likely won't play tonight after doing nothing of consequence in his first preseason game because he's a 23-year old professional athlete that is "fatigued."
It just seems Cable is mostly dismissing the importance of this live game experience and assuming the team will be ready to rock on September 12 regardless of what happens this offseason and how little playing time key cogs to the success of the team receive.
All I can say is that I'm sure Cable knows what he's doing. I sure hope so, because this team needs to get more physical, not less physical, and camp, thus far, doesn't seem to be preparing the team for that.