Oakland Raiders 2011 Offseason: New Direction for the Safety Position in Oakland

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Oakland Raiders 2011 Offseason: New Direction for the Safety Position in Oakland
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Much like our maligned quarterback position, the safety position (both free and strong) have been in flux for a very long time: no Pro Bowlers, and no consistency.

Take a look at our starters from the 2010 season. Both Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff had overwhelming confidence and support from both the coaching staff and fans during the 2010 offseason.

But at the end of the 2010 campaign, there is a need yet again for change in the Raiders' last line of defense.

Coming into the year many (including myself) thought that after an impressive '09 season, Branch was set up to have a breakout year, ending with a Pro Bowl selection. He led the team in tackles in '09, had great speed, was a willing tackler and was still young. There were even rumours that he was sought out by other teams in trades.

All that talk and hope went out the window almost instantly during the first game of the season, specifically on Chris Johnson's 76-yard touchdown run in Week 1.

But it wasn't one play for Tyvon, as 2010 was a season of missed tackles and over pursuit. In a season that should have been a launching pad, 2010 turned into a season of regression for Branch.

Instincts, especially at the safety position, are crucial for success. Despite great talent, Branch showed poor instincts all season. 

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Which leads me to my next point, does Branch start next year? That leads to another question: Should a high second-round pick ride the bench?

Of course not, the money is too big and the value of that pick is too high. Enter M&M.

I'll save the white rapper jokes, and say Mike Mitchell will start in 2011.

Now look, I'm not one of those bandwagon-biased Mitchell fans. I don't think he is the next Jack Tatum or Ronnie Lott ready to smash opponents in the open field. I'm looking at this from a business standpoint. You don't draft somebody in the second round just to have them ride pine.

So the perfect storm is created. Tyvon Branch showed regression, including a lack of sure tackling and instincts. Mike Mitchell has showed steady improvement and is a high draft pick. Al Davis and the organization could even possibly trade Branch, hoping another team is still in love with him. A fourth- or fifth-round pick would be nice.

Moving over to free safety, the drama gets better. I find it funny that the best player to play FS for the Raiders, Rod Woodson, is now coaching the DB's. Yet the Raiders' free safety of the past few years, Michael Huff, could be on his way out of Oakland.

I know you heard the rumours about Huff going to Dallas to reunite with Rob Ryan, and Huff is also a Texas boy. I think Huff loves Oakland, though, and he expressed via Twitter after the season how much he really wants to come back. But that is Al Davis' decision, not Huff's, and frankly I don't see it happening.   

Who is the Starting Safety Duo, in 2011 (if it happens)

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Huff has been an enigma since he arrived in Oakland. Another high draft pick who never lived up to his billing. I think coaching and poor tackling can be blamed for Huff's demise.

I admit, I have been a Huff hater for a long time. Sorry, but watching a running back run through a Huff tackle every Sunday can drive a man insane.

But before I get bombarded by the Huff supporters, I will say he showed marked improvement as the season progressed (minus the Jags game) and was even named an All-Pro in 2010. Huff showed his talents and made plays for the Raiders this season.

But was it enough?

I bet no, and judging by this offseason so far, I'm guessing Al Davis agrees with me. This brings up two other safeties scratching for playing time, Hiram Eugene and Stevie Brown.

Now we all know Eugene signed a recent long-term deal that pays him starter money (at least with him starting). I think it's a smart move.

Hiram (great name by the way) played great this season on special teams, was all over the field, is said to be a real team leader despite his PT and adds depth. So he is our new starter at FS right?

Wrong. Like I said, he adds depth and is a transitional player for our eventual starter...

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"Big Play" Stevie Brown. Yes, the 251st overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft could be starting in 2011.

By the way, did I mention he will be starting at one of the most difficult positions in all of football? No pressure, right? The single deep safety has to have great instincts, a knack for the ball and must be a great tackler. So pretty much Troy Polamalu.

Hey, the Raiders organization loves this kid. He is a former safety and linebacker from Michigan who allegedly was nearly chosen over Mike Mitchell (due to unknown off-field issues) as the final cut from the team last season. Remember that fiasco...

As always, I could be wrong. I'm one of the few B/R writers who will admit that. But the landscape of the offseason signings and the business of football seem to point in a direction of drastic change for the Oakland Raiders' secondary this offseason.

Hey, a whole article about the Raiders and we haven't even mentioned Nnamdi Asomugha.

Writer's Note: I thought I'd throw out their my perfect scenario for the safety position this offseason. Keep Huff, but move him to corner. He could replace CJ or be insurance if Nnamdi goes. Trade Branch for a draft pick, of course as high as possible. I love his talents but never saw him as a strong safety. He is a tweener who doesn't fit anywhere else due to his lack of instincts and ball skills.

M&M and SBrown starters, good night.

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