Oakland Raiders Preseason: Roster Cuts Are a Coach's Nightmare
Oakland Raiders' head coach Tom Cable has begun the most difficult job any coach faces—telling players they are not going to be on the team anymore.
I've been in a similar situation as a high school coach, but not with the same ramifications. The players I cut were not trying to feed their family with a job in football, and they were merely relegated to the junior varsity. They still had a chance to play and compete.
The stakes are much higher in this case, and I do not envy Cable one, little bit.
Several Raiders have already been cut. Fullback Chane Moline, wide receiver Paul Hubbard, offensive guard Allen Smith, and tight ends Tony Stewart and Eric Butler were all released earlier this week. However, this will not be the end of roster cuts.
There will be more. Many more—21 more to be precise.
Following the most recent cuts, there are currently 74 players listed on the Raiders' official website. The league requires that every team have only 53 players on the active roster when the regular season starts.
Some of the released players will be picked up by other teams, some will be signed to the eight man practice squad, and some will be out of work altogether.
Let's begin with some preliminaries...
1. The first cut date was Tuesday, August 31st and required teams to pare their rosters down to 75 players. The second is Saturday, September 4th at which time, teams will be required to meet the 53 player requirement.
2. In order for a player to be signed onto a team's practice squad, he must first be released and pass waivers. This means from the time he's cut, every team in the league has an opportunity to sign that player, beginning with the teams that have the worst record from the previous year—just like the draft.
3. If a player does clear waivers, the team that cut him can offer him a practice squad contract, not until.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, here is how I feel the roster will break down by position:
Offense—QB: 3, HB: 3, FB: 2, TE: 3, WR: 6, OT: 4, OG: 4, C: 2
Defense—DT: 4, DE: 4, MLB: 2, OLB: 4, CB: 5, SS: 2, FS: 2
Special Teams—K: 1, P: 1, Specialist (returner or gunner): 1
Now—let's get on with it...
There isn't much doubt who the starting and second string quarterbacks for the Raiders will be in 2010. Jason Campbell is the unquestioned starter and Bruce "Almighty" Gradkowski has the No. 2 spot.
The battle is for the third, and final signal caller job.
Kyle Boller has done an admirable job in "mop-up" duty in the preseason. Colt Brennan has seen very little action and has only attempted one pass in 2010—a 14 yard completion to fullback Marcel Reece.
At this point it appears as though the third string job is Boller's to lose, but that could change if Brennan is given more of an opportunity and does something spectacular with it.
I look for both Brennan and Boller to get significant playing time in the final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, and take this competition to a new level.
I feel like Brennan will have to drastically out perform Boller to steal the job away from him. Obviously, no one but Cable and the coaching staff really know for sure.
I guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Despite a broken thumb suffered against the 49ers, Michael Bush is still the unquestioned starter at halfback. Darren McFadden is the "1-B" back as he and Bush will likely create a "two-headed-monster" in the Raiders' backfield and share the bulk of the carries.
The question becomes, who will be the third and final halfback to make the roster?
At the moment it looks like Michael Bennett. He has played very well running the ball, catching the ball, and pass blocking—albeit late in the game against third and fourth string players. However, when given a chance against the opponent's starters, he was productive.
This will leave Rock Cartwright on the bubble. Cartwright is a versatile player that can line up at halfback or fullback, does a nice job in pass protection, and catches the ball fairly well. That said, he hasn't exactly set the world on fire, even when he was playing against inferior competition toward the end of games.
Cartwright will still have a chance to make the team as a returner or a fullback, but I'm not optimistic about his chances. If he fails to make the roster, he will almost certainly get picked up by another team.
Until Moline was cut, and Alex Daniels was moved back to defense, fullback was one of the most crowded positions on the team—it is still one of the most difficult to predict.
No one really knows for sure what type of player offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will want in his new offense. Does he need the receiver type guy, the hard-nosed blocker, or a balance of both?
Personally, I would take the balanced guy, but I'm not Jackson.
It seems to me that because Reece has been getting the bulk of the action in preseason, he's the front runner.
Reece is the receiving threat, but is seriously lacking in the blocking category. Tonga is the hard-nosed blocking specialist, but is only average as an offensive threat. Luke Lawton is the incumbent, appears to be the balanced one, but he'll be serving a suspension to start the year and won't help the team.
I don't expect to get this prediction correct, but if I had to venture a guess, I would say that Reece and Lawton will be retained, while Tonga will find himself on the waiver wire.
The tight end position is pretty cut-and-dried. Zach Miller is top dog, followed by Brandon Myers and John Owens.
The Raiders had Tony Stewart and Eric Butler in camp until recently, but now it's just the three I listed above.
Since I think the Raiders will keep three tight ends, there isn't much more to say as this position has already been settled.
After the top three spots, the wide receiver position has a lot of question marks.
Barring injury, Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy, and Darius Heyward-Bey all seem fairly secure. After that, it becomes a guessing game. Some receivers have played very well; others have been inconsistent at best.
Johnnie Lee-Higgins looks much better and more confident than last year. Nick Miller is back from injury and looks like a solid "Wes Welker" type player. Todd Watkins has made some good plays, but shows some consistency issues. Yamon Figurs looks greatly improved from last year, but also displays inconsistency.
It seems to me that the Raiders will keep Schilens, Murphy, Heyward-Bey, Higgins, Miller, and Figurs.
I realize that I haven't mentioned speedster Jacoby Ford. I don't see him having much of an impact in the offense, but he will no doubt get a slot available for a special teamer as a return specialist. This will allow him to remain on the team, be developed, and possibly make an impact later in the year or next season.
This will leave Shaun Bodiford and Todd Watkins on the waiver wire. I suspect if Watkins isn't signed by another team, the Raiders will put him on the practice squad.
This position has caused much debate within Raider Nation. Every fan has an opinion, and they are as varied as the people themselves.
Mario Henderson has been named the starter at left tackle, with returning Raider Langston Walker on the right side.
There were two offensive tackles taken in the draft that have shown some promise, but not necessarily at the tackle position.
Athletic anomaly Bruce Campbell was drafted as a tackle, but has been playing just as much at guard. Jared Veldheer was also drafted as a tackle, but has been getting most of his time at center.
Khalif Barnes was brought in last season to be the answer at left tackle but was injured and has not lived up to expectations. Erik Pears has been a backup his whole career, nothing more.
That's a total of six, which means that two will not be on the team when the season starts. It's evident that Henderson and Walker are going to be the starters.
Predicting who the backups will be is going to depend upon whether or not Veldheer and Campbell will be moved to new positions. If so, it could save Barnes or Pears from being cut.
I truly am at a loss on this, but my best guess is that Pears will be cut, Barnes and Campbell will be the backups, and Veldheer will be moved to center.
Just a stab in the dark though.
This position is a bit easier to predict than offensive tackle, but not much.
At this time, Robert Gallery is starting on the left, and Cooper Carlisle is on the right. Gallery isn't going anywhere, but Carlisle has proven to be a liability—especially in pass protection.
The problem is that the players that could be substituted for Carlisle are either rookies or unproven players. Bruce Campbell is a physical specimen, but has a lot to learn about playing guard—if the staff even decides to play him there.
That leaves Brandon Rodd and Darren Loper safely on the roster. It all boils down to whether or not Campbell is moved to guard permanently. If so, my money is on Rodd being the odd man out.
Again, just a guess.
Thus far in the preseason, the center position has been the weakest link on the offensive line. Samson Satele, Chris Morris, and Jared Veldheer have all gotten time at center.
Satele was supposed to be the long term answer, but hasn't lived up to expectations. Morris was supposed to be a backup at center and guard, and Veldheer was supposed to be a tackle. Alex Parsons is an undrafted free agent that showed promise at center and guard. It's a convoluted mess.
So far, the staff has shown a commitment to Satele. Therefore, if Veldheer is moved to center permanently, Morris will be the one that gets cut. If Veldheer stays a tackle, Morris will be safe. Regardless of how that turns out, Parsons is likely to be cut.
This is all just conjecture and guessing.
Defense end is one of the strongest and deepest position on the Raiders. Rookie sensation Lamarr Houston and fan favorite Matt Shaughnessy are the starters. However, there are some solid players backing these two up.
Jay Richardson is not spectacular, but he's steady. Greyson Gunheim hasn't shown much in his previous two seasons. Trevor Scott is still listed as a defensive end, but has been starting at outside linebacker.
If you add Quentin Groves and Kamerion Wimbely's ability to play end, you're left with a pretty versatile and deep crew at defensive end.
The starters will be Houston and Shaughnessy with Richardson and Gunheim being the backups. You may also see Scott, Wimbley, and Groves getting time there.
My gut feeling is that Groves will be the one to get cut if it comes down to it. He has yet to show an ability to play at the level the staff expected when they acquired him.
Once again, this is all speculation—nothing more.
There is no argument about the top two defensive tackles for 2010. Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly will be the starters.
Judging by who is getting the playing time in preseason, the backups should be Desmond Bryant and John Henderson.
That will leave Chris Cooper, William Joseph, and Kellen Heard to battle out for a spot on the practice squad. Due to the potential he has shown and his small price tag, my money is on Heard for that spot.
I would expect both Cooper and Joseph to be picked up by other teams before they clear waivers.
There's not a lot of debate about who should start at middle linebacker for the Raiders. Eighth overall pick Rolando McClain will be the man in the middle when the Raiders open the season in Tennessee.
The backups appear to be fairly clear cut too. Isaiah Ekejiuba and Kirk Morrison are no longer with the team. That leaves Ricky Brown and rookie Travis Goethel to compete for the No. 2 spot.
The odds are that Brown will win that battle and Goethel will be moved to the outside to challenge for a place on the team.
I don't really see either of these guys getting cut, but anything can happen.
Outside linebacker is proving to be a pretty tough position to predict. There are some really good players on the team that are all vying for what should be only four spots.
At the moment, Kamerion Wimbely and Trevor Scott have been getting the starts in the preseason. Thomas Howard, Sam Williams, Quentin Groves, Slade Norris, David Nixon, and Travis Goethel have also received playing time in this position.
I predict the four linebackers kept to play outside will be Wimbely, Scott, Howard, and Williams. That will leave Norris, Nixon, Groves, and Goethel to prove themselves as standout special teams players to earn a roster spot.
Goethel's ability to play inside or outside may give him the edge, but I wouldn't swear to it.
Cornerback is another position that appears to be cut and dried. Nnamdi Asomugha is one of the best, Chris Johnson has held his own and performed fairly well. These will likely be the starters come opening day.
The other three available spots will probably go to Stanford Routt, who appears to be much improved from last year, Walter McFadden, and Jeremy Ware.
Rookies McFadden and Ware have shown pretty well in camp and preseason and should find themselves on the team.
This will leave Joey Thomas and Joe Porter out in the cold when final cuts are made.
The free safety position has caused some uproar in Raider Nation recently. Michael Huff missed two tackles that resulted in huge gains for opposing running backs—the Bears' Matt Forte, and the 49ers' Frank Gore.
Huff is by far the best cover guy at free safety, but is a huge liability in run support. Mike Mitchell is a big-hitter that seems to struggle in coverage. Rookie Stevie Brown has proven to be a ball hawk with solid tackling skills. Hiram Eugen has shown deficiencies in all areas.
It appears that coach Cable and defensive coordinator John Marshall are committed to Huff being the starter. If that's the case, the battle will be between Mitchell, Brown and Eugene for the back up job.
I'd bet on Eugene being cut because Brown is more versatile and Mitchell is a much better tackler.
Strong safety is another of the more clear-cut positions for the Raiders. Tyvon Branch is the unquestioned starter. It's the competition for the backup job that gets interesting.
Mike Mitchell is a big hitter that struggles in coverage. Then there are Stevie Brown and Jerome Boyd who have both proven to be serviceable young players.
Whoever makes the team as a backup is going to have to prove to be an asset on special teams, because that is the only way they will get on the field. Branch is not coming out for anything but an injury.
I have a feeling that Mitchell will be retained. This will mean that Boyd and Brown will be forced to fight it out for a chance to be kept for their special teams prowess. I'd give Brown the edge in that category.
Obviously Shane Lechler and Sebastian Janikowski are going to be on the team. That leaves Swayze Waters to find another job. With the way he played in the preseason, Waters is bound to get a shot on another team. He's done himself very well both kicking and punting.
Now things get a little hairy. Many players that couldn't crack the roster at their position will be looking to make a home on special teams.
The list is long.
Jacoby Ford, Travis Goethel, Stevie Brown, Joey Thomas, Rock Cartwright, Joe Porter, Yamon Figurs, Shaun Bodiford, Slade Norris, David Nixon, Jerome Boyd, Rock Cartwright, Hiram Eugene, Quentin Groves, Manese Tonga, and Todd Watkins are the 16 non-linemen that will be competing for only one or two roster spots reserved for special teams aces.
That is the epitome of being "on the bubble."
And let's not forget Pro Bowl long snapper/linebacker Jon Condo. So many solid players—so little roster space.
Who makes it? Well, the smart money is on Ford, Goethel, Condo, or Brown, but only the coaching staff and Mr. Davis know for sure.
I know that there are some things I got wrong—okay, probably a lot of things. There is just no way to get much of this right, but I did what I could.
I think the one area that is the most difficult to get right is the number of players at each position the team will keep. Some teams carry seven wide receivers, some only six. There are teams that don't even have an actual fullback on the roster.
We just have to wait and see.
It's all just a guessing game—and this was my best guess. I tried to predict what the team will do, not what I would do if given the power to make the decisions.
So, what do you think? Where am I right? Where am I wrong? Who are the players I show being cut that you'd keep? Who are the ones that I think will make the roster that you would cut? Let me hear it in the comments.
Follow me at these great sites:
It's GameTyme Podcasts—Saturdays, 5 p.m. PDT and Sundays, 4 p.m. PDT