Through all the rumors and speculation throughout the offseason about who the team will keep this season and why. Correctly picking every player who would make the team is about as difficult as picking the winner the NCAA mens basketball tournament.
So many factors come into play. How many players at each position will they keep? Do the team’s evaluations put more emphasis on game performance or practice? What scheme will they be running (ie 4-3 or 3-4 defense or both)? And several other factors that can change from one day to the next.
So what did we learn about the team’s plans based on who they kept? Let me see…
Not much was learned from the quarterback position really. We all pretty much knew that Jason Campbell was going to start. There was a couple weeks there where everyone wondered if Kyle Boller was going to push Bruce Gradkowski for the primary backup spot. This was due to Gradkowski being injured and Boller playing quite well in his absense. But when Gradkowski returned, he was back in fine form, leading some to believe he should retain his starting position from last season. But unless Campbell plays truly terrible or gets injured, that is how the depth chart will stay. Charlie Frye was in the mix until he hurt his wrist and landed on IR. Truth be told, that wrist injury was, in some ways, a good thing for Frye because otherwise he would have simply been cut.
Colt Brennan ended up being the lone cut among the group. The cut was expected when you consider he came into camp late after the injury to Frye and the Raiders played him all of one series in the entire preseason. He really had no shot at making the team which is a shame. However, because of previous injuries, he has never been on a regular season roster so he is eligible for the practice squad. The question ends up being whether he would accept the offer or decline and opt for playing in the UFL or CFL instead. And of course there is the possibility that another team will swipe him up on the waiver wire. We will find out in the coming days.
The shocker came at the receiver position where the Raiders kept not five, not six, but seven receivers. The only receivers actually cut were Paul Hubbard (earlier cut down), Shawn Bodiford, and Todd Watkins. There was a time in which it seemed up in the air as to who would get the axe between Watkins, Jonnie Lee Higgins, Nick Miller, and Yamon Figurs. And the thinking was that it would likely be two of them. But in the end, Figurs, Higgins, and Miller just became too valuable to let go. The other receivers that were retained were expected (Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens, Jacoby Ford, Louis Murphy).
The thinking behind keeping seven receivers is the fact that four of them are capable kick and punt returners. To start out with, the duties will most likely go to Figurs and Ford. Higgins and Miller have shown more value as receivers but they too could jump into return duties at any time.
The Raiders also kept more running backs than is typical. But that is more due to the inury to Michael Bush than anything. Keeping both Michael Bennett and Rock Cartwright is also due to how well they both played in the preseason– they earned the right to stay. The drawback to keeping both was that the team kept just one fullback.
Luke Lawton does not count against the roster due to his two game suspension to start the season and it remains to be seen if he will be brought back even then. Manase Tonga held the edge on who would back up Marcel Reece at fullback but in the end Tonga was a sacrifice. I have a feeling that he will be placed on the practice squad and as soon as Bush is healthy, he will be signed to the active roster. At which point the team may have to either cut Bennett or Cartwright.
Fullback is not the only position that is thin though. Tight end, a position at which a team normally carries three players, is now down to just Zach Miller and Brandon Myers. The team released Tony Stewart among the first cutdowns and let John Owens go in the final cuts. This could mean that they have their eye on the waiver wire for a find or they plan on adding more extra tackle plays to free the tightends as receivers instead of blockers. We will know the answer to this very shortly.
In the battle for who will be the primary backups on the offensive line, LG Daniel Loper, RT Erik Pears and LT Khalif Barnes won. They will join rookie Bruce Campbell as the backup at right guard and center Samson Satele, who has been replaced as the starter in favor of rookie Jared Veldheer. Former backup center Chris Morris was released due to poor play and simply being the odd man out at center. Morris can also play guard but he was outplayed by Loper at the position.
The defensive line was a mystery basically because we all just assumed the Raiders would keep two players at each defensive line position. But as it turns out, they only kept two defensive ends total. Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy are the only defensive ends on the roster. Richard Seymour was a defensive end in the Patriots 3-4 but he is a DT in the Raiders 4-3… that is if they play the 4-3. And there’s the catch.
Kamerion Wimbley, Trevor Scott, and Quentin Groves all play hybrid DE/OLB which is what is needed in the 3-4 scheme. And since the team kept seven linebackers, that means the Raiders will be showing a lot of 3-4 looks this season. This is really good news because it means that the defense will be able to mix it up a lot more often and be far less predictible. Much harder to plan for a team that switches back and forth from 4-3 to 3-4 or even 5-2 on occasion.
The one surprising move as far as I see was cutting Slade Norris, who was having a great camp as a linebacker and on special teams, and keeping Sam Williams. Every year we all think Williams’ scholarship will finally be up, and every year, there he is again. Although with there being so many linebackers on the squad, I gotta believe he would be one of the first to go if the team needed to cut someone else. But then again, I am wrong every year about him.
The Raiders were faced with quite a dillema at the safety position. Mainly because they had too many good safeties to choose from. Tyvon Branch is clearly the best of the bunch but Michael Huff, Mike Mitchell, Hiram Eugene, Jerome Boyd, and Stevie Brown have all been worthy of a roster spot. There were rumors prior to Saturday that the Raiders were shopping Huff and/or Mitchell in a trade. I was not surprised by these rumors simply because it is better to get something back in return than to have to cut good players. Although, there were reports that surfaced that the Raider coaches were prepared to cut Mitchell but were not allowed to do so by Al Davis. The one player of this group that I thought was surely gone was Hiram Eugene. It seems to me that he had been outplayed by Boyd and Brown. But, like Sam Williams, Eugene stuck around as he had in years passed.
Initially Boyd was the only cut among the safety group which left five. Normally teams only keep four safeties and we found out shortly thereafter that rookie 7th round pick, Stevie Brown, was the final casualty. His release was surprising to many because he came up with a big play in nearly every game this preseason. How he was cut in favor of Eugene is beyond me. Eugene has always been considered valuable on special teams so that has to be the reason. Both Boyd and Brown are eligible for the practice squad and I expect them to be offered a spot.
There were no surprises among the corners with Asomugha, Routt and CJ being joined by rookies Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden. The lone cuts at the position were Joey Thomas and Joe Porter– neither of whom were expected to make the team. The only question to be answered is if Chris Johnson remains the starter. I think he will be given the chance to keep his job but he is on a short leash with Routt breathing down his neck. Both Ware and McFadden had great camps and will offer some great depth the Raiders’ secondary has not had much of in recent years.