ALAMEDA -- Michael Huff had lunch last week with a guy who used to embody the Raiders secondary.Because with the Philadelphia Eagles on a bye, Nnamdi Asomuga found his way back to the Bay Area for a spell. And yes, the topic turned from food to football, from making the switch from safety to cornerback, from tackles to trash talk."He gave me a hard time about playing corner," Huff said. "It took him what, three years, four years to start feeling good (at) corner? It took me a few games so Ive got the edge."Huff was joking, of course, but there was a ring of sincerity in his boast. Remember, the Raiders drafted Asomugha out of Cal as a safety in 2003 before converting him into a shutdown corner who's been named to three Pro Bowls. Huff was thrown into the cornerback mix from free safety, where he was a second-team All-Pro in 2010, after the Raiders lost their two starting cornerbacks to injury in the team's first two games this season.Huff's learning curve has been helped and hindered by the fact that the Raiders play more than man-to-man press coverage now."He told me he was impressed," Huff said of Asomugha. "We dont have that (man) defense anymore. We dont just press and play man every snap, so his takes dont really apply right now."Huff was just getting rolling on his Asomugha rip."We allowed him to play man," Huff added. "He didnt have to think, he didnt have to do anything. Hell probably get mad when he sees this but he knows hes my guy."The jokes may have been on Asomugha, but the reality is that the Raiders' starting corners may be returning soon.Ron Bartell, out since suffering a fractured left shoulder blade in the season opener, has been on the ReserveInjured; Designated To Return list and is eligible to start practicing Saturday but cannot play until Nov. 11 at Baltimore. Shawntae Spencer, who sprained his right foot a week later at Miami, got out of his walking boot late last week.So does Huff go back to free safety, which has been manned by Matt Giordano since Huff moved to corner in Week 3 against Pittsburgh?"I have no idea," he said."It really doesnt matter. As long as Im on the field somewhere, playing, helping the defense, thats fine with me. Ron has, what, a couple more (weeks)he cant come until Baltimore? We've still got a little while, so I guess well worry about that when it comes."Besides, Huff, who had an interception at Atlanta while basically playing safety on the play, feels as though he's improving with every snap. He has 25 tackles with six passes defensed."I got better, made a few tackles at corner, some big tackles at corner," Huff said of his performance in Sunday's 26-23 overtime defeat of Jacksonville. "So thats what Ive been trying to do, work on my tackling a lot more out there. I had a couple of pass breakups, so Im definitely getting more comfortable out there now."
The Raiders were pretty darn good last season. A 12-4 record proved that point. There was plenty of talent on a team with a penchant for high-wire acts in victory that masked the fact there were holes on the roster.
They need to be filled for the Raiders to improve in 2017, and new players will be imported through free agency and the draft.
Left tackle Donald Penn is excited to see who gets added, but said there’s no doubt talent is coming to Oakland. He speaks for Raiders players, who have faith that general manager Reggie McKenzie will make the right moves.
“Things that Reggie has done in past drafts have been great, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he brings back towards us,” Penn said recently during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network. “We can’t wait to get back out there healthy. We’re ready to hit the football world with a storm.”
While new guys are coming, a few might head out. The Raiders have several unrestricted free agents. Penn wants to keep his guys around – he mentioned running back Latavius Murray by name -- though he has some ideas for McKenzie’s checklist.
The Raiders don’t need much with most key players under contract – the Raiders should be less active in free agency over past offseasons – but a few key components could put this team over the top.
“If we stick to Reggie’s plan, we’ll be great,” Penn said. “I know he’s going to have a great draft, add a couple little pieces here and there – maybe somebody in the secondary to help out a little bit.
"On offense, you could always use a weapon. Maybe we get another receiver to take (pressure off Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper), but we have a good nucleus right now.”
Derek Carr is on the mend. The Raiders franchise quarterback had surgery to repair his fibula shortly after he broke it in a Week 16 victory over Indianapolis, and is recovering well during the offseason.
Carr insisted on intense rehab this winter in an attempt – however unlikely it may have been – to return should the Raiders have played in the Super Bowl. It slowed to a normal pace after the Raiders' loss at Houston in the postseason’s opening round, but those in contact with him say he’s making strides.
Left tackle Donald Penn was recently in contact with Carr, and provided an update on Monday during an in-studio appearance on NFL Network.
“I texted Derek (a few) days ago checking in,” Penn said, “and he said he’s almost 100 percent.”
Surgically-repaired broken filbulas take significant time to heal, and the Raiders plan to be conservative with their MVP candidate during the offseason. Derek Carr’s brother and NFL Network analyst David Carr, who was on set with Penn on Monday, said Derek could be back for offseason work.
“He’s doing good,” David Carr said. “He’s walking around already, stretching it out. You can’t do a lot for the bone, right? But he’s going to be back. He’s going to get a whole full offseason in. That’s going to be the best part.”