Season review -- Raiders DBs


Season review -- Raiders DBs

Sure, the loss of All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was going to hurt. How could it not? But the Raiders believed enough in Stanford Routt and another pair of drafted cornerbacks that they thought they could get by. Instead, opposing offensive coordinators and their quarterbacks had field days against Oakland's secondary. Consider: the Raiders had the 27th-ranked pass defense, giving up 251.4 yards per game through the air. They also gave up a mind-numbing 31 touchdown passes. Only Minnesota surrendered more (34). The Raiders gave up 58 passes of 20-yards-or more, 11 of 40-yards-or-more and opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of 81.3, which was only 22nd worst in the NFL. Still, the secondary was banged up all season, contributing to the free fall. A lack of depth also hurt.
Grade: F

SECONDARYStanford Routt -- Many fans scratched their heads when Routt was given a three-year, 31.5-million contract, with 20 million guaranteed. Would that not have been a good offer to at least throw at Asomugha? Then, after re-working the deal to clear some cap space, Routt had a five-year, 54.5-million contract, with the same 20 million guaranteed. Yes, that's No. 1 cornerback money. But did Routt perform like a No. 1 cornerback in his first season without Asomugha on the other side of the field? In 2009, Routt allowed opponents to complete 65.9 percent of their passes thrown at him. In 2010, it dropped to 39.4 percent. This past season -- 47.4 percent while giving up eight touchdowns. Plus, he was the most penalized player in the NFL, getting flagged 17 times, including nine in the last three games. So while he started strong, things came unraveled at the end. Not only for him and the secondary, but the entire defense as a unit. Routt did, however, have a career-high four interceptions.Lito Sheppard -- The two-time Pro Bowler and former All-Pro had seen better days. One of the last players cut by the Raiders in the exhibition season, Sheppard was re-signed on Oct. 31 -- it marked his fourth team in four years -- and started seven of the nine games in which he appeared. He would have a highlight moment here and there but the 5-foot-9 cornerback was victimized by San Diego's tall wideouts in the season finale. For the season, Sheppard had a 58.8 percent burn rate and gave up a touchdown.DeMarcus Van Dyke -- Oakland had high hopes for the lithe Van Dyke, the fastest player at the Combine, in drafting him out of Miami in the third round. Listed generously at 180 pounds, the rookie had trouble with the bigger, more physical receivers in the league. Which is to say, most of them. His lone interception came against Matt Cassel in the Raiders' 28-0 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 23. Van Dyke surrendered one TD and had a burn rate of 43.8.Michael Huff -- Coming off a season in which Huff was named second-team All-Pro, Huff cashed in at the bank quite nicely, thank you very much. The free safety inked a four-year, 32-million contract in camp, with 16 million paid up front. His body, though, betrayed him. Having never missed a game in his five-year career, Huff missed four in 2011 with an assortment of ankle and hamstring injuries. He did not have a sack for the first time since 2008, his two interceptions were his fewest in three years, as were his 38 tackles. Huff was charged with giving up two TDs and a 55.3 percent burn rate. There have been rumblings of moving him to cornerback opposite Routt.Tyvon Branch -- A seeming bright spot in the secondary, Branch was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl after a breakthrough season. He again led the Raiders in tackles, with 109, and his end-zone interception of the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez in Oakland's home opener was a thing of beauty. The strong safety's coverage skills also seemed to improve, even as he had a burn rate of 55.7 percent, while being charged with five TDs. He is a free agent and, along with running back Michael Bush, is the Raiders' top priority in re-signing for the 2012 season and a new coach.Mike Mitchell -- After a breakthrough sophomore season in which he was seemingly on the chopping block at the beginning of the year, Mitchell hurt a knee in camp and did not play until Week 4. And while he maintained a certain level of being an emotional leader, the safety-who-sometimes-doubles-as-a-linebacker struggled through an injury-marred season. He had 31 tackles in 13 games with an interception of Aaron Rodgers. His burn rate was 34.6 percent, and he gave up a pair of touchdowns.Matt Giordano -- One of the last players cut in camp, Giordano was back two days later and immediately made his presence felt in the season opener at Denver with a sideline interception. What the safety might have lacked in tackling skills he made up for as a ballhawk. His career-high five interceptions led the Raiders. And his 70 tackles were also a career high and were third-most on the team. The seven-year vet will also be a free agent. He had a 42.5 percent burn rate and gave up three TDs.Jerome Boyd -- Practice squad veteran who went back and forth this past season. Perhaps the safety's most memorable "contribution" was mistakenly running off the field in the final seconds at Houston on Oct. 9, leaving the Raiders with only 10 men on defense. No matter, Huff picked off Texans QB Matt Schaub in the end zone to seal the win the day after owner Al Davis died. Boyd had a 54.5 percent burn rate while giving up three TDs.Chris Johnson -- Endured injury -- he underwent a procedure in training camp and an ensuing infection kept him out of action for seven weeks in the middle of the season -- and personal tragedy -- his sister was shot to death and his mother wounded in Texas. Johnson was active for only five games before being placed on the season-ending ReserveNon-Football Illness list on Dec. 17. He had a 71.4 percent burn rate and gave up a TD in Buffalo that went right through his hands that, had it been intercepted, would have essentially sealed the win for the Raiders. The cornerback is still owed 3.5 million in 2012.Chimdi Chekwa -- Promising fourth-round draft pick dislocated his shoulder on the first day of padded practice in camp and was then shuffled between cornerback and safety before a hamstring injury ended his season. He was put on IR on Nov. 17 after appearing in four games and starting one. He was targeted 14 times and gave up nine completions, including a touchdown. He later underwent shoulder surgery.Hiram Eugene -- Remember him? The unsung safety signed a four-year, 10.25-million contract in the offseason only to suffer a season-ending hip injury in Oakland's first exhibition game. His injury occurred after the Raiders messed up the opening coin flip, saying they would "kick off" rather than defer. So they kicked off twice, and it was on the second kick off that Eugene's season came to an end. His absence on special teams was especially felt.

Practice report: Conley locking in mentally while rehabbing injury


Practice report: Conley locking in mentally while rehabbing injury

NAPA – Gareon Conley ran Sunday for the first time in two months. The Raiders first-round cornerback remains on the physically unable to perform list with a shin injury originally suffered during a June minicamp. He wants to get back on the field. He just isn’t ready yet.

Missing training camp certainly sets back a dynamic cover man, but it doesn’t mean Conley can’t make an instant impact. While he hasn’t been seen on the practice field, the Raiders have been encouraged that Conley’s proving a quick learner and an inquisitive mind.

“We’d love to have him out there right now,” Raiders assistant head coach – defense John Pagano said. “When he’s out there, he’ll be out there. Until then, I think he got the reps he needed in OTAs. His mental game has picked up tremendously. He’s always asking questions, even more. It’s hard for a lot of injured players in this league to stand there on the sidelines and be able to just watch and look out there, but he’s always asking. He’s getting those mental reps.

"When he’s able to come back, he’ll be at a fast level. Injuries are part of the game, you deal with it and you just have to make sure, as a rookie, you’re taking those mental reps.”

Conley has been on the practice field with his position group most days, with a play sheet in hand to follow along. He has also lifted weights the past two days and worked on the JUGS machine Wednesday.

Nearly a month remains until the regular season starts, leaving Conley time to get back in the mix.


-- Cornerback Sean Smith took some reps with the first unit on Wednesday, though most of them came as an outside corner in the nickel package. TJ Carrie slid inside in those instances, and generally remained outside in the base defense.

Smith had his second straight quality practice, a sign he might be rebounding after a rough week where he practiced with the second unit and didn’t fare well at Arizona. The Raiders hope he can build on good work and be steadier in coverage.

“I think he’s growing every day,” Pagano said. “There’s always highs and lows in this game. You don’t want to make it, as we term, inconsistent. We’re always looking for the consistency. It’s how you build. It’s how you learn. It’s how you come off those things. There’s always room for improvement in the backend, in the front, all across our defense. There’s guys we’re asking them to go out there and make plays. Has he been improving at practice? Yeah. Then our job is to take that practice stuff and take it to the game field and have that consistency and that carry over to those types of games.”

-- Offensive line coach Mike Tice praised Ian Silberman’s play in a position switch to center. He has seen extensive reps there in camp, including a massive amount in the preseason opener at Arizona. Silberman will play some left guard in coming weeks to establish versatility and give him a shot to make the team.

-- Undrafted rookie Nicholas Morrow played with the first unit in sub packages, as the Raiders continue searching for coverage options in those personnel groups.

-- Jon Feliciano worked with the first unit on Wednesday at left guard. He will be a primary backup at every interior line spot. He is working back from a knee injury that kept him out until last week.

Tice finds silver lining on Raiders' offensive line as Penn's holdout drags on


Tice finds silver lining on Raiders' offensive line as Penn's holdout drags on

NAPA – Donald Penn won’t step foot in the Napa Valley Marriott this year. Unless something truly shocking happens, the Raiders will break training camp Thursday afternoon without seeing the Pro Bowl left tackle on the practice field.

Penn wants a new contract, one worth more than the $5.8 million base salary he was scheduled to make under his current deal. Penn has outperformed that pact, and is willing to wait for a new one.

It’s been 20 days with no movement.

That has forced offensive line coach Mike Tice to make other plans. He has to move on with the players he had in camp, even with the virtual certainty Penn will return before the regular season starts.

Marshall Newhouse is the Raiders left tackle. Vadal Alexander is on the right. That’s who Tice has to work with. He has to prep them for the regular season opener Sept. 10.

“Where I’m at right now is I have to get us ready to go out and beat Tennessee,” Tice said after Wednesday’s practice. “So right now, I have Marshall on the left and I have Vadal on the right and I have David doing a little bit more each day, playing both sides. That’s what we have. I can’t sit here and wonder when DP is going to come back. Right now I’ve moved forward with Marshall is on the left and Vadal is on the right and David is swinging.

"That’s reality right now. I can’t think that there’s going to be something else there until it’s there.”

When Penn eventually shows up to work at the Raiders complex in Alameda, Tice will add him to the mix. The Raiders have now had plenty of time to prepare for an instance in which their Pro Bowl tackle is not physically able to perform. 

“Injuries happen during the season and you have to have a plan to have a player ready to play at each position and sometimes multiple players ready at the same position,” Tice said. “With Donald not here yet, we’re able to have Marshall over there. He’s done a nice job. He’s gotten better. The challenge you have with a veteran guy that comes in, he’s been coached by other coaches to do things a different way and it takes time for a veteran to learn the ways to do things the way that we want to do them as Raiders. That’s probably the biggest challenge.”

Penn isn’t the only offensive lineman to miss time. David Sharpe and Jylan Ware have missed some time with injury. Kelechi Osemele has taken some time off this camp. Jon Feliciano only returned from the physically unable to perform list last week. Tice has mixed and matched just to get through practice.

“We’ve had some days where we’ve had to make it happen with 10 or 11,” Tice said. “When you have that, you get the ability, you have the ability, you have the opportunity to develop your depth. In the long run, it’s actually a good thing.”