Since 1995, no less than 30 men have suited up in the Silver and Black as the last line of defense.
The revolving door of Raider safeties is so large that it stretches from the Coliseum in Los Angeles to the Coliseum in Oakland.
The 2008 season saw the unraveling yarn of the lineage of Raider safeties finally come to its core. Gibril Wilson was brought in from the world champion New York Giants and was expected to be a fixture at safety for the next six years. He lasted but one year having been released this off-season.
Wilson’s inabilities in pass coverage, combined with a vocal discontent for the front office, ultimately led to his departure. His counterparts faired no better. Michael Huff may never live up to his high draft status. The former Longhorn was benched less than half way through the season and hardly saw the field again. Tyvon Branch was drafted as a cornerback but was eventually moved to safety before seeing his rookie year cut short by injuries. Hiram Eugene has spent the past two seasons filling in, yet has never played well enough to be a full-time starter.
Now, the last line of defense is a gaping chasm. Sure, there are men on the roster who are listed as safeties, but history will tell you that their days as a Raider are numbered.
Since 1995, there is but one safety that has stood out as a true franchise caliber talent: Eric Turner.
Turner was a dynamic defensive back formed from the mold of past Raider greats to play his position. After attending UCLA, he was selected as the second pick in the 1991 draft by the Cleveland Browns. Turner became the highest ever drafted defensive back. In 1997 the Raiders brought the California native back home. Turner played just three seasons for the Raiders. His first season would be his lone full season as a Raider. In 1998, Turner took the field just six times yet still managed to intercept three balls, returning one 94 yards for a score. In 1999, he would play in just 10 games, the final 10 games of his career.
Tragically, Turner was privately battling cancer. To the shock and surprise of many, Eric Turner passed away at the young age of 31 on May 28th, 2000. Ever the warrior, he kept his suffering a secret, never discussing it with anyone other than his family.
The Raiders have tried most every approach to fill the void at safety.
They’ve gone with first round draft picks such as Patrick Bates, Derrick Gibson and Michael Huff. Each of the aforementioned was given the dubious label of “draft bust”, though Huff is still on the roster and could have one last chance in 2009 to prove his worth.
The Raider brass has tried going with veterans such as 34-year old Anthony Newman, 37-year old Rod Woodson and 38 year-old Albert Lewis.
Woodson is now in the Hall of Fame and was a member of the last Raider team to play in the Super Bowl. However, Woodson entered the Halls of Canton as a cornerback and not a safety and as a Steeler and not a Raider.
The rest of the group has been a hodgepodge of draft picks, veteran free agents and journeymen of the NFL. Derrick Hoskins, Lorenzo Lynch, Darren Carrington, James Trapp, Charles Mincy, Marquez Pope, Anthony Dorsett, Johnnie Harris, Marques Anderson, Ray Buchanan, Stuart Schweigert, Jarrod Cooper and Rashad Baker have all played the part but never truly fit the role.
Eddie Anderson was the last Raider safety to hold onto his job for more than three seasons. He was a fixture at free safety from 1990-1995.
With a new coaching staff in place, a locker room filled with harmony and a promising young roster, the 2009 edition of the Silver and Black has the look of a team on the verge of a breakout.
There are still holes to be filled on the roster and the draft is just around the corner.
Perhaps the Raiders will turn to the college ranks again to fill the safety positions. Maybe they will again invite a veteran into the fold. One could argue that there are some unknown talents on the current roster ready to step up.
One thing is for sure. It has been a long winding road for the Raider franchise and its last line of defense. If Tom Cable wants to prove his mettle as a miracle worker, then he’ll pull a rabbit out of his hat and develop a Hall of Fame safety to join past Raiders in Canton.
Then again, just getting this franchise back to the playoffs will be more than enough, but getting a full-timer at safety would be a nice treat as well.
Tags: Albert Lewis Anthony Dorsett Anthony Newman Charles Mincy Darren Carrington Derrick Gibson Derrick Hoskins Eddie Anderson Eric Turner Gibril Wilson Hiram Eugene James Trapp Jarrod Cooper Johnnie Harris Lorenzo Lynch Marques Anderson Marquez Pope Michael Huff Patrick Bates Rashad Baker Ray Buchanan Rod Woodson Stuart Schweigert Tom Cable Tyvon Branch