JaMarcus is making progress

Final Thoughts on Raider OTAs

The OTAs have come and gone. Now, we’re all just waiting until training camp starts in July for our next serious Raider fix.

Here are a few of my takes on what has transpired during the OTAs.

JaMarcus Russell’s progress - Depending on who you ask, Russell either looked like he was taking one giant step towards Ryan Leaf status or he was slowly progressing into the team leader Tom Cable challenged him to be. There is not a more galvanizing member of the Raiders than JaMarcus. Either you believe Jeff Garcia was brought in to mentor Russell or to take his job. I don’t want to go Allen Iverson and belittle practice, but Russell looked great at the end of last season and if he had a couple bad practices in May (while learning yet another offense), so what? According to most reports, he looked better in the last few OTAs and he’s supposedly going to be holding private practices with his receivers between now and training camp.

My take: JaMarcus is young; he’s going to make mistakes, Raider fans have to be patient, the guy turns 24 in a few months. He has been at every OTA (only missing a couple days with an excused absence) and he’s doing all the right things. Even if Cable is forcing him to act like a franchise QB at least he’s buying-in and not throwing a Jay Cutler fit.

Darrius Heyward- Bey’s hamstring – He was the talk of the draft and he’s since done little to dispel the early “bust” talk. DHB has missed his share of the offseason workouts with a tight hammy and he notoriously dropped three straight passes before the first time his hamstring flared up. It is way too early to start the “I told ya so” anthem. We all knew that DHB was going to be a project. He got a taste of the NFL when Nnamdi Asomugha showed up and locked him down so Darrius knows he has work to do. Known as hard worker at Mayrland, Heyward-Bey should bounce back strong come July…that is if he’s under contract.

My take: I can’t pretend that it is not little troublesome that he seems to already have a nagging injury. Last thing we want is to see our top pick spend the season slowed by injuries ala Darren McFadden in ’08. At the same time, DHB is not under contract and the Raiders have yet to even contact his agent. Cable and company could just be protecting their investment by having him sit. Again, you’ll have to give this kid time. There really isn’t any reason to panic at this point.

Michael Mitchell and the rest of the safeties – The most infamous pick of the ’09 draft didn’t participate in many of the OTAs due to NFL rules (he was still in school in Ohio). When Mitchell did show up it was reported that one of the coaches had to tell him to tone it down a little in practice. Tyvon Branch and Hiram Eugene played with the first team most often while Michael Huff was a no-show at the last OTA. Huff looks all but done leaving the door wide open for Mitchell.

My take: No telling how Mitchell will react once he gets his first taste of the NFL in a actual game but I’ve got to admit his highlight reel combined with his “let me at ‘em” attitude in an OTA has me fired up. Perhaps he’ll be no better than Gibril Wilson in pass coverage but I don’t think its coincidence that Brandon Marshall wants out of the AFC West now that he knows there’s a hitter waiting for him in Oakland.

Blitzes!!!! – That’s right! John Marshall is using his defense to occasionally blitz and put pressure on the QB. Was this just show for May and June?

My take: When Cable said the defense wouldn’t be much different than last year, I cringed. When I heard that Marshall was blitzing in OTAs, I cheered. If he can keep Tommy Kelly from jumping offsides, I’ll be on board with Marshall. For now, this is a good sign that he’s shaking things up a little, even if its doing something as obvious as blitzing.

What to do with Javon Walker? – He was the worst free agent signing of ’08 and now he’s looking like a bigger waste of space than Euro Disney. Walker had a secret knee surgery this offseason and did not participate in a single OTA. He restructured his deal because he knew it was the only way he’d still be collecting an NFL check.

My take: The time has come to end this debacle. Cut Walker and just pony up whatever he’s owed. Chaz Schilens has looked great and he’s poised to breakout. Walker is a veteran but he’s not the mentoring type. I say drop Javon and bring in Bay Area Native Amani Toomer to work with Johnnie Lee Higgins, Schilens, DHB and Louis Murphy.

One final thought on Russell and Jeff Garcia – This is the biggest hot button issue of the offseason. To me, there is no quarterback controversy. The Raiders drafted DHB and are opening the playbook in order to bring back the vertical passing game. Garcia might be more “ready-to-play” but he’s not the thrower you want in a vertical game. He’s gone out of his way to let the world know he doesn’t want to be a mentor and he was a no show at a few of the sessions. Russell has been putting in the work, he’s giving the company lines and he’s stayed around the facility this offseason.

My final take: Even if Garcia looked better in OTAs, he still has not done enough to earn any consideration for the starting job. If JaMarcus looks like Rex Grossman or Matt Leinart in the preseason we’ll revisit this, until then, this Russell’s team and he should be given every chance despite a few bad throws in May.

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Tags: Allen Iverson Amani Toomer Brandon Marshall Chaz Schilens Darren McFadden Darrius Heyward-Bey Gibril Wilson Hiram Eugene JaMarcus Russell Javon Walker Jay Cutler Jeff Garcia John Marshall Johnnie Lee Higgins Louis Murphy Matt Leinart Michael Huff Michael Mitchell Nnamdi Asomugha Rex Grossman Ryan Leaf Tom Cable Tommy Kelly Tyvon Branch

  • JSpicoli

    Good idea about Toomer and Walker, although, I’d like to see Walker put in a preseason of games and see what he can do. I guess I’m hoping the Raiders are not done looking at Javon.

    Russell looked like he was becoming more solid towards the end of the season, and a few times earlier. For his age and experience, he actually was not the turn over machine he could have been. They kept him under wraps, with good reason, for most of the season, but when JRuss got his chance he held his own. Stats were neg effected cuz we ran and we had no WR’s or O-line. We need QB protection, and added to the O-line, and FB positions He and Higgins have a ‘thang, and with Miller already there, look for JRuss to take off this year. Fingers crossed.

  • JSpicoli

    If I played Fantasy, I would take Higgins in a late round just in case. Tuck that away.


    I too would like to see what Walker has in him.

    I can’t get that Jets game out of my head.

    5 catches for 75 yards and 1 TD.

    If we can get that from him for more than one game, it would be nice.

  • drummer1279

    Nice article, and for the most part I’m in agreement. But I think the RB trio of McFadden, Bush and Fargas, should have been thrown in there. Also the addition of FB Lorenzo Neal, which I think will have a huge impact on the entire offensive side of the ball.

    Also the signing of DE Ellis, DE Scott making a big impression, resigning key players in Asumougha and Shane Lechtler. Sands actually losing some weight. (Hopefully he can move this year, and fill some gaps.) F. Joseph could be an interesting signing, and could contribute down the road, in both special team’s and coverage.

    DHB should be fine. He probably won’t put up big numbers, but he should serve his purpose of stretching the field for the shorter routes, and creating holes for the running game. Crabtree may have been the best reciever (time will tell), but DHB did fit the Raiders system better. Also I don’t think Crabtree wanted to be in Oakland anyway, and the Raiders knew that. They had their reason’s for picking DHB. Also, DHB is good at blocking something Crabtree doesn’t excel in.

    Mitchell, I think will become a beast, eventually. As you mentioned, he missed time because of college rules not allowing him to play until school was done, June 12th. He missed the vast majority of Raider OTA’s because of this. He’s a little behind on playing time, but he should see some time on the field this year, and it will certainatly be interesting to see.

    As for Walker, the Raiders are really stuck with him this year. They basically would take such a large hit on the salary cap, that it’s better to have him around as a backup if needed. So if they cut him, they gain no salary cap room, and have to use additional salary cap room for a new reciever to replace him. That pretty much rules out a veteran reciever such as Armani Toomer. And really can an ultra cheap released/undrafed WR be better than Walker? OK……. I may be wrong on that one, but I think you get the drift.

    And to Russell, he’ll be a good QB this year. He probably won’t put up stellar numbers, but they should be improved with this being his third year, essentially his second as a starter. And in his first 16 start’s he actually had respecatable stats, despite everyone’s rush to label him a “Bust”. New additions to the OL should help, and atleast create some competition, not to mention much needed depth.

    The Raiders have most of the pieces to put it together this year. A decent QB, A dangerous trio of RB’s, a better WR core, an impressive LB/CB group. Hopefully a better OL, and a DL Ellis, Burgess (If he isn’t traded), a few draft picks, and solid play from Scott and Richardson. The defense could improve. I can’t wait for Sept.

  • Chris Shellcroft

    Great comment Drummer!

    I stayed away from saying much about the running backs simply because there is not too much work done with the running game in OTAs w/o pads on.

    I’ll be all over the running game in the coming weeks as we get ready for the start of training camp.

    The trenches will be the biggest focus as well with the arrivals of Ellis on “D” and Barnes and Satele on “O”.

  • Chris Shellcroft

    Good call Spicoli,

    Higgins and Schilens could both be fantasy sleepers in ’09.