Raiders Defensive Players I Just Can’t Defend
By Jordan Trask
The 2014 Oakland Raiders have been an interesting story this offseason. After apparently overpaying for declining players, Reggie McKenzie is beginning to receive scrutiny for a majority of the Raiders on the roster. Although I feel like a majority of The Only Nation is overreacting, there are a few defensive players that seem to be underachieving, in my opinion. Whether it’s due to the scheme or age, it really doesn’t matter. Just as my intention was when writing about offensive players that were offending me, I hope this discussion lights a fire under some of Oakland’s lackluster defensive players. As of right now, I cannot defend this type of play.
Jun 17, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie at minicamp at Raiders Practice Facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for Reggie to cut or trade anyone, or that these players are busts or too old to produce. I’m simply seeking improvement. It’s only the 3rd week of the preseason and you can’t forget the fact Oakland overhauled their whole defense. Anticipating preseason domination is full-fledged ignorance. Some of you trolls need to take a deep breath, drink some sleepy-time tea, locate your pacifier, and snuggle your Bo Jackson bobble head until the regular season begins. In the meantime, it’s probably best that you remove NFL network from your routine channel surfing sessions.
Analyzing the Raiders isn’t an easy thing to do. Over the last decade, The Only Nation has tried to pinpoint the reasons behind losing seasons. We all have our opinion whether it’s coaches, players, referees, or Al Davis. Either way, it really doesn’t matter.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for Reggie to cut or trade anyone, or that these players are busts or too old to produce. I’m simply seeking improvement. It’s only the 3rd week of the preseason and we can’t forget the fact Oakland overhauled their whole defense.”
The fact of the matter is, we are close to fielding a legitimate team. Now that we’ve corralled a decent group of players to the black hole, it’s time to let accountability take it’s coarse while discontinuing the excuses and anger correlated with the Team of the Decades.
I remember 1997 like it was yesterday. I vividly remember watching a savvy 2-way player from my favorite college football team win the Heisman Trophy as a defensive back for the first time. After joining my favorite franchise, he solidified my connection to The Only Nation and went on to earn defensive rookie of the year honors in 1998. As Charles Woodson hailed to the victors with a rose in his mouth, I wonder if he ever envisioned playing in the NFL for 17 seasons.
August 15, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders free safety Charles Woodson (24) defends against the Detroit Lions during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Darrell Green was able to play 20 years in the NFL, but he was also known as being the faster player in the league.
Charles is, and has been my favorite player since being selected the Big Ten freshman of the year in 1995. His pure coverage skills, confidence, and tackling ability has already deemed him a future lock in Canton, Ohio. Unfortunately, I have noticed a lost-step from Woodson during Oakland’s first few football contests of 2014, and it’s begun to concern me defensively.
Against the Vikings, our pass defense was embarrassing. Not only did it seem like their wide receivers were always open, it also seemed like we lacked the ability to tackle them. Raiders defensive backs are trying to grab and dive instead of shuffling their feet and delivering a blow. Leverage and delivery is what makes Seattle’s safeties so effective.
Charles Woodson missed a few key tackles against the Vikings and they turned into big gains. In Oxnard, he struggled when defending Jason Witten, and tried too hard to make an interception by jumping routes instead of doing his job. During the Lions game, the middle of the field wasn’t patrolled and it looked like Oakland back-end players were guessing. I understand that Charles isn’t as quick as he used to be, but if you’re counting on your safety to fill the run lanes, then Jason Tarver may want to experiment with other packages. I hate doing this to a player that I have followed for most of my life, but our defense needs to be more disciplined moving forward and it starts with our safety valves.
It’s easy to transition to this next player, as he’s drastically changed my perception of him since reading his scouting report in April. After watching his highlight tape and interpreting the draft analysis of Jonathan Dowling, I assumed his presence would be felt from day 1. I assumed wrong.
August 12th, 2014 Oxnard, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders safety Jonathan Dowling (41) at organized team activities at the Cowboy’s training camp facilities. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Trask – Danielle Jacqueline Photography.
Although he has had a few interceptions in practice, Dowling has yet to solidify himself as an aggressive NFL safety. A player that is proud of his vocality has let his actions speak louder than his words. The problem is, there hasn’t been much to talk about. Yes, he’s a rookie and the season is still young, but I expect better tackling from a player that was touted a fierce hitter with a nose for the football.
He does posses above average ball skills, but any 6’3″ player should excel in this area when compared to players of less stature. The Oakland Raiders are an organization known for it’s physical defensive backs and sure-tackling safeties. Reggie didn’t draft Dowling to become an arrogant ball hawk, he signed him to become a middle of the field defender that causes pass catchers to keep their head on a swivel. So far, I’ve seen a timid player that seems unsure of his ability. How can we expect improvement from our secondary when he’s playing like a skinny Michael Huff?
The next player is another rookie I’ve had high expectations for. Since injuring himself during the condition test in Napa, Keith McGill has failed to leave any of us with a solid first impression. He was one of the few cornerbacks in this year’s draft class that were labelled the new-age successors to the legion of boom. Although no one anticipates a team creating a lethal secondary similar to Seattle’s any time soon, McGill is a big, athletic specimen that fits the bill.
Jun 10, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback Keith McGill (39) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
As Dennis Allen continues his coaching career without a true shutdown corner, McGill begins his career with an opportunity that his fellow rookie teammate, TJ Carrie, is taking advantage of instead. Although I haven’t seen complete disaster regarding the play of #39, I haven’t seen anything that’s convinced me he’s an NFL starter. McGill possess a unique skill set that can eventually set him apart from other corners in his draft class, but his hesitation reminds me of the #12 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
At his age, McGill should exuberate a higher confidence level while providing physicality. He isn’t showcasing these traits and in order for me to fully evaluate him, he needs to improve in these areas. Once he settles down and knows his job, we can only hope his athleticism takes over.
Like DJ Hayden, McGill is a question mark, but his upside could end up turning a frown upside down. In the meantime, don’t get defensive because the Raiders need you to get better.
The next player is involved in a defensive position battle that has been frequently advertised. Coming off a knee injury in 2013, Miles Burris has found himself back in the mix for a starting role at outside linebacker for the Oakland Raiders. A 4th round draft choice in 2012, Burris has been better than most expected. After lining up next to overrated linebackers Rolando McClain and Phillip Wheeler in 2012, Burris has an opportunity to overachieve in 2014. The problem is, he over runs too many plays.
Dec 16, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Miles Burris (56) tries to shoo away a pigeon during the second quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
I love his physicality and effort, but too often he takes himself out of plays. When compared to Sio Moore’s level of play, he is noticeably inferior. For a player coming out of a smaller school, Miles Burris possesses incredible athleticism. At 6’2″, Burris reportedly ran a low 4.5 second 4o this offseason. Along with his size and speed, he put up 31 bench reps at the combine while posting a 37.5″ vertical. Don’t get me wrong, this guy has the tools to be a great player, but he needs his instincts to catch up with his reads. He struggles in coverage because he lacks a feel for where pass catchers are going to be. Oakland’s run defense hasn’t been a problem as of late. Burris’ pass coverage is an area that needs to see improvement if he plans on starting for the Raiders in 2014.
Going into his 3rd year, it seems like Burris is still waiting on the NFL game to slow down and I’m concerned if it ever will. Consistency is key in this league and hopefully he can bounce back from a devastating 2013.
Jun 10, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown (23) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The last exhale pertains to a tandem that started playing together prior to the 2014 NFL year. Not only have the cornerback additions of Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers been scrutinized by the media, they’ve also caused members of The Only Nation to scratch their skull and crossbones.
To me, these additions were strictly reinforcements as the draft was supposed to provide Oakland’s secondary of the future. As Mack dropped to #5, and Carr was available in the 2nd round, the Raiders re routed their targets and took the best players available.
May 27, 2014; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
This left Oakland with 2 veteran cornerbacks that were supposed to designated to nickel packages. Although I think Tarell Brown did a nice job covering Cordarrelle Patterson in week 1 of the preseason, his tackling is terrible. Carlos Rogers has shown superior tackling ability for a corner, but his speed and quickness has slowed over the years. His coverage is not up to par with NFL wide receivers.
I don’t think either of these guys were anticipated saviors, but more-so mentors for the young corners with potential on the roster. If Hayden dodges the PUP list, Carrie continues working, and McGill erases his doubts, our secondary can be special. But for now, the Raiders can’t expect defensive success in the AFC West with the secondary playing the way it is.
Maybe it’s lack of cohesiveness or camaraderie; maybe some of these players are still learning Jason Tarver’s scheme. Maybe they’re no better than the players that have come and gone over the previous 2 seasons. You tell me… The point is, these players have left me dissatisfied through the first 3 weeks of organized football in the NFL.
After sitting in disbelief the last decade, I have began to realistically assess our chances of a successful season. If we don’t see improvement from players that should be performing at a high level, then we can anticipate another long season. Which could possibly be the last NFL season in Oakland.
Follow me on Twitter and be courteous in the comment section. -Jt