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Oakland Raiders Team Needs
By: Greg Davis

The Oakland Raiders are experiencing a very trying time. Three consecutive losing seasons have not instilled much confidence in the Raider Nation fan base, but in reality, there are signs of genuine talent on the squad. The wide receiver position is absolutely gifted, and although the all around effort of the group has come under fire, there is no denying that Randy Moss, Jerry Porter, Doug Gabriel, and a healthy Ronald Curry can create match-up problems for nearly every opponent.

Another bright spot for the team was the play of first year starter Lamont Jordan. Jordan rushed for 1,025 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games, while tallying over 500 yards receiving and a pair of receiving touchdowns. The run game seemed to get better as the season rolled along, and it should be in good hands as long as the team can balance the play calling and strengthen the offensive line. Justin Fargas gives the backfield a faster look, but he may not be getting the job done and could see reduced time if another speed back is acquired.

A position that some may consider a need, isnít really as urgent as some might want to believe. Yes, Kerry Collins wasnít a top form quarterback, but he did show signs of success early in the season when he was given time to drop back and survey the field. Collins also seemed to be hooking up with Randy Moss effectively. The failure to establish a consistent balance between pass and run, issues with the offensive line, and the health problems of Moss, all negatively impacted Collinsí numbers and appearance of play. I feel it is likely that he will still be the Raider signal-caller next season. I am in no way a Collins fan, to be honest, but he is not fully to blame for the struggles of the team. However, his contract is huge for a player that hasnít shown much poise, so if he is willing to re-structure, it should mean that heíll stay with the team. It also appears that Andrew Walter may be groomed for the position sometime in the near future.

Because of the teams various needs, the Raiders selection will be anything but a Ďno-brainer.í The top need at the moment I am writing this is a head coach, but Iíll jump over that, and go to positional needs:

Linebacker
Itís been awhile since the linebacker corps has been considered a position of strength for the team. Rookie Kirk Morrison led the team in tackles, and was a surprise gem on the defensive side of the ball but was playing at the outside linebacker position instead of his natural position at inside LB. Danny Clark played well enough at middle linebacker, but heís probably not the best option for a long-term starter. Tyler Brayton played out of position all season to fill the other starting LB spot, and he just doesnít have the ability at the position to get it done. He could be a solid DE if the team is able to move him back. The rest of the group is made up of converted defensive linemen and mediocre talent. This made I hard for the Raiders to cover, give support, and even blitz.

The LB position could be strengthened immensely if the Raiders can acquire an OLB and move Morrison to ILB where he is most comfortable and his size is best utilized. Itís nice to think that Morrison could actually play even better if heís given the chance to show what he can do at his true position. Playing inside of the 4-3 scheme would give Morrison greater interior responsibility, and solid help on the outside would help the pass defense greatly. Although, it is still unknown as to what scheme the new coaching staff will employ once there is a staff in place.

The answer at OLB may be available when the Raiders are on the clock near the top of the draft. A.J. Hawk (Ohio State) has been highly touted on a national stage, and is considered by many to be the top LB in the available in the draft. Some question his ability to fight through blocks, but otherwise, his game shows very little weakness. He can give help in coverage, is strong against the run, and can put pressure on the quarterback when asked to blitz. Hawk is a field general that some have compared to Dan Morgan (Carolina Panthers). Although Morgan, a Pro Bowl player, is an interior LB, there is no doubt that players with talent like his and Hawkís can play outside or inside if they are properly used within the defensive scheme. If the Raiders draft Hawk they may consider keeping Morrison at OLB and plugging Hawk into the MLB role. A player such as Hawk would give the Raiders some much desired options.

If the Raider wait on a LB until the second or third round, they could find some talent among players like Ernie Simms (Florida State), Bobby Carpenter (Ohio State), or even A.J. Nicholson (Florida State) if the team wants to take a risk on a player that may very well fall. There are others that should also be strongly considered if a LB is in the cards.

Defensive Line
Poor pass defense canít always be blamed on the secondary, and in the Raidersí case, the defensive line has to take some of the blame. Pro Bowler Derrick Burgess was the biggest bright spot of the season. Acquired as a free agent, Burgess led the league in sacks with 16, and was constantly putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but at times he was neutralized through double-teaming as the rest of the defensive line struggled to create pressure. Oftentimes, opposing QBs had plenty of time to wait for receivers to come open or to check-down for positive plays.

The DTs are aging. Ted Washington is going to be 38 next season, and the other starter, Warren Sapp is 33. It is widely assumed that both will return for at least one more season, but those are only assumptions, and the age of each should have the organization concerned. Haloti Ngata (Oregon) is considered the top DT in the draft and will more than likely be available when the Raiders get on the clock in the first. There is a gap between Ngata and the second level DTs like Rodrique White (Texas) and Claude Wroten (LSU), but if the Raiders can be patient, either one of those players would bring talented youth to a position that needs it dearly.

Although Burgess led the league in sacks, he could definitely use help on the other side of the line. Bobby Hamilton doesnít seem to be the answer. Heís a DT trapped in a DEís body. Since a formidable pass rush would make it harder for teams to throw the ball, the Raiders will strongly consider a DE to pair with Burgess, which could create a very feared attack. A DE with tremendous upside like Mario Williams might still be available for the Raiders to swipe, but if he goes sooner, the position still yields some interesting talent that could be available later in the draft. Tamba Hali (Penn State) might slip to the second round and Darryl Tapp (Virginia Tech) will probably get a long look if heís on the board for the second or third round pick. Elvis Dumervil (Louisville) and Frostee Rucker (USC) are a couple of other DEs that are worth a mid-round pick and could be better than advertised. The Raiders would be wise to strategically use one of their first two or three picks to acquire a defensive lineman that can give immediate help.

Offensive Line
Pass protection looked good early in the season, but as teams found out that the Raiders had trouble running, pass protection suffered. Opponents found ways to put pressure on Collins and also drop a comfortable amount of men into coverage. The team will almost assuredly look for help along the line, but they are putting together a fine foundation.

The strong point of the line has to be at left tackle. Veteran Barry Sims has anchored the position and is considered the top lineman on the team but still allowed a double digit sack total. His Ďsuccessí at the position as also created a problem. The Raiders took LT Robert Gallery with the second overall pick in 2004 and he hasnít been able to play at the position. Gallery is primed to take over the LT position, but until he does, heís starting at RT. The combination of inexperience and playing on the opposite side has made life difficult for Gallery, who has shown mental lapses while taking penalties too often; Gallery also struggles with his footwork on the right side and has been beat-able against speed. A move to LT should do wonders for Gallery once Sims is out of the picture.

Center Jake Grove was drafted the same year as Gallery so he is another project that has yet to reach his ceiling. The young lineman has shown signs of promise and some thought he may end up being a steal, but only time will tell. Grove needs work, but heís already taken over for Adam Treu, a vet who has been relegated to the bench behind the young snapper. Grove has also struggled because of the lack of help from fellow line mates and constant position shifting, thus the point of need at the guard spot.

The Guard position has given defenses a weak link to attack, and the run game has had so many struggles with consistency because of the play from this position. Ron Stone has left his best games behind him and nagging injuries have taken their toll on the Right Guard. Stone will be 35 before the start of the season, and his level of play has only gone downhill. Heís also suited more for run blocking, and not the downfield passing game that the Raiders want to see. Left Guard Brad Badger is probably the worst player on the line and heís a natural tackle, another player assigned to a position that does not allow for the most comfort. Badger also played through injury this season so it is impossible to say whether the injury was the reason for his failures. Sims may be an option if the Raiders acquire another tackle in the draft or via free agency.

The age and injuries of this unit require immediate action and there is almost no depth to speak of. There is no way that the team can get all the help they need through the draft, but a pick or two will more than likely be devoted to this unit. If a defensive player doesnít wow Al Davis, DíBrickashaw Ferguson (Virginia) might be an option, but the team would probably have to do some more shuffling if they go that route, and the current shuffling has already created too many problems. A guard, Max Jean-Gilles (Georgia) might be an excellent option in the second round, and he could immediately be plugged in at his rightful position. Other second or third round possibilities are Charles Spencer (Pittsburgh) and Davin Joseph (Oklahoma). I really think that a steal could be had in Taitusi Lutui (USC) if the Raiders can pick him up in the fourth round, or maybe even reach a bit in the third round. At USC, Lutui could be found opening huge holes for Reggie Bush and the much heralded Lendale White, as well as providing protection for Matt Leinart, and the Raiders could desperately use that kind of lineman.

Strong Safety
Derrick Gibson just isnít cutting it. He canít cover and doesnít play smart. He hasnít lived up to expectations and he should be gone next season, or at least on the bench. His injury problems also havenít helped his game. The team will need to find a playing partner for Stuart Schweigert, a young FS that has shown good improvement in his first two seasons. Another option would be Nnamdi Asomugha at FS and moving Schweigert to SS, but this would require the signing of a veteran corner, and just complicate things further.

Ko Simpson (LSU), Michael Huff (Texas), or Darnell Bing (USC) might be legitimate options if the Raiders are looking to trade down to the middle of the first, but if they donít want to reach and donít want to trade down, they might still be able to draft a solid player like Greg Blue (Georgia) in the second. I believe there is a sizable drop-off at the position after those three, but there are other talented players that might be worth a later pick.

All in all, my guess is that this position is improved through free agency so that Schweigert can play alongside a veteran and learn while simultaneously building a camaraderie.

Fullback
The Raider faithful miss Jon Ritchie and the forehead flow of blood, but mostly they miss a guy who can clear a path for the running back. I donít really see the team drafting a fullback, but being a need, I feel it warrants mention. Zack Crockett is a short yardage back who was converted to the fullback spot and just hasnít been effective enough. Considering that Jordan isnít a quick back, but built more for the power game, a true fullback is a necessity.

Cornerback
It looks like Charles Woodson will finally be gone from the Raiders. I say finally, not as a relief, but to describe the speculation that Woodson might be on his way out for about the past three seasons. Woodsonís departure would come just a season after the team traded Philip Buchanon, another cornerback who was selected in the first round by Oakland.

The remaining cornerbacks have strong potential, but are very young. Asomugha will be playing in just his fourth season, and is still learning. Fabian Washington, Oaklandís first round choice in 2005 will no longer be a rookie, but still needs to gain a wealth of experience before he can be considered a defensive threat. The depth at the position includes Renaldo Hill, Stanford Routt, and Denard Walker, all players who are not considered legitimate starters for the time being.

It would seem that the youthfulness of the position may require the management to spend some money to bring in a veteran player at the position, but if the team wanted to reach with their first pick, or traded down, they could take Jimmy Williams, a converted safety out of Virginia Tech that plays big and fast. Itís hard for me to see another corner being taken in the first, though, so it is more likely that we would see a mid-round pick spent on someone like Allen Zemaitis (Penn State) or Antonio Cromartie (Florida State), if a corner is on the war room list.

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