AFC West: Chris Morris
Biggest surprise: There wasn’t a lot of surprising names on Oakland’s cut list. Defensive end Jay Richardson can qualify as a mild surprise. Richardson’s departure may mean Trevor Scott will play more end. He was an end who was moved to linebacker and was supposed to start at linebacker. However, he played end in the preseason finale Thursday night. Fullback Luke Lawton is on the suspension list and Oakland currently doesn’t have a traditional fullback on its roster. Center Chris Morris was cut and the team announced rookie Jared Veldheer will be the starting center. The smalls-school Veldheer was drafted as a tackle and played on a limited basis at center in the preseason. But he is a better long-term player than Samsom Satele, who will be the backup. Still, Veldheer will have his hands full as a rookie playing center against NFL competition. Still, he is new blood and Oakland needs an influx talent on the line.
No-brainers: The Raiders cut just one of their draft picks, seventh-round pick Stevie Brown. Oakland really likes this class and if resurgence is under way in Oakland, this class will have a lot to do with it. Defensive tackle John Henderson was kept. There was talk he could be on the bubble. But he is too valuable. He may not be an every-down player, but he can help against the run in a limited role. Second-year receiver Nick Miller was kept. The Raiders really like this small, but tough player. With Michael Bush potentially out several weeks with a broken thumb, the team needed veteran running back Michael Bennett. He had a fine preseason.
What’s next: The Raiders could do anything. Remember, they shocked the league by trading for Richard Seymour last year the day after he roster was set. Expect Oakland to look at veteran receivers, including former Seattle receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The team could also look for a veteran center to give Veldheer more time to develop. Also, veterans Thomas Howard and Chris Johnson could still be subject to trade talks if the right deal comes along.
According to the magazine’s rankings, each AFC West team lost some value from a year ago. Denver is ranked No. 10 n the NFL on the value list, Kansas City is ranked No. 20, San Diego is ranked No. 24 and Oakland is ranked No. 31, only ahead of struggling Jacksonville, which has been rumored to be interesting in leaving the city at some point.
Much of the value is based in stadium worth and the Raiders’ stadium has been less than desirable for years. The Raiders are interested in a new stadium but don’t have anything concrete in the works.
- The Raiders are giving third-round pick Jared Veldheer a chance to start at center against San Francisco on Saturday night. Veldheer is a tackle, but he is starting over Chris Morris with Samson Satele injured. Veldheer could steal the starting job. The Raiders’ line has been weak and it is looking for a spark. Perhaps Veldheer will be the answer at center.
- The Denver Post is reporting that Broncos rookie receiver Demaryius Thomas’ re-aggravation of a pre-draft foot injury is not overly serious. Still, Thomas, who has been hampered by the injury often in his short NFL career, may not be ready to play in the season opener Sept. 12 at Jacksonville.
This was a very nice overall effort by the Raiders. The defense continued to be outstanding, and the offense joined the party.
After flailing against Dallas, the first-team offense was strong. It was led by quarterback Jason Campbell, who was better and more comfortable against the Bears than he was against the Cowboys. Campbell came out flinging (even though Oakland was playing without Chaz Schilens and Darrius Heyward-Bey). Campbell slowed down as his playing time continued, but he had his moments. He finished 10-of-20 for 170 yards. He did throw an interception, and there was a fumbled exchange with backup center Chris Morris.
Defensively, it all started with new linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. He had four sacks in a limited role. That is nasty good. If Wimbley can be a constant pass-rush threat, the Raiders will be in business. Oakland had six sacks total, and now has a whopping 12 sacks in two preseason games.
There was some concern for the defense. The run defense, which has long been a problem and was a focal point of this offseason, was an issue. The Bears ran for 174 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown run by Matt Forte. With Chris Johnson and the Titans looming in three weeks on opening day, the run defense has to be addressed pronto. But Oakland was playing without Richard Seymour and Nnamdi Asomugha, its two best defensive players.
Overall, Oakland seems to be on the right track as the season approaches. This was a nice, solid win by Oakland, which clearly outplayed Chicago all game long.
Gallery’s season has been ruined by injuries. He missed several games with a leg injury. He is set to be replaced by Chris Morris, who is also the backup center in Oakland. Gallery is one of Oakland’s better offensive linemen.
- San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman practiced fully Thursday after missing most of the past two games with a nagging foot injury.Thus, it looks like Merriman is on pace to play in a pivotal game at Dallas on Thursday. Defensive end Luis Castillo looks like he will return against Dallas after taking two weeks off with a calf injury. He has practiced fully the past two days.
- In Kansas City, standout cornerback Brandon Flowers didn’t practice with a shoulder injury Thursday.
- Despite upsetting Pittsburgh on Sunday, Sunday’s game against Washington will be the Raiders’ sixth straight game that will be blacked out on local television.
- The Chargers say they need public money in their attempt to get a new stadium.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
A local columnist warns not to get too excited about Denver’s 2-0 start.
My take: I agree. Remember, Denver was 3-0 last season before finishing the season 5-8. But this is a new era in Denver and the 2-0 start is significant, even if beating Cincinnati and Cleveland doesn’t necessarily make them a Super Bowl contender.
Jamaal Charles doesn’t know why he was deactivated against Oakland.
My take: It was a little curious. But Charles needs to worry about getting better and not worry about why didn’t play. The best players play. Charles clearly needs to impress his coaches more.
The Raiders plan life without Robert Gallery for 4-6 weeks.
My take: One of the options is to move center Chris Morris to Gallery’s left guard spot and insert Samson Satele at center. This is a chance for Satele to make an impact. The Raiders traded for him this offseason and he has been a disappointment.
Norv Turner is being questioned already.
My take: This is no surprise. It may be somewhat unfair, but it’s not shocking. Many people are just waiting for Turner to make mistakes. So, every San Diego loss will be pinned on him. Yes, there were a couple questionable decisions, but there are couple of questionable decisions made by every coach in the NFL. Turner didn’t lose the game to Baltimore, but he’s being blamed for it. That’s just the way it is with Turner.
Some late cut-day thoughts:
I was a tad surprised that Kansas City cut receiver Ashley Lelie. He performed well in a short period in Kansas City and the Chiefs don’t have much else at receiver.
Raiders coach Tom Cable said Chris Morris could start at center against San Diego on Sept. 14, which would make Samsom Satele a bench player. Satele was expected to be an upgrade at center for the Raiders when they traded for him in the spring. He hasn’t emerged.
Just wondering out loud: Could Denver give Jeff Garcia a call? With starter Kyle Orton (finger) and backup Chris Simms (ankle) hurting for the season opener in Cincinnati, Garcia is a proven starter whose now available. Do I think it will happen? Not really, but you never know.
I’d expect the Chiefs try to place running back JaVarris Williams on the practice squad.
The Jaguars were linked to Chiefs’ backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen in trade talks. On Saturday, Jacksonville acquired Luke McCown from Tampa Bay. Thigpen became unavailable when Chiefs’ starter Matt Cassel went down last week with a knee injury. Cassel will try to play next week at Baltimore.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson
The Denver Post reports that quarterback Kyle Orton may not be ready to play on opening day.
My take: If a finger injury (Orton hurt the index finger on his throwing hand) keeps Orton from playing at Cincinnati on Sept. 13, the Broncos could be a bigger mess than they already are. Backup quarterback Chris Simms won’t be ready to play on opening day because of an ankle sprain. That would mean sixth-round pick Tom Brandstater would play. Brandstater may eventually become a good quarterback, but there is no way he is ready to play. Add in the uncertain immediate future of suspended receiver Brandon Marshall and the fact that rookie running back Knowshon Moreno is no sure thing for the opener because of a knee injury, and the Broncos appear to be a huge underdog against the Bengals.
Are the Chiefs in for a bad season because of the ouster of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey and the injury to quarterback Matt Cassel?
My take: It certainly isn’t a great development for the Chiefs, but they can get through this. Head coach Todd Haley takes full charge of the offense and that’s a good thing. He got hired for his offensive success, so the Chiefs will be fine there. And Cassel will not be out for an extended period time. Just chalk it up to a bad day in Kansas City.
Samson Satele is not a shoo-in for the starting center’s job in Oakland.
My take: Raiders coach Tom Cable said Satele, acquired from Miami this offseason, is battling John Wade and Chris Morris for the job. That has to be disappointing for Oakland. Cable talked up Satele when he was acquired and the Raiders thought he’d be an upgrade for Jake Grove, who signed with the Dolphins and prompted them to make the Satele deal. Satele can still pan out, but he hasn’t been as dominant as the Raiders hoped.
Michael Bennett is making a push to make the 53-man roster.
My take: Bennett may be too exciting for the Chargers to let him go. Yes, San Diego has a crowded backfield, but he has been too effective in San Diego for the Chargers not to seriously consider keeping him around.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
OAKLAND -- Random thoughts as the Chargers and Raiders kickoff.
- Oakland starting running back Justin Fargas (groin) and right guard Cooper Carlisle (ankle) are inactive. Darren McFadden will replace Fargas and Chris Morris replaces Carlisle.
- Oakland defensive tackle Gerard Warren is suited up. He was listed as doubtful on the injury report with a pectoral injury.
- San Diego center Nick Hardwick is set to make his 2008 debut. He had foot surgery in the offseason.
- Raiders receivers coach James Lofton spent time with several San Diego players prior to the game. He was with the Chargers until this offseason. Lofton is rumored to be a head coaching candidate in Oakland if Lane Kiffin is fired.
- It is near perfect conditions in Oakland for today's game. It is 79 degrees and sunny.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
If the Raiders are to improve, they'll need some development on offense.
The Raiders are taking the correct approach here. They are not looking at it as a battle at tailback. The team is looking at as if the three-headed monster of McFadden, Fargas and Bush is a wonderful bounty and a great opportunity. And they are right. If the Raiders are going to improve greatly, it will be because of this running back trio. But, in essence, it will be a battle because there's only one ball. Yes, all three backs will play, but someone will get the primary carries and it will be fun to watch how it is broken down. Of course, if McFadden explodes onto the scene like he's capable of, he'll get most of the carries and Fargas, who had a breakout season last year, will be in the background. Bush, finally healthy from a serious leg injury in college, has looked good in the offseason. Perhaps he'll find a role in short-yardage situations. Anyway, this is a great problem for Oakland to have.
Intensity index: Hot.
The Raiders success will hinge on the offensive line. There will be competition at right tackle between Cornell Green and Mario Henderson. But the problem competition is at center. Grove, Morris and Wade will fight for the job. Grove is a talented player but he has a history of knee injuries. Morris knows Oakland's zone blocking scheme well and Wade is an 11-season veteran who is a smart, savvy player. If Grove can stay healthy, he should win the job, but that may be too much to ask. This will be a battle to watch all of August.
Intensity index: Hot.