NFL Nation: John Henderson


While NFL fans look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the upcoming draft and think quarterback, signal-caller isn’t actually the long-standing issue the team might have the easiest time solving with the No. 2 pick.

Sure, the Jaguars need a quarterback. But this draft doesn’t include anything near the sure-thing types that headlined last year’s draft, when Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the top two picks.

Some analysts read a lot into the attention the team has paid West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. I suspect it was a matter of doing its due diligence.

If I’m the Jaguars, I wait a year and hope that in 2014 there is more of a sure thing quarterback to chase, and that I’ve put together a better team for him to join.

And to be a better team, they need to address their pass rush.

The Jaguars have not had a player record double-digit sacks since 2006. That’s right, Jacksonville has played a half-dozen seasons without a player getting 10 sacks. In fact, since Bobby McCray notched 10 sacks in 2006, the highest total anyone’s had is eight, by Jeremy Mincey in 2011.

Jaguars sack leaders since 2006:
Enter Dion Jordan of Oregon. In the above video, Todd McShay tabs Jordan as the best edge pass-rusher in the draft. He’s got a great combination of size and athleticism and seems like the kind of guy who can help transform a defensive front.

Sports Science worked with Jordan and found he’s got 3.8 percent body fat, spins faster than Dwight Freeney and has the potential of DeMarcus Ware. This video will get you excited about the guy.

I’m guessing the odds of regretting passing on a player like Jordan for a quarterback are higher than the odds of regretting passing on Smith for a pass-rusher.

There are other spots in the mix, of course, like offensive tackle.

But a little over two weeks before the draft, the guy who has me most intrigued when I think of the Jaguars and the No. 2 spot is Jordan.

Have the Raiders fallen behind?

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
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Reggie McKenzie, Dennis AllenAP Photo/Paul SakumaOakland's salary-cap woes have Reggie McKenzie, left, and Dennis Allen in a tough spot.

The Oakland Raiders are one of the most intriguing franchises in the NFL these days. How will the post-Al Davis Raiders evolve?

After Al Davis' death in October, the much-less-involved Mark Davis turned his father’s beloved franchise over to Reggie McKenzie, a respected personnel man from Green Bay, who is embarking on his first journey as a general manager. McKenzie has entrusted former Denver defensive coordinator Dennis Allen, who at 39 is the youngest coach in the league, to be the next coach of a team that finished 8-8 last season and barely out of the playoffs.

The first focus for McKenzie has been clearing the Raiders’ roster of bloated contracts given to players as the Raiders desperately, and unsuccessfully, chased championships in Davis’ final years.

It has been a necessary exercise as Oakland begins the process of getting out of salary-cap jail. But Oakland has lost more talent than it has brought in the past month.

The question begs to be asked: Has Oakland fallen behind the rest of the AFC West for the 2012 season? It depends on whom you ask, of course. Asked this week if his team will be stronger or weaker in 2012, McKenzie, without explanation, said this: “Honestly, I envision it being stronger.”

However, many folks around the league wonder how.

“I think they have fallen behind,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “They are in a tough salary-cap position and they are paying for it now. I just don’t see the improvement.”

Added Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.: “I do think they have slipped.” Williamson, in an Insider piece, gave the Raiders one of the worst free-agent grades in the AFC.

It’s difficult to look at the list of players Oakland has added and lost and not come to the same conclusion. Even given the need for salary-cap repair, a loss of talent mustn’t be brushed aside.

Some of the key players who were either cut or departed Oakland as free agents: linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, running back Michael Bush, quarterback Jason Campbell, cornerback Stanford Routt, tight end Kevin Boss, defensive tackle John Henderson, running back Rock Cartwright, receiver Chaz Schilens, defensive end Trevor Scott and cornerback Chris Johnson.

The projected starters who have been brought in: guard Mike Brisiel and cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer.

“You look who has come and who has gone, and it’s scary,” Horton said. “I like Mike Brisiel. He will help. But the two cornerbacks are just guys. They are not starters for a good team. The defense needs improvement and I don’t see it. All I see is the loss of talent. Where is the coverage coming from? Where is the pass-rush coming from?”

In addition to not having much cap room, the Raiders have a small draft class. They have five picks and their first pick is No. 95, at the end of the third round. McKenzie has said the Raiders need a starting outside linebacker. He might not know who that player is for some time.

Compounding the concern in Oakland is the fact that the rest of the AFC West has been aggressive this offseason.

[+] EnlargeDarren McFadden
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesDarren McFadden is an elite running back when healthy -- but the Raiders are an injury or two away, at many positions, from serious trouble.
Denver added the big prize of the NFL offseason --quarterback Peyton Manning. Kansas City added several players, including Routt and Boss after they were jettisoned in Oakland. The Chargers lost star receiver Vincent Jackson and key backup running back Mike Tolbert, but added several pieces and have been lauded by scouts around the league for using their resources properly and adding to their overall talent level. Speaking this week solely about his own team, Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli said he felt the need to improve his roster because of the improvement around him in the division.

Meanwhile, McKenzie and Allen are seemingly beginning their tenure in Oakland by taking a step back. Asked about the loss of talent while at the NFL owners meetings this week, Allen took a realistic approach.

“You know what, we knew what the situation was when we were going into it,” Allen said. “We knew it was going to be a tough situation. I think Reggie’s done a great job of managing everything as we’ve gone through this. You go through it every year. Every year, you have good players that you lose. And you’ve got to find a way to regroup and replace those guys and that’s what we’re trying to get done.”

The problem is that Oakland has more holes than it did at the end of last season. In the past couple of seasons, the Raiders were intriguing because they were both young and didn’t have many glaring needs. All they needed was their young talent to continue to improve. Now, though, Oakland has holes at tight end and at linebacker and depth issues at all layers of the defense, running back, the offensive line and at quarterback.

“What if this team gets hurt a lot?” Horton asked. “There is no depth in this team.”

Still, not all is lost in Oakland. Running back Darren McFadden is an elite runner when healthy, the defensive line is an upper-echelon unit, the interior offensive line is strong, the special teams are top-notch, the receiver crew is potentially dynamic and the team believes quarterback Carson Palmer will benefit from a full offseason in the program.

The Raiders are hopeful that their talent can withstand this necessary offseason of cap repair. In a couple of years, if McKenzie continues to be financially prudent, the Raiders should be out of cap jail.

“This team wasn’t far away when I got here,” Allen said at the owners meetings. “We’re excited about trying to build on that and develop this team into a playoff-caliber team. Obviously, we took a couple hits because of the cap situation, but we’re looking forward to trying to develop the team, and the players.”

The only question: Has the rest of the AFC West left the Raiders behind in the immediate future?

AFC West free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
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AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Denver Broncos

Key additions: QB Peyton Manning, CB Tracy Porter, TE Joel Dreessen, TE Jacob Tamme, S Mike Adams, QB Caleb Hanie, WR Andre Caldwell.

Key losses: DT Brodrick Bunkley, WR, Eddie Royal, TE Daniel Fells, QB Tim Tebow, QB Brady Quinn, TE Dante Rosario.

Did they get better? The Broncos added Manning and that move changes the course of the entire division. Denver is instantly the favorite to win the AFC West again because of this addition. Yes, there are risks as the 36-year-old Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Denver is convinced Manning is fully recovered and has been cleared to play.

If the 2012 Manning is anything like the Manning we last saw, Denver will be in good shape and the offense will be dangerous. The key is on defense. It has improved greatly and the Porter and Adams additions should help, even while losing Bunkley will hurt. Overall, this team made huge strides in the offseason.

What’s next: Denver’s biggest need areas are at defensive tackle (the Broncos may need two), running back, safety, receiver and linebacker. However, much of that need is for depth purposes.

Denver’s only true glaring hole is at defensive tackle. Expect the Broncos to use their No. 25 pick on the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team’s second-round pick is used on a running back unless the Broncos like one of the remaining veterans on the market.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key additions: CB Stanford Routt, RT Eric Winston, RB Peyton Hillis, TE Kevin Boss, QB Brady Quinn.

Key losses: CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Demorrio Williams.

Did they get better? Had it not been for the Manning blockbuster, everybody would be taking about what the Chiefs did. I think the Chiefs’ work in free agency was among the best five in the NFL.

Instead of giving quarterback Matt Cassel serious competition, the Chiefs further committed to him by giving him some strong pieces on offense. Hillis will team with Jamaal Charles to make a dangerous running tandem. Winston is one of the league’s better right tackles and Boss and Tony Moeaki will give opposing defenses fits in double tight end sets. This will be a varied offense that will have many weapons. The Chiefs are solid on defense and Routt is a veteran who is comparable to Carr, but more experienced and is less expensive.

What’s next: The Chiefs could use a nose tackle, help at inside linebacker, secondary depth and offensive line depth. They will get a good player with the 11th pick and I think they will try to solidify the middle of the defensive line with someone like Memphis’ Dontari Poe. If the Chiefs can add an impact defender with that pick, it will complete an outstanding offseason.

Oakland Raiders

Key additions: G Mike Brisiel, CB Ron Bartell, CB Shawntae Spencer, CB Pat Lee.

Key losses: LB Kamerion Wimbley, RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, CB Stanford Routt, TE Kevin Boss, DT John Henderson, RB Rock Cartwright, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, CB Chris Johnson.

Did they get better? It’s difficult to argue this team improved. Just look at all the losses. It’s a pure fact of numbers, Oakland lost much more than it brought in. This team has more questions than it did at the end of last season and it has more holes. With limited cap space and the fact Oakland doesn’t pick in the draft until No. 95, the Raiders will have a difficult time adding any more impact players. Depth can be an issue.

I understand why this has happened. The new Oakland regime had to get things in order, and sometimes, before a team can make major steps forward as an organization, it may have to take a step back. There is still a lot of talent in Oakland, but it is clear the other three teams made more impactful additions.

What’s next: Oakland will be challenged to find impact players, but it will need to add depth at several places after finding a starting outside linebacker. Oakland needs depth at linebacker, the secondary, offensive line, running back and at quarterback. I think we will see Oakland be patient and add at spots all the way up into the season.

San Diego Chargers

Key additions: WR Robert Meachem, LB Jarret Johnson, WR Eddie Royal, FB Le’Ron McClain, QB Charlie Whitehurst, S Atari Bigby, TE Dante Rosario, LB Demorrio Williams

Key losses: WR Vincent Jackson, RB Mike Tolbert, G Kris Dielman, S Steve Gregory, QB Billy Volek.

Did they get better? I’ve talked to a lot of scouts who believe the Chargers improved. The truth is they lost two good players in Jackson and Tolbert and so did not improve as much as Denver and Kansas City did. But the Chargers did get creative and added a lot of pieces for the price it would have cost to keep Jackson. They also retained key offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Jared Gaither. Meachem and Royal give quarterback Philip Rivers some interesting weapons.

Johnson will help the defense and he will make it tougher. The Chargers may have gotten a little deeper while losing some star power.

What’s next: The Chargers still haven’t addressed their greatest need outside of keeping its offensive line intact. San Diego will no doubt use its No. 18 pick on the best available pass-rusher to help Johnson is not a great pass-rusher.

Other needs include a big backup running back, offensive line depth and some more depth in all layers of the defense.
The Oakland Raiders pulled the plug by jettisoning two veterans, guard Cooper Carlisle and defensive tackle John Henderson.

The moves should give Oakland decent breathing room in its salary cap and it should soon be able to start pursuing some free agents. The team is also expected to cut linebacker Kamerion Wimbley within the next 72 hours unless he restructures his deal. But, Wimbley has not been interested in a pay cut.

Carlisle’s agent, Frank Murtha, said there is a chance the Raiders could bring Carlisle back. He is a solid zone-blocking guard, and the Raiders are returning to that scheme. However, Carlisle will entertain other offers in the meantime.

Because they had to cut five players for salary-cap reasons, the Raiders have more holes to fill than expected. The team desperately needs to get in on the cornerback market and it may need to add some offensive linemen as well.

Henderson was cut after failing his physical. The Raiders shocked the league last year when they gave the rotational player a two-year, $8 million deal. The aging Henderson was valuable against the run, but his health has been an issue.

These moves will help kick start Oakland’s foray into free agency, although the team is expected to be bargain hunters anyway.
The Oakland Raiders have been quiet in free agency so far Tuesday, other than seeing former starting quarterback Jason Campbell leave for Chicago.

This may be a reason: ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports when free agency opened Tuesday the Raiders had a league low $639,966 of cap space.

Now, that will improve when the release of tight end Kevin Boss kicks in. Oakland could also cut linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson. So, Oakland (which already cut three other players and restructured the contracts of several players) will get some enough cap room to sign a few players and sign their small draft class.

But the question for rookie general manager Reggie McKenzie is this? Why didn’t he do all of his salary-cap shaving prior to free agency starting. Players are signing at a fast rate. I know Oakland is going to bargain shop, but there is no reason why it should give other teams a head start for any player. The Raiders’ don’t have a starting quality cornerback on the roster and top cornerbacks like Cortland Finnegan and Carlos Rogers are already off the market.

In other AFC West news:

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 7, 2012
3/07/12
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Denver Broncos

Key free agents: K Matt Prater (franchised), DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brady Quinn, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, P Britton Colquitt (restricted).

Where they stand: The Broncos will have plenty of salary-cap room. For a team that went from 4-12 with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to winning the AFC West and a playoff game in John Fox’s first season as coach, the Broncos are in position to improve through free agency. With Prater franchised, the team’s only priority unrestricted free agent is Bunkley.

What to expect: Don’t expect a huge spending spree. The Broncos are cash conscious and I think the franchise is still recovering from some undisciplined spending during the Mike Shanahan era that ended in 2008. We will see the Broncos try to add several pieces at lower prices. Denver could address needs at safety, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and quarterback. Keep an eye on players such as Washington safety LaRon Landry, Seattle tight end John Carlson, quarterbacks Chad Henne (Miami), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) or Josh Johnson (Tampa), running backs Michael Bush (Oakland) and Mike Tolbert (San Diego), and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene Cincinnati.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key free agents: WR Dwayne Bowe (franchised), CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, LB Jovan Belcher, S Jon McGraw, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Thomas Jones, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Kelly Gregg

Where they stand: The Chiefs are in great shape on cap space even after signing cornerback Stanford Routt and franchising Bowe. They have already done a nice job in free agency with these two moves and have a good, young roster. Kansas City can become a serious playoff contender with the right moves. It is likely Carr will leave in free agency, but the Chiefs should be able to re-sign most of their other free agents if they wish.

What to expect: I’m not sure we will see the Chiefs break the bank for any of the super-hot free agents, but I expect them to do some significant shopping. I think we could see Kansas City look for help at nose tackle, linebacker, safety, tackle, running back and quarterback. Of course, the intrigue could start if the team gets in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. But they could also look at several other quarterbacks, including Orton, Henne, Jason Campbell (Oakland) or even Quinn. They could also be in the mix for Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai, Saints guard Carl Nicks and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), Bush and Tolbert.

Oakland Raiders

Key free agents: S Tyvon Branch (franchised), RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Quentin Groves, C Samson Satele, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, FB Marcel Reece (restricted).

Where they stand: The Raiders are one of the few teams that must get under the salary cap. Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently acknowledged the team has work to do. The Raiders have some contracts that can be easily restructured, but they also may have to cut some players, particularly on defense. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson are among the top candidates.

What to expect: The Raiders likely face some limitations once they get under the cap, but they can add two or three starting-quality players under the right circumstances. Their primary needs are on defense, starting at cornerback and linebacker. The offensive line could be upgraded as well. I think they can be in on the second wave of cornerbacks. A player to watch is New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who previously played for Allen. There are some solid second-tier cornerbacks Oakland could be interested in other than Porter. There will be some good players available on both sides of the ball after the initial wave of free agency for short-term deals. Expect the Raiders to do some bargain picking during that time. I think Oakland will be interested in signing several of its free agents, but I expect Bush and Campbell will leave.

San Diego Chargers

Key free agents: WR Vincent Jackson, C Nick Hardwick, RB Tolbert, DT Antonio Garay, OT Jared Gaither, FB Jacob Hester.

Where they stand: The Chargers will be in decent shape and they are getting even better after cutting Luis Castillo, the retirement of guard Kris Dielman and the expected release of tackle Marcus McNeill. But San Diego still has a lot of work to do. They have the most priority free agents of any team in the division. Signing Jackson, Hardwick, Gaither, Tolbert and Garay will be a challenge.

What to expect: The Chargers will likely stick to their usual plan and concentrate first on their own free agents. But they also have other needs and they will likely spend more in free agency than they have done before under general manager A.J. Smith. I get the sense from some agents that the Chargers may spend wildy in an attempt to win back the fan base’s trust after the unpopular contract extensions for Smith and coach Norv Turner. The pair were brought back even after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. I also get the sense from inside the organization, however, that the Chargers will not act out of desperation. Look for the team to consider pass-rushers, nose tackles, safeties and offensive linemen if Hardwick and Gaither aren’t brought back. A receiver will also become a major need if Jackson goes. The Colts' Reggie Wayne could be an option in that case. A running back such as Cadillac Williams (St. Louis) reportedly will be in the mix if Tolbert walks. Soliai could interest the team as well. Chicago special teams ace Corey Graham may also be a target. If the Chargers want to make a huge splash, they could try to get in on Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams, who is widely considered the best player on the market.
New Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie isn’t wasting much time shaping his roster and his first move was to cut cornerback Stanford Routt, one of the team’s better defensive players. It might have been necessary as McKenzie reshapes the team’s salary cap.

The Raiders signed Routt to a three-year, $31.5 million deal, with $20 million in guaranteed money, last February, essentially choosing Routt over Nnamdi Asomugha, who is considered one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. Asomugha walked to the Eagles as a free agent.

[+] EnlargeStanford Routt
AP Photo/Greg TrottStanford Routt's big contract was among the first casualties under new Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie.
Routt’s deal was later restructured to five years and $54.5 million, with the $20 million in guarantees — of which $10 million was reportedly to kick in this year.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that this move will cost Oakland $2.2 million in salary-cap space in 2012. The exact cap figure has yet to be figured, but the Raiders will have to make other moves.

This move might be an indication that Oakland is going to be aggressive in making cuts. It will have to go get help in several years in free agency – beginning with possibly two cornerbacks — and it has free-agent priorities in running back Michael Bush and safety Tyvon Branch. One of those two will likely be given the franchise tag.

You have to wonder what other high-dollar Raiders could be on the chopping block. Among those who have signed big recent contracts are defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive back Michael Huff. Other players who could be candidates for restructuring or to be cut to save cap room include defensive tackle John Henderson, linebacker Aaron Curry and guard Cooper Carlisle.

Many around the NFL scoffed at Routt's big contract — and it is clear McKenzie is in that camp.

Routt is a decent player, but he is probably best suited to be a No. 2 cornerback. He was better playing alongside Asomugha than he was as the team's No. 1 corner. Routt was solid in coverage, but was penalized 17 times and gave up eight touchdowns, tied for the second-highest total in the NFL last season.

Still, the release of Routt is risky because the Raiders now don’t have any reliable cornerbacks on the roster. They hope to develop young players DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa; perhaps Huff will be moved to cornerback. The Raiders have a small draft class, so most of their additions at the position will probably come through free agency.

Among the top cornerbacks available in free agency (depending on who is given the franchise tag) will be Atlanta’s Brent Grimes, Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan and Kansas City’s Brandon Carr. A name to keep an eye on is New Orleans’ Tracy Porter, who played under new coach Dennis Allen in New Orleans.

This move doesn’t hurt Routt, 28, much. He was paid an enormous amount last season and now becomes one of the better cornerbacks available. Plus he gets jump on free agency, free to sign with a team at any time.

He could help all three of the other teams in the AFC West as a No. 2 cornerback, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver, Kansas City and San Diego all look at him.

Brian Dawkins is inactive

December, 18, 2011
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DENVER -- The Denver Broncos will have to face the pass-happy New England Patriots without veteran safety Brian Dawkins. He is inactive with a neck injury that forced him to leave the win against Chicago last week.

Dawkins missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but he did practice on a limited basis Friday. He is listed as questionable. Cornerback Andre' Goodman is active and is expected to play. He is listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, the Raiders will be without defensive tackle John Henderson, safety Michael Huff and running back Taiwan Jones on Sunday against Detroit. They were all game-time decisions.

Broncos' secondary getting healthier

December, 15, 2011
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The Denver Broncos received good injury news Thursday. Starting defensive backs Brian Dawkins (neck) and Andre Goodman (concussion) practiced on a limited basis Thursday after not practicing Wednesday. Both players were hurt Sunday.

Thus, barring a setback, they both might have a chance to play Sunday against pass-happy New England. Also, receiver Eddie Royal -- who missed the Chicago game with a concussion -- practiced fully Thursday.

In other AFC West news:

As expected, Oakland running back Darren McFadden (foot), running back Taiwan Jones (hamstring), receiver Jacoby Ford (foot), defensive tackle John Henderson (knee) and safety Michael Huff (hamstring) all missed their second day of practice this week. Barring a fast recovery, it seems like these players will be out Sunday against Detroit.

Carolina receiver Steve Smith doesn’t think Tim Tebow compares to Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton. Newton has been much more polished than Tebow, but Tebow’s team has been much more successful than Newton’s.

ESPN columnist Rick Reilly asks readers to take their pick, Tom Brady or Tebow.

The Raiders’ have announced Sunday’s game against Detroit is a sellout. It is the seventh time in seven home games this season that there won’t be a local television blackout. The Oakland Tribune reports this is the first time since the Raiders came to Oakland 16 years ago that they sold out more than six home games in a season.

Chargers’ linebackers Donald Butler (foot) and Takeo Spikes (back) and defensive end Jacques Cesaire (ankle) missed their second straight day of practice Thursday.

Seymour leads one of NFL's top D-lines

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
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Richard SeymourThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesRichard Seymour and his defensive linemates will welcome his old team to Oakland this Sunday.

Bill Belichick created this dilemma.

Now, the New England Patriots’ coach must find a way to overcome one of the NFL’s better defensive fronts on Sunday in Oakland, which will be one of the NFL’s showcase games of Week 4. The catalyst of Oakland’s defensive line -- a ferocious combination of power, speed, experience and zestful youth -- is a man Belichick said goodbye to two years ago. Belichick stunned the NFL, Richard Seymour included, by shipping him to Oakland a week before the 2009 season started. Belichick had a knack for knowing when to pull the plug on veterans over the years in New England. Seymour has been the exception.

Yes, there are reasons for the Patriots to feel good about the trade. They’ve made the playoffs both years without Seymour, they saved a lot of money (Seymour was re-signed to a lucrative deal by the Raiders prior to the lockout) and they got a promising left tackle in Nate Solder with the No. 17 overall pick in April as compensation from Oakland. Still, that won’t help the Patriots on Sunday in a critical early-season game for the two 2-1 teams. Seymour and his explosive defensive line mates will be coming after New England quarterback Tom Brady all game.

The Patriots know it.

“That’s a good question,” said New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien this week when asked how he is going to prepare for the former New England star defensive lineman and his new mates. “That’s a tough question. These guys are really big up front. They’re a physical defense, they’re fast. Again, that’s part of our discussion right now of all the different areas of their defense and how we’re going to handle some of the problems all over the place that they present -- challenges that they present. So, there are a lot of different things you can do -- I’m certainly not going to tell you, but [Seymour is] playing really well. They’re all playing really well right now; it’s a really good football team that’s playing fast and physical.”

[+] EnlargeOakland's Jarvis Moss
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesJarvis Moss had two sacks for Oakland in last week's surprising win against the Jets.
There is no denying Oakland’s attitude, talent and success up front starts with Seymour. Eyebrows were raised when Oakland traded for Seymour two years ago. The three-time Super Bowl winner would have been better-suited for a playoff contender. It has taken a couple of years, but the Raiders are now playoff contenders with Seymour spearheading the line.

“He’s obviously a leader for that defensive line,” Brady said at his press briefing Wednesday. “When he gets going, they all get going.”

The Seymour trade immediately improved massive defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. It allowed him to disrupt the middle. The Raiders continued to build with youth around Seymour. They added feisty, underrated pass-rusher Matt Shaughnessy in the 2009 draft and the versatile Lamarr Houston in the second round last year to round out the starting front four. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said Houston greatly benefits from playing next to Seymour; they are similar because both are able to play each position along the line.

The line also has strong depth. Add massive run-stuffer John Henderson, young defensive tackle Desmond Bryant, pass-rusher Trevor Scott and former Denver first-round flameout Jarvis Moss (he had two sacks in an upset win over the Jets last week), and the Raiders have a steady stream of talent on their first line of defense.

"I've been around some teams with six guys, maybe seven," Raiders coach Hue Jackson told reporters recently. "To have eight, that is kind of unbelievable."

Scott has said the line is like a “tag-team match.” This unit just keeps coming against the pass and the run. Oakland is tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 sacks in three games, but is still having trouble stopping the run. It is allowing 120 yards per game. Still, opponents know the best way to get success against Oakland defensively is get the game past the front four.

“The front four are very strong penetrators,” Buffalo coach Chan Gailey said this month. “They really get after you and create. They try to disrupt the running game by penetrating and they try to create pass rush by penetration.”

Williamson said he thinks the Raiders have a top-10 defensive line that continues to get better. He said the trade for Seymour was the beginning of the dominance.

“The beauty of Seymour is that he is good at everything. He is a great interior pass-rusher on throwing downs,” Williamson said. “He can be an excellent defensive end in either the 4-3 or the 3-4, and he still is a great 3-technique for the 4-3. So when he is on the field, you don’t know exactly what front you are going to get, and he can shift effectively right before the snap to further confuse matters ... by all accounts, Seymour is a great locker-room guy and leader.”

Seymour will surely like to remind his former coach about all of those attributes that Oakland is benefiting from Sunday.

Ford and Heyward-Bey start for Oakland

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
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DENVER -- Oakland’s starting receivers are Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

There were questions about it heading into the game and coach Hue Jackson wouldn’t discuss who his starters would be. Starter Louis Murphy is hurt and Derek Hagan is inactive.

It wasn't a good start for Ford as he fumbled on Oakland's first play after making a catch. He was tackled by Von Miller. What a start for the No. 2 overall pick of the draft. Denver converted it into a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Oakland defensive tackle John Henderson started the game as the Raiders used a five-man defensive front.

As expected, Sebastian Janikowski's and Matt Prater's first kickoffs sailed out of end zone.

Oakland is playing safety Jerome Boyd

Oakland’s punt returner is Nick Miller.

The Broncos started four rookies for the first time in team history: Miller, safety Rahim Moore, tackle Orlando Franklin and tight end Julius Thomas.

Camp Confidential: Raiders

August, 5, 2011
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NAPA, Calif. -- Hue Jackson doesn’t do anything slow.

He talks fast. He walks fast, and he coaches fast.

The Tom Cable put-your-toe-in-the-water-start-of-training-camp days are over.

There was no warm-up period to Camp Jackson. In his first camp as a head coach on any level, Jackson has not wasted any time. His team has been flying around the field and playing to the whistle on every play since the moment it stepped onto the pristine practice field in Wine Country last week.

Cable believed in getting into the groove of training camp slowly by holding glorified walk-through practices for the first few days while stressing the importance of the classroom. Jackson believes in teaching on the go.

Jackson sees a talented team in front of him, but he also sees a team that needs to block better on offense and tackle better on defense. It’s all about finishing plays on both sides the ball. If you don’t start, you can’t finish.

“It’s a fast game,” Jackson said. “We have to move fast. At all times.”

When they can catch their breath, Jackson's players can see the difference.

"This is totally different, totally different from last year," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly told reporters early in camp. "I mean, he made that plain and clear in the meetings when he was talking about what we had to do …(Cable), he wanted us to learn the stuff. But Hue ain't worrying about that. He just wants to go hard as you can. If you fall out, we'll put somebody else in there."

There is urgency in Oakland. The Raiders teased their fans with an 8-8 record in 2010 -- highlighted by an AFC West 6-0 sweep -- ending an NFL record of seven straight seasons of 11 losses of more. This young team has a chance to continue to improve. Jackson isn’t going to sit around and wait for it to happen.

“We got to go now,” Jackson said. “I talk to them every night about that.”

[+] EnlargeNnamdi Asomugha
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Raiders will look to Chris Johnson and a host of young players to replace Nnamdi Asomugha.
THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How to replace Asomugha and Miller? The Raiders have to spend training camp trying to figure out how to replace two of their best players. Not many teams are dealing with that this summer. But the departures of star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha to Philadelphia and tight end Zach Miller to Seattle create holes for the Raiders.

They gave Stanford Routt, formerly a part-time starter, No.1 cornerback money in the offseason and expect him to take over for Asomugha. Oakland has reportedly toyed with signing another cornerback. But for now, veteran Chris Johnson and a host of young players, including draft picks DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa (who is currently injured), will be in charge of replacing Asomugha, who is arguably the best cornerback in the NFL. Safety Michael Huff, who just re-signed with the team, could also play cornerback in some situations.

The Raiders probably need to bring in a veteran receiver or a tight end. Right now, their starting tight end is Brandon Myers, who has 16 career catches. Miller was quarterback Jason Campbell’s favorite target, and he led the Raiders in receiving in 2010. He made the passing game go. A replacement must be established in camp. (Update: The Raiders added former Giants tight end Kevin Boss on Friday.)

2. Is the offensive line ready? This has long been Oakland’s weakest spot, and Jackson vowed earlier this year to improve it. Finding a suitable unit will be a top goal in training camp. The team drafted Stefen Wisniewski in the second round, and he will start at center. Joe Barksdale was drafted in the third round, and he could battle Khalif Barnes at right tackle if he has a good camp. If second-year guard Bruce Campbell gets healthy quickly, he could make a push at guard, where the Raiders lost longtime starter Robert Gallery in free agency. The team wanted to sign left tackle Jared Gaither, but he is still dealing with back issues. This unit remains a work in progress.

3. Is Campbell ready to be consistent? This is Campbell’s second season in Jackson’s system, and he is expected to make strides. He must show consistency in camp, and he most continue to grasp Jackson’s offense. He started slowly last season and was replaced. But he finished strong. Jackson is a believer in Campbell. Campbell needs to continue to build chemistry with his receivers and entrench himself as the leader of this offense.

CLEAN UP THE MESS

The Raiders have long been one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. It goes back to their golden era. Whether it was a cheap hit or a false start, the yellow flag is a familiar sight for the Silver and Black.

Jackson wants to end that part of Raiders’ lore.

The Raiders were ranked first in the NFL last season in accepted penalties with 604. It seems penalties have been overlooked in Oakland because it’s long been an issue. Jackson thinks that is nonsense. Playing clean football is an emphasis of this camp.

[+] EnlargeRaiders coach Hue Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREWhat does coach Hue Jackson think of the Raiders' penalty problems? "It's embarrassing. ... You can't win if you keep going backward," he says. "I've told the team it's got to stop. It's not cool at all."
“It’s over,” Jackson said. “It’s embarrassing ... You can’t win if you keep going backward. I’ve told the team it’s got to stop. It’s not cool at all.”

DEFENSE STARTS UP FRONT

While the offensive line is still in flux, the Raiders are set on the defensive line. This camp is about establishing dominance for the group. If the Oakland defense improves despite Asomugha’s departure, the front four will be responsible.

There are several excellent pieces on the unit. It all starts with defensive tackle Richard Seymour. A likely future member of the Hall of Fame, Seymour is the best player on the team and the leader of his unit. Add Kelly, polished second-year player Lamarr Houston and run-stuffer John Henderson, and the Raiders are primed to dominate teams up front. Pass-rushers Matt Shaughnessy and Trevor Scott (if healthy) give this unit an important dimension.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Jackson has often lauded second-year linebacker Rolando McClain during camp. He thinks McClain has developed in the offseason, and McClain is expected to be a stalwart.
  • Running back Darren McFadden was spectacular during camp before he suffered a broken orbital bone. He is expected to miss two weeks. The Raiders expect him to make a serious Pro Bowl push. He and restricted free-agent Michael Bush should be a good tandem again.
  • Second-year linebacker Travis Goethel could potentially push Quentin Groves at weakside or Oakland could look for an upgrade elsewhere.
  • The team is excited about fifth-round receiver Denarius Moore. He is a polished and very fast and has a chance to contribute. It will be interesting to see him in the preseason.
  • Seventh-round pick David Ausberry has looked good as he makes the transition from receiver. He’s a project, but he has excellent size and speed.
  • Fourth-year receiver Chaz Schilens is finally healthy and Raiders think he can live up to his potential. But his health is the key.
  • Kelly looks tremendous. He is in great shape and looks primed to build upon his strong 2010 season.
  • Trent Edwards will be given every opportunity to beat out Kyle Boller as Campbell’s backup.
  • Jackson thinks the Raiders fourth-round pick, speedster running back Taiwan Jones, could make his mark this season. It will be fun to watch him in the preseason.
Zach MillerMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Raiders said goodbye to another star on Tuesday, losing tight end Zach Miller to Seattle.
The 2011 Oakland Raiders’ season is not over before it started, but there is no denying that the team’s outlook is a lot less hopeful than it was the day the lockout ended.

No team, arguably, has suffered as many high-profile hits in free agency as the Raiders, who raised expectations with an encouraging 8-8 record in 2010. On Tuesday, four days after superstar cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha departed to Philadelphia in unrestricted free agency, Pro Bowl (and potential top-five) tight end Zach Miller has bailed. He agreed to terms with Seattle on Tuesday. In my opinion, the Raiders lost lost their best and fourth-best players -- for nothing other than a couple likely 2012 third-round compensatory picks.

That doesn’t help Hue Jackson’s first team in Oakland, though.

While Asomugha is a better player, the loss of Miller (who joins former Oakland coach Tom Cable and former Oakland guard Robert Gallery in Seattle) may sting Oakland more. The Raiders were essentially resigned all offseason to losing Asomugha because of his huge price tag. But Miller, who appeared to be Oakland’s next great tight end, was the team’s top free-agency target and the Raiders were trying to lock him up since before the lockout. It had long been assumed that Miller would return to the Raiders, who picked him in the second round of 2007. On Sunday, Jackson indicated the deal was close to being done.

Miller received curiously little interest on the open market in the first few days of free agency. The way I understand it, after the dust of the initial free-agency period settled, the Seahawks looked at the market and couldn’t believe a player of Miller’s ability was still available and decided to take a hard run at him. The Raiders likely couldn’t keep up financially because of salary-cap issues. ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting Miller's agreement with Seattle is for five years and $34 million with $17 million in guaranteed money.

Zach Miller
Cary Edmondson/US PresswireZach Miller made 226 catches for 2,712 yards and 12 touchdowns in four seasons with the Raiders.
Oakland gave franchised player Kamerion Wimbley a five-year, $43 million deal with a reported $29 million in guarantees (I hear much of that money is actually tied in roster bonuses) on Monday in an attempt to clear cap room to sign Miller. According to a source, the Wimbley deal was expected to clear about $8 million. ESPN’s John Clayton reported Tuesday that the Raiders were $17.3 million over the cap before the Wimbley deal. So, the Raiders were likely limited and Miller jumped at Seattle’s offer.

The Raiders gambled and thought Miller would be a restricted free agent, but the new CBA made players with four years of experience unrestricted free agents, not restricted. One has to wonder if the Raiders would have been better off to secure Miller with the franchise tag in February and work out a deal with Wimbley later. I know pass-rushers are valued more than tight ends, but Miller is a special player.

He makes the Raiders’ passing offense go. He may not be as talented as running back Darren McFadden, but he was as important to Oakland’s offense as McFadden.

“It’s brutal,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said of Miller’s departure to Seattle. “He was the only thing (receiver wise) that Oakland could count on … he is exceptional in the passing game and is probably only getting better.”

Miller helped the No. 2 run offense in the NFL by being Oakland’s most reliable receiver and quarterback Jason Campbell’s favorite target. The sure-handed Miller had a team high 60 catches for 685 yards last season. Whenever Campbell was in trouble, he would find Miller, who came down with one chain-moving catch after another.

When speaking to Campbell on Monday, I could tell how much he wanted Miller back. Yet, Miller’s departure puts immense pressure on Oakland’s young receivers. Someone has to emerge as Campbell’s bail-out receiver now that Miller has headed north.

The move has to taste especially sweet for Cable, who was kicked to the curb by Oakland owner Al Davis after last season despite improving the Raiders. The Cable connection has to add to the pain of losing Miller in Oakland. The Raiders visit Seattle on Sept. 2 in the preseason finale.

This was a challenging offseason for the Raiders, who signed many players -- including Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, John Henderson and Michael Huff. They did some good things. But there’s little doubt that they suffered a blow by losing Asomugha and Miller in a span of four days.

This will do nothing to relieve the sting of losing Miller, but the San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the Raiders signed former Washington offensive lineman Stephon Heyer. He gives them much-needed depth on the line and perhaps he could vie for a starting job.
Nnamdi AsomughaJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesOakland was never really serious about re-signing Nnamdi Asomugha.
This has to be a difficult day in the Raider Nation.

It lost its best player in an agonizingly long departure.

In the end, Nnamdi Asomugha -- arguably the best cornerback in the NFL and, by far, the top free-agent prize of 2011 -- departs the Oakland Raiders and becomes a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. He agreed to a five-year, $60 million deal with $25 million in guaranteed money.

But there is much more to the story. Asomugha’s saga took three days to unfold and several teams, including the New York Jets, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys and (gulp) even the San Francisco 49ers all made a push for Asomugha. They were all waiting for him. He kept holding off on his decision.

It cruelly gave Raider Nation hope that perhaps, somehow, Asomugha could come back to Oakland. In the end it appears Asomugha and the Raiders were never close to re-joining forces.

In a way, it’s stunning. Al Davis rarely loses his top players. He is known for overpaying his players to stay. He paid Asomugha $30 million in the past two seasons before Asomugha’s contract voided in January.

Asomugha was a great Raider and a true shut-down corner. Even playing in Oakland’s man-to-man defense, Asomugha excelled. He only saw 50-plus passes thrown his way in the past three seasons combined.

Even though it’s surprising to see Davis allow a top talent to walk, there were plenty of tell-tale signs that Asomugha was likely on his way out.

At the news conference to announce the hiring of Hue Jackson in January, Davis said that he’d try to keep Asomugha but the money spent on him could be used for two or three players. Prior to the lockout, Oakland was, by far, the most aggressive team in the NFL when it came to securing its own free agents. The Raiders locked up several players including Richard Seymour, Stanford Routt, John Henderson and they gave Kamerion Wimbley the franchise tag,

The deal to Routt was telling. He was given $30 million for three years. That’s No.1 cornerback money. Then, the Raiders took cornerbacks in the third and fourth rounds of the draft.

Now Asomugha is gone and all the Raiders have are memories of a great defender and a probable third-round comp pick next year.

There has been reasons for hope in Oakland. The team is stocked with young, exciting talent and the Raiders went 8-8 last season -- breaking a seven-season spell of 11 or more losses, which was an NFL record.

The Raiders still have high hopes, but it will be difficult to improve without their best player. Their young cornerbacks must improve and the promising front seven has to flourish to make up for the lack of the shut-down presence of Asomugha. They could pursue a veteran cornerback such as Antonio Cromartie or Nate Clements. While neither player is in Asomguha’s class, they are both proven veterans.

While money is clearly an issue, the Raiders have to find a way to make some moves. They are trying to work out a long-term deal with Wimbley (the pass rusher wants big money) to open up cap room. They must lock up Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller and there have been reports of a potential deal for tackle Jared Gaither to shore up the offensive line, which is Oakland’s weakest spot.

I know enough about Davis to know, he clearly will not stop trying to win. But there’s no doubt, it did get tougher with Asomugha’s departure.
It's been a tough week for St. Louis Rams fans hoping their team would use free agency to aggressively target needs.

The Rams did reach agreement with Philadelphia Eagles safety Quintin Mikell, but needs at guard, defensive tackle, linebacker and running back remain unaddressed in the veteran market. Those clamoring for a big-play receiver remain in clamoring mode.

It's early. Lots of bad money gets spent early in free agency. I realize that doesn't matter to fans seeking action. But it's true.

The veteran signing period does not even open officially until 6 p.m. ET. In the meantime, the Rams have released a list of 24 undrafted rookie free agents signed to contracts. They picked up six offensive linemen, five defensive linemen and five defensive backs. The one halfback on the list, Eddie Wide, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds coming out of Utah. NFL Draft Scout projected him as a late-round pick with rising stock.

The new labor agreement calls for all undrafted rookies to sign three-year contracts, a perk for NFL teams. Most undrafted rookies will not earn roster spots. Teams will release them. A few will hang around and some will flourish unexpectedly. Those outperforming expectations will find themselves under contract for an extended period, forcing them to renegotiate on teams' terms, if they are able to renegotiate at all.

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