NFL Nation: Khalif Barnes

Richie Incognito as a member of the Oakland Raiders is so, well, last regime. Or have you not noticed the trend and type of player general manager Reggie McKenzie has been signing thus far this offseason?

Incognito
They are guys not only with championship pedigrees but also locker room leaders. Guys like Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley and James Jones, and yes, the re-signed Charles Woodson.

Incognito exhibits none of those traits.

Sure, the left guard is a mauler on the offensive line who would have fit in nicely on the old-school Raiders’ island of misfit toys (imagine him and Lyle Alzado going at it in practice), but McKenzie is veering away from those types of players.

Asked at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Monday if he had seen the NFL.com report in which Incognito said he was “100 percent into” the prospect of playing for the Raiders, McKenzie smiled.

“I’ve heard about it,” McKenzie said, per the Bay Area News Group.

Asked what he thought about it, McKenzie smiled and said nothing.

Asked if he was interested in Incognito, McKenzie again smiled and was mute.

From a pure playing standpoint, Incognito does have relationships with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Tony Sparano.

“I’m a loyal guy,” Incognito told NFL.com, “and I’d love to play for them again. And, of course, the Raiders have that aura.”

But again, that aura is from a different generation. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it just is.

Because the notion of Incognito -- who may still face league discipline for his role in the bullying episode in Miami involving Jonathan Martin -- joining the Raiders gave pause to even the progeny of Al Davis.

“I’d have to think about that,” Mark Davis told reporters.

He’d probably be wise to check in with recently signed defensive end Antonio Smith, who has a longstanding feud with Incognito going back to their college days in the Big 12, a bad blood grudge that’s included kicks to the head, helmets being ripped off and more-than-salty threats.

Yeah, Incognito would be a great fit for the old Raiders ... just not McKenzie’s Raiders, who have already added offensive linemen Donald Penn, Kevin Boothe and Austin Howard, to go along with center Stefen Wisniewski, the re-signed Khalif Barnes, second-year tackle Menelik Watson, veteran right guard Mike Brisiel, Matt McCants, Lamar Mady and McKenzie's first-ever draft pick, Tony Bergstrom.

As one anonymous Raiders player told me last season when I asked which player, Incognito or Martin, he would rather have as a teammate, “Neither,” was the reply.
It’s New Year’s Day, Black Friday and the season premiere of "The Price is Right," all wrapped in one silver and black package, with Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie channeling his inner Bob Barker.

Even if the Raiderettes were Barker’s Beauties and Oakland’s 17 scheduled unrestricted free agents were mixed and matched as the prizes in a showcase showdown, McKenzie has yet to show his hand as he sits with close to $65 million in salary-cap space. Even as Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece implored his general manager to eschew “safe moves” in favor of “smart, calculated, fearless, Raider-ass moves” when free agency begins today at 1 p.m. PT.

Thus far, the Raiders’ two biggest free agents, left tackle Jared Veldheer and defensive end Lamarr Houston, have been linked to the Arizona Cardinals and Chicago Bears, respectively. Oakland, meanwhile, has been reportedly kicking the tires on St. Louis Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold and Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, while many see the Raiders as being interested in picking up cornerback Darrelle Revis if and when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut him.

McKenzie, meanwhile, maintained his position: “What I want to do is make this team better. And that’s what we’re going to set out to do this Tuesday and really, not waiting until Tuesday but, just with our own team, just trying to get things done. We want to upgrade this football team and we intend to do that.”

Speaking at the Commitment to Excellence Dinner, which honored Reece on Saturday night, McKenzie pointed to the re-signing of offensive lineman Khalif Barnes and re-upping special-teams ace Taiwan Jones as steps in that direction.

“That’s why it’s important to keep those good players,” McKenzie said. “Khalif, the worker he is, Taiwan is here to support Marcel, and, of course, Marcel. Those are the type of guys, they know the whole Raider [way], the direction we want to go. So we want the guys to be positive for everybody in that locker room.”

True, but which guys, exactly? McKenzie’s patient approach the past two seasons was exacerbated by the Raiders needing to shed salary. Now? These are unchartered waters for the third-year GM, what with so much cap space.

But keep this in mind: He said two years ago that, even with so much cap space, that did not mean he would be shopping at Macy’s. And in January he said, “Just because I have $5 in my pocket, that doesn’t mean I have to spend all of it ... on junk.”

Reggie McKenzie, come on down ...

Free-agency primer: Raiders

March, 7, 2014
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» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: LT Jared Veldheer, DE Lamarr Houston, RB Rashad Jennings, FS Charles Woodson, CB Tracy Porter, RB Darren McFadden

Where they stand: With 17 remaining unrestricted free agents -- Oakland re-signed offensive tackle Khalif Barnes last week -- the Raiders chose not to use the franchise tag on Veldheer or Houston. That should not surprise anyone; general manager Reggie McKenzie said he wanted to avoid using it, and Veldheer said he did not want to be tagged. With nearly $65 million in cap space, the Raiders are primed to be players during free agency. They need help especially on the defensive line -- all four starters are free agents -- and in the secondary, and ditto with both cornerbacks and the free safety. The primary need on defense is a prototypical edge rusher.

What to expect: As McKenzie said last year, just because he has money to spend does not mean he’s going shopping at Macy’s. And as he restated this year, just because he has money does not mean he’s going to spend it on junk. True, it’s time for McKenzie to make like Macklemore and “pop some tags,” but don’t expect him to break the bank. He’ll use the money judiciously, and although the Raiders have the most cap space, they also have the most needs. It makes sense for Oakland to find a veteran quarterback to serve as a bridge, of sorts, while McKenzie strengthens to team around said quarterback, someone the staff trusts and already knows. Targets could include Josh Freeman, Josh McCown and Mark Sanchez (if and when the Jets cut him). Defensively, Jared Allen could fit the bill at defensive end.

Whither the Raiders' O-line?

October, 21, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- No unit on the Oakland Raiders' roster needed the rest and relaxation afforded by the bye week more than the offensive line.

Consider that center Stefen Wisniewski (knee), center/left guard Andre Gurode (knee), right tackle Tony Pashos (groin/hip) and left tackle Menelik Watson (calf) were all either out before or knocked out during Oakland's loss at the Kansas City Chiefs last week. And that's not taking into account left tackle Jared Veldheer, who continues to rehab from his left triceps surgery in training camp.

“It was really good,” said left tackle Khalif Barnes, who had to make the switch from the right side at the dawn of the season with the injuries to Veldheer and Watson.

“We needed to get some bodies rested and some guys healed up ... it was a good week for us to sit back and try to get our bodies back, and things of that nature.

“I just know guys are in there busting their tails trying to get healthy and trying to get back. I'm not really sure. I just go by whenever they get back out there.”

In Monday's practice, Wisniewski was working with a trainer on a side field while Gurode, Pashos and Watson were nowhere to be found (Gurode, though, was later walking through the locker room without a noticeable limp).

As such, the first-string makeshift offensive line Monday morning was the unit that finished the 24-7 loss to the Chiefs: LT Barnes, LG Lucas Nix, C Mike Brisiel, RG Lamar Mady, RT Matt McCants.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said he would not speak about injuries until later in the week.

“I'm hopeful we'll get some guys back (on the offensive line),” he said, “but we'll know more on Wednesday.”

Allen also insisted he was fine starting that same line against Pittsburgh.

“You look at the best football teams in the National Football League and they've got depth,” he said. “They've got guys that can go in, when called upon, and they can go in and play well. So the fact that we've had a lot of guys get some experience and get some playing time will help us down the road.”

The Raiders are hoping that guys like Mady and McCants and, perhaps, re-signed practice squad offensive lineman Jason Foster, add such depth.

Coming into camp, the projected offensive line was supposed to look something like this: LT Veldheer, LG Tony Bergstrom (IR and rehabbing LisFranc surgery on foot), C Wisniewski, RG Brisiel, RT Barnes.

Instead…

“We've kind of been doing it all year long with guys rotating and playing different spots but it's real tough when you do it at the center position,” Barnes said. “Especially when you have both centers go down. It's tough because you don't really work with that center on different types of timings, silent counts. But Mike [Brisiel] went in there and did a great job for [being] thrown into the fire.

“We've been trained … that one guy goes down, the next guy steps up. That stuff happens in the league every week to every team so it ain't just us. When it happens, you have to be able to step up and get it done.”
KANSAS CITY -- The last time Mike Brisiel played center?

“Probably 2007,” he said, “in NFL Europe. Maybe in preseason, but not in an NFL game. No.

“I have to prepare like I can be in there, so the mistakes are on me. We can’t use any of that as an excuse. When your name gets called, you have to go.”

Brisiel
Pressed into service by the knee injury to Andre Gurode, who had been pressed into service himself by the knee injury to Stefen Wisniewski, Brisiel slid over from left guard.

“Mike Brisiel,” offered quarterback Terrelle Pryor, “he could barely walk. But I appreciate him.”

As did coach Dennis Allen, even as he failed to say why Brisiel moved to center when Lamar Mady had been putting in work there in recent weeks.

And in an environment as raucous as the one provided at Arrowhead Stadium en route to an eventual 24-7 Chiefs win against the Raiders, Brisiel did what he could do with the silent counts and long snaps. And really, it was reminiscent of Travis Goethel becoming a long-snapper, much to his surprise -- and chagrin -- in last season’s season opener.

“It was an adjustment for him,” Allen said. “We’ll go back and look at the tape and see exactly where the breakdown occurred. Usually, when those things happen, with sacks like that, there is usually a breakdown in (communication). The quarterback doesn’t get a lot of time to see (the rush).”

Pryor was sacked 10 times. He endured 14 hits. And he did not think his offensive line owed him an apology. In fact, Pryor owned the loss.

“We’ve had guys going down since OTA’s, so we’re not going to use that as an excuse here,” said left tackle Khalif Barnes, who was slated to be the right tackle before injuries to Jared Veldheer and rookie Menelik Watson. “It’s just that the Chiefs are a good team and we came in and they played the full 60 minutes and we set ourselves back in a few areas.”

Veldheer, who tore his left triceps in camp, is eligible to play on Nov. 3 against Philadelphia, so long as his rehab goes according to plan. Watson, who missed practice last week with a calf issue, now has the bye week to rehab, as does right tackle Tony Pashos, who re-aggravated his groin injury.

Brisiel, meanwhile, owned the makeshift line’s shortcomings -- the Raiders were called for 11 penalties, including a hold and three false starts on the line -- while praising the young Pryor, who has started all of six NFL games.

“We have to be there as a foundation for him and right now as an O-line we are scrambling for bodies,” Brisiel said. “And we just didn’t get it done.”

Raiders' O-line a pleasant surprise

September, 11, 2013
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ALAMEDA, Calif. – Khalif Barnes let out with a spirited, if somewhat off-key, rendition of “Reunited” in the Raiders' locker room Wednesday. And yes, he felt so good.

Why not? With so much shuffling and duct-tape work on Oakland’s offensive line last week, what was supposed to be a glaring weakness for the Raiders in their season opener at Indianapolis actually turned out to be a strength.

[+] EnlargeRaiders offensive line protects Terrelle Pryor
AP Photo/AJ MastThe Raiders had to do some shuffling on the offensive line, but the group did well to protect quarterback Terrelle Pryor from the Colts.
This after Barnes made the move from right tackle to left tackle and Tony Pashos, signed the Monday before, started at right tackle. The moves were necessitated with injuries to starting left tackle Jared Veldheer and his replacement, rookie Menelik Watson.

Go ahead, call Barnes and Pashos the Raiders’ Peaches and Herb. Just don’t try to assign specific labels. Because really, it’s a team effort being the last line of defense on either side. And no, Barnes was not shocked at how relatively well the O-line protected Terrelle Pryor.

“No, not surprised,” he said. “It’s the next-man mentality. Plus, me and Tony, we’ve done that before. We did that in Jacksonville ... against the same guys, but with [Dwight] Freeney. They had two scoops of trouble before – [Robert] Mathis and Freeney. They’re just dogs at pass-rushing.

“When you’ve been in that situation before, you kind of know how to handle adversity.”

Sure, Pryor’s ability to extend plays with his scrambling and a game plan that called mostly for quick-strike passing helped the O-line. But keep in mind, the last time Barnes and Pashos worked together was in 2008 -- for the Jaguars, who just so happen to be this weekend’s opponent.

Cue Peaches … or Herb. Whoever. Because according to Pro Football Focus, Pashos did not allow a single pressure on Pryor, who became just the seventh quarterback since the 1970 merger to pass for at least 200 yards and rush for 100 in the same game.

“We could have done some things better, too,” Pashos said. “Everybody came away from that game thinking so.

“The coaches, [offensive-line coach] Tony Sparano, they put in overtime to get us ready. It’s really a testament to them. People were talking it was all the way up to right before the game … It’s all hands on deck in those situations.”

Especially when Pryor is scrambling around, tiring out not only the defense but, presumably, his own linemen.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Barnes said. “It doesn’t matter who’s back there, you can’t have your clock in your head when you’re blocking a guy. You’ve got to block a guy until you hear a whistle.

“Now, do you have to be a little more conscious of where a guy might go? Maybe. But it all goes back to finishing blocks and not having a time clock in your head.”

Barnes’ partner agreed.

“I think in general, an O-lineman doesn’t have an egg timer on his plays,” Pashos said. “You just listen for whistles or crowd noise, really. You’ve got to stay on your guy. If those guys are making plays, you’ve got to do your job.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Raiders signed offensive tackle Matt McCants off their practice squad Saturday and placed left tackle Jared Veldheer on the reserve/injured-designated to return list in the corresponding roster move.

With Veldheer undergoing surgery on his left triceps in training camp and rookie Menelik Watson injuring a knee in practice Wednesday, the Raiders had only two healthy tackles entering this weekend’s season opener against the Colts in Khalif Barnes and Tony Pashos.

Barnes will move from right tackle to start on the left side and Pashos, who was signed Monday, will start at right tackle.

The 6-foot-5, 309-pound McCants was a sixth-round draft choice of the New York Giants in 2012 out of Alabama-Birmingham, where he was primarily a left tackle and spent most of last season on the Giants’ practice squad. He was waived by the Giants on Aug. 31 and signed to the Raiders’ practice squad on Monday.
As expected, left tackle Menelik Watson (knee) and tight end David Ausberry (shoulder) were both ruled out of the Raiders’ season opener Sunday at Indianapolis.

Watson, the rookie who was making the conversion to the left side, injured a knee in practice on Wednesday and has not practiced since. Ausberry has been sidelined since the end of camp.

Rookie strongside linebacker Sio Moore (foot) was listed as questionable.

With Watson out, Khalif Barnes will slide over from right tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side at left tackle, and Tony Pashos, who was signed on Monday, will start at right tackle. Barnes and Pashos once played together in that alignment in Jacksonville.

But with Watson and Jared Veldheer (left triceps) out, the Raiders have only two healthy tackles in Barnes and Pashos. As such, Oakland has to make a roster move to add another tackle -- perhaps signing Matt McCants off the practice squad -- and make room for said tackle, which would mean probably finally placing Veldheer on partial season injured reserve.

Coach Dennis Allen, though, said the team would not announce any roster moves until Saturday, and he would not elaborate on the severity of Watson’s injury.

Quarterback Matt Flynn (right elbow) and place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski (right calf) were both listed as probable.
While the draft signifies new beginnings in the NFL, it also means the end of the road for some veterans who will be replaced by the newly-selected player. Let’s take a look at one player from each AFC West team who could see his job in jeopardy this summer.

Denver Broncos: Willis McGahee, running back. The Broncos selected Montee Ball in the second round and would like him to become a primary back. They also want him to have a big role along with 2012 third-round pick Ronnie Hillman, who is more of a change of pace back. McGahee is coming off a knee injury and he is 31. While he may be in Denver’s short-term plans, I’d think this will be his final season.

Kansas City Chiefs: Tony Moeaki, tight end. I’m a big Moeaki fan and I think he could be outstanding. He was terrific as a rookie in 2010 but had problems staying healthy. I think the Chiefs are open to having Moeaki in their plans, even though they drafted Travis Kelce in the third round. The NFL is a two tight end league now. While the Chiefs did sign Anthony Fasano, he is 29 and he won’t be around forever. There can be a place for Moeaki, but I also think the Chiefs’ new brass doesn’t think it can count on him. He must stay healthy and produce right away.

Oakland Raiders: Khalif Barnes, right tackle. The Raiders took offensive tackle Menelik Watson in the second round. He will likely push Barnes right away at right tackle. Barnes re-signed this offseason, but he is the type of player teams try to upgrade from. Watson has big potential and if he performs quickly, I can see him replacing Barnes early in his career.

San Diego Chargers: Jeromey Clary, right tackle. The Chargers drafted D.J. Fluker with the No. 11 pick and he will be the new right tackle. Clary will be moved to guard and he will be given a chance to fight for a job. I’m not sure what his chances are but Clary’s days as the Chargers’ right tackle are over.
AFC camp battles: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

An early look at the biggest training camp position battles:

DENVER BRONCOS

Safety: Quinton Carter versus Rahim Moore

The two 2011 draft picks will fight it out to play along with free-agent pickup Mike Adams. Carter and Moore rotated in the offseason. If draft status is an indication, Moore will have the inside edge. He was a second-round pick and Carter was a fourth-rounder.

However, if their short NFL careers are a factor, Carter will have the edge. He was better than Moore as a rookie. Still, the team likes Moore’s long-term potential. His biggest issue appears to be confidence. He made some mistakes and he didn’t recover from them last year. He has vowed to work on his mental game. No matter who wins the starting job, I expect both players to see the field often.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Backup quarterback: Brady Quinn versus Ricky Stanzi

This is one of the more intriguing battles in Kansas City. Quinn was signed to be the backup to Matt Cassel because of his experience. He played for Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel in Cleveland. It appeared that Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011, was earmarked for another year as the third-stringer.

However, Stanzi was impressive during the offseason and he and Quinn rotated as Cassel’s backup during organized team activities. It seems Quinn still has the edge, but Stanzi will get a fair shake. If he shows he has big potential in camp and in the preseason and Quinn is below average, I can see Stanzi overtaking Quinn.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

Right tackle: Khalif Barnes versus Joe Barksdale

There are a few battles to watch in Oakland (including at tight end and at a cornerback spot), but this is a position to keep an eye on. Oakland’s offensive line is improving, but this is the weak area. Barnes has had his struggles, and some were surprised when he was re-signed. Oakland paid him enough to make it appear he will be given every opportunity to win the job.

Barksdale is a player the previous regime traded up to take in the draft last year. He has to show the new staff he can play in the zone-blocking scheme, which Barnes has some experience in. I think Barksdale will eventually take this job, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Barnes begins the season as the starter.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Kicker: Nate Kaeding versus Nick Novak

The Chargers decided early in the offseason they would let Kaeding and Novak engage in a good, old-fashioned kicking battle in training camp and the preseason. It should be fascinating to watch. These are two good kickers. I don’t think there is a favorite.

You’d think Kaeding would be the favorite because of his pedigree. However, after Kaeding went down for the season in Week 1 with a knee injury, Novak was terrific. If Kaeding can show he is fully healthy and he looks good, he could retake the job. But Novak will not give in easily. This battle should go the distance.
AFC hidden treasures: West | North | South | East NFC: West | North | South | East

Examining a position group that could exceed its preseason expectations:

The Oakland offensive line has been a negative influence on the team in recent years. I don’t see it being a problem anymore.

I think this unit is still a work in progress and it is still far from elite, but it’s not a problem.

I really like young center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer. The Raiders added solid guard Mike Brisiel from Houston. He is excellent in the zone-blocking scheme the Raiders are going back to, and he is a tough player. These are three strong pieces to the line. They are all athletic and tough. They will battle all day long.

Guard Cooper Carlisle is also adept in the zone-blocking scheme. At right tackle, Khalif Barnes will try to hold off second-year player Joe Barksdale.

Again, this isn’t a great unit, but there are some solid pieces and I don’t think the Raiders are overly worried about this being a problem area.
Denver is visiting with Houston tight end Joel Dreessen. He is a Colorado native. Denver is also talking to tight end Jacob Tamme, who played with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting Dreessen said he will choose between the Texans and Broncos by Friday morning. It will be interesting to see if Denver would want Dreessen and Tamme. The Broncos also have second-year players Julius Thomas (who they are high on) and Virgil Green, who faces a four-game NFL suspension for using a banned substance.

Meanwhile, cornerback William Gay visited the Broncos on Wednesday. The Broncos are bringing in Tracy Porter on Thursday. I think one of the two have a good chance to be signed.

In other AFC West news:

Because of the money Oakland paid Khalif Barnes, there is good reason to think he will start in 2012 ahead of second-year player Joe Barksdale.

Oakland fans must check out this video about Sebastian Janikowski.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Drew Stanton had a chance to be Kansas City’s backup before signing with the Jets. The Chiefs have since signed former Denver backup Brady Quinn.

NFL Network reports the Chiefs are visiting with cornerback Chris Carr. He would fill a depth role.

Breaking down Raiders-Seahawks

September, 3, 2011
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Here are some thoughts from the Raiders’ 20-3 loss at Seattle on Friday night:

A rough preseason for the AFC West is over. The division won a total of four games, which was the lowest combined total of any division in the NFL. Oakland and Kansas City both went 0-4, joining Atlanta as the only winless teams in the league.

My thoughts on Oakland’s winless preseason? No biggie. No biggie at all. Again, I’m the wrong guy if you’re looking for a dose of preseason panic.

I was surprised that the starters played a lot. It seems many coaches changed their philosophy -- the fourth preseason game is traditionally a game when the starters stand on the sideline in a ball cap -- because of the lost time due to the lockout.

Quarterback Jason Campbell put in another nice performance. He completed 8 of 11 passes. He was strong all preseason.

It looks like Kyle Boller is going to be the backup ahead of Trent Edwards. Boller played much more than Edwards on Friday night.

The following group appears to be Oakland’s starting offensive line: Jared Veldheer, Stefen Wisniewski, Samson Satele, Cooper Carlisle and Khalif Barnes. This has been the starting group for weeks and expect to see it in Denver. I like Veldheer and Wisniewski on the left side, but the rest of the group is a little worrisome.

I’m not surprised Terrelle Pryor didn’t play. I know Oakland coach Hue Jackson said he would last week, but Jackson was far less committal this week. It is clear Pryor wasn’t ready to play. That’s understandable. He been in the system for a week. I don’t look at it as a bad sign that Pryor was kept on the sideline.

Oakland’s poor defensive effort continued. The struggling Seattle offense gained 377 yards. It will be interesting to see if this Oakland defense will be ready when the team opens at Denver in nine days.

Veteran receiver Derek Hagan had 224 receiving yards in the preseason, which was the second most in the league. Expect him to be in Oakland’s rotation.

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.
I am a bit surprised that the Oakland Raiders have re-signed safety Michael Huff.

The consensus was that the former No. 7 overall pick would likely leave. That thought was fueled by the combination that he could have other suitors (his homestate Dallas Cowboys were mentioned often) and the fact that the Raiders wouldn’t overpay for the player who has had an up-and-down NFL career.

Yet, in the end, Huff stays in Oakland. It appears there wasn’t a strong market for him. The money Huff received hasn’t been reported yet. Huff’s signing means the Raiders have some cap room and perhaps a Zach Miller re-signing on the horizon. Miller is a much more important player than Huff.

Don’t get me wrong: Huff is a professional and his presence gives the Raiders some stability. He made strides in 2010, but he also had some issues in coverage and in pass and run support. He doesn’t always take the best angle on plays. I know many Raiders fans get frustrated with him at times. Earlier in free agency, the Raiders were connected to San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson, but his addition is not likely now.

Huff signing is part of an interesting weekend for Oakland. On Friday, the team saw its best player, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, sign with Philadelphia. Then, reports came out that Oakland would shore up its offensive line by adding massive Baltimore left tackle Jared Gaither. Yet, Saturday, Gaither wasn’t signed, likely because of medical issues. He missed the entire 2010 season with a back injury. The Raiders re-signed tackle Khalif Barnes and added backup quarterback Trent Edwards on Saturday.

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