As we approach the start of the preseason, several questions will be answered. Who is the best looking lineman, who is the leader of the wide receivers, what type of quarterback will Jason Campbell be? Bruce Gradkowski will get an opportunity to prove he is worth taking a gamble on as a starter, the Raiders will emerge with a starting halfback, and Hue Jackson will show us a little glimpse of his scheme. Michael “Missile” Mitchell will try to steal a safety spot from one of the current starters, Lamarr Houston will bring his attitude to the locker room, and well, Nnamdi Asomugha will still be Nnamdi Asomugha.
But right now, I’d like to take this time to look at a few Oakland Raiders who have to have a huge year. Sometimes players need to have a big year because it is a contract year. Others because they need to prove that they still have what it takes to play NFL football. Some want to prove that they have it in the first place.
- LG Robert Gallery: He is not the franchise left tackle Mr. Davis thought he was getting, but he’s been a pretty darned gone good guard for Tom Cable. That is until last season. If the offensive line is going to succeed this year, they need Gallery to be a healthy part of it. Gallery proved last season that he takes the role of the veteran on this young line; he is an inspiration to the guys around him on and off the field.
- FS Michael Huff: Huff is in a contract year and he is going to have Michael Mitchell tugging the back of his jersey all year as he attempts to get more field time than he did in 2009. Huff is a very versatile player, but if he wants to be a part of this team in 2011, he has to prove that he can be the guy he was through the first three games of 2009 for an entire season. Huff has the talent, he studies and practices hard, and he should know how to play the game at this level. Now it’s time to prove it.
- LT Mario Henderson: Many in the Raider Nation are already calling for his head. Well, they don’t really want his head per say, they really just want him to change sides. I read one article the other day that said Bruce Campbell should be given a chance at left tackle, yikes. Henderson is going into his second year as the full-time starter at the position and his fourth year in the league. This is the make or break year for him. Let’s hope he makes more out of it than last year’s make or break player.
- DT Desmond Bryant: I liked this guy last year. For me, he was a highlight of the rookie class along with Matt Shaughnessy and Louis Murphy. This year he is reportedly 20 pounds heavier and has been working with the Raiders new defensive line coach, Mike Waufle, day in day out since February. The Raiders added a little depth to the roster with the signing of John Henderson, but they need Bryant to be the surefire starter next to Tommy Kelly.
- CB Chris Johnson: Johnson is going to get picked on this year, just like he did last year. I’m not sure anybody would want to be in his shoes right not, not even the “great” ones like Champ Bailey or even Darelle Revis. Heck, Nnamdi himself might not be able to play opposite of himself. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they could clone him though? But chew on this for a second: Johnson took over for a Pro Bowl CB when DeAngelo Hall left and he has done a better job than Hall would have done. Yet the fact remains that he will be responsible for most of the passing touchdowns given up on defense this year. And even if he’s not responsible, fans will give him credit anyway.
In other news, Oakland Raiders great, safety Jack Tatum, passed away Tuesday. He was 61. It’s important to take a moment of silence for such a loss. Lately I’ve been reading John Madden’s 1985 book Hey, Wait a Minute. In the beginning of the book, Madden recalls a tale of the Raiders safety:
“Darryl Stingly, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, collided with Jack Tatum, our free safety, in an August 12th exhibition game in Oakland. On the play, Darryl lined up as a wide receiver on the right side at our 24-yard line. He ran about eight yards downfield then he slanted toward the middle to catch a pass from Steve Grogan, the Patriots quarterback.
But the ball was thrown a little too high. Darryl leaped for it, but the ball sailed past his fingers. Just then Jack Tatum crashed into him. Darryl sagged to the ground. Darryl didn’t move. Not a finger, not a foot. He still hadn’t moved when the stretcher was wheeled out to take him to the locker room.
On the field, we play hard. But when somebody on the other team gets hurt as seriously as Darryl did, we are all in this game together. By the time I got to the hospital, Darryl was being prepared for a halo.
Some of the Raider players also visited him, but Darryl was bitter that Jack Tatum never came. Jack had tried. The day Jack arrived at the hospital he was told he couldn’t see Darryl. That wasn’t unusual— whenever Darryl was being treated, nobody could see him. But I think Jack got the impression Darryl didn’t want to see him, or that Darryl’s wife or his mother and brother didn’t want Darryl to see him. Whatever it was, Jack left the hospital and never returned.
Looking back, I can see that I should have brought Jack in there to see Darryl myself. Two months after the accident it was too late. Darryl was flown to another hospital in Chicago, his hometown.
Darryl holds Jack responsible for what happened. But, watching their collision as it was happening, I didn’t think Jack hit Darryl any harder than he had hit some other receivers— maybe even not as hard.
Watching the films later, the big thing to me was that Darryl got hit in midair. If one or both of his feet had been on the ground, he might have been able to absorb the hit. After it happened, nobody felt any worse about it than Jack did. I’m sure it will always be on his mind. Jack’s part in the accident has been misunderstood. He was just doing what he had always done, what he had been coached to do, what he did as well as anybody in the NFL— hit hard.“
Tatum was an All-American safety at Ohio State. He was a three time Pro Bowler and was a first round draft choice for the Oakland Raiders in 1971. Peace and love from all of us at TFDS Sports to his wife, Denise, as well as his family and friends during this tragic time.
Click here to see what Willie Brown had to say about his former teammate.
But let’s end this thing on a good note. Terrell Owens just signed a one-year contract with Cincinnati. Hate to say I told you so, but I said he’d end up there, just like all the other NFL bad news these days. I hope the analysts see the light and start projecting these poor characters to the Bengals instead of the Raiders.
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