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Huff wants to play nickel cornerback

Free safety Michael Huff is back to his natural habitat in Napa, California, with most of his Raider brothers. But all is not the same – you see, Huff’s mentor over the past two seasons, Nnamdi Asomugha, has flown away with the birds. Now Huff, as the most veteran presence in the Raiders’ secondary, has some big shoes to fill, but this young man is ready and willing to teach the young guys and do whatever it takes to win football games.

Huff said in a media conference on Sunday that he wants to be more than just a free safety this year. With Mike Mitchell practicing at strong safety and Branch showing some versatility at free safety in training camp practices thus far, it opens the door for the defensive backs coaches to move Huff around and make him more impactful than he has been in the past, even in his All-Pro 2010 season.

“They talked to me,” Huff told the present Bay Area media, including our own Levi Damien, on Sunday. “They’re going to help me this year, just do multiple things and just help the defense. Whatever the defense needs, I’ll do it. I’ll play dime, I’ll play linebacker, even though I’m not that big. I’ll do anything, like I said just to help the defense. I want to win.”

Huff was very effective rushing the passer along with his teammate at safety, Tyvon Branch, as the two of them racked up eight sacks (four each). But in the absence of Asomugha, there is a chance that somebody as versatile as Huff could have to fill in and play some nickel cornerback behind current starters Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt. Huff said that he desires to move around more and not be stuck playing centerfield during most of the Raiders’ time on defense.

“Hopefully, I’ll play a little more nickel this year so I can blitz more,” Huff said. “Back when I was playing free safety they knew that if I was down there [in the box], I was coming, so hopefully I can play some nickel. The more we blitz, the more we make plays so we might as well keep doing it.”

Putting Huff up close to the line of scrimmage and covering up a wide receiver does make it less obvious when he would be blitzing, just like he said. But Huff has to show consistency in covering wide receivers in man-to-man coverage during this preseason if he wants his wishes to become a reality. Head Coach Hue Jackson isn’t sure that he’ll be more than just the free safety again this season.

“Huff is another one of our tremendous Raiders,” said the first year Head Coach. “He likes being here, loves playing with his teammates, he loves this organization. He truly believes we’re building something and he wants to be a part of it. He’s locked in at a safety but he is one of the guys that can play several things. He’s our safety and he’s returning at the position he was in and I’m expecting a big season from him.”

Still, Huff wants more for himself than being a one trick pony. “It feels good being able to do more things, like back to my Texas days when I played corner, free, strong, you know, just did everything.”

However, he’s going to have his hands full teaching these rookies and second year boys in the Raider secondary to do more than just suit up on Sundays.

“What [Nnamdi] taught me, I have to teach those young guys that,” Huff says. “Me and Stanford [Routt] have to be those guys now.”

“Those guys” will be the players who keep the rookies focused and out of trouble during the week. They also have to teach young players how to watch film — not just to watch, as in look at the screen, but to break it down and find nuances in their opponent’s game. Things like finding weak points in the offense that can be exploited or what certain players do not do well. Things like listening for audibles and deciphering what they mean in terms of offensive adjustments. They also have to teach rookies to watch tape of themselves and how they can improve their game week in and week out. Basically, without Asomugha, Routt and Huff are going to have to tackle yet another obstacle in their careers and become role models and coaches who wear pads and lace up on Sundays.

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