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On the cusp: Raiders who may not make it

The ‘Turd’ man go-eth?
Photo by Patrick A. Patterson

The highs and lows of training camp can often blind you to the obvious when it comes to player evaluations. Sometimes, you get so used to players just being there that you forget that they haven’t really flashed or looked noticeably bad enough for you to take notice.

A perfect example of this is a certain assistant coach that won’t be named. This coach was noticeably present for the first few days of camp, but when he disappeared, nobody–including the players themselves–even noticed that he was gone. In some cases, this might be a good thing, but if you are trying to make the roster of an NFL team, you may want to get noticed for something positive before camp closes.

This isn’t an exact science, but I’ll try and share with you a few Raiders from 2008 who may not remain Raiders for 2009. Obviously, I’m not privy to the science of building a Raider team, and have no final say in the matter, but I’ll give you my guesses for players running out of time.

Terdell Sands

This wouldn’t be much of a surprise to those watching the practices and the games. Of all of the position groups, the defensive line seems to do the least work on the team…well, other than the kickers that is. I don’t propose to know more about building a solid defensive line than the Raiders’ coaching staff, but I can say that these guys are pretty lucky that I’m not in charge of their practice.

With all of that said, the laziest player on this line, (possibly on the roster), is Sands. Often, he slowly moves up to the line and gives half-effort during practice. It’s rather surprising to many who’ve been around for a while because he looks to be in the best shape of his career. To make matters worse, we haven’t seen any production out of him in practice or the games–see 275-yards rushing by the 49ers last Saturday.

With the emergence of Desmond Bryant, William Joseph, and the surprising pickup of Dolphins’ castoff Joe Cohen, Sands had better start showing something other than his stalled motor.

Kirk Morrison

Getting injured may have prevented the Raiders from doing what was probably considered the unthinkable a month ago–trading their top tackler from a year ago. There isn’t any secret that Tom Cable and his staff have been looking for a middle linebacker for the entire offseason.

Prior to the draft, they had spoken with Anthony Felder and Zack Follett from Cal about becoming Raiders and being a 4-3 MIKE. They also converted tight end Chris O’Neill to the position for a small time before cutting him. The biggest indication of a possible switch was the extended use of Ricky Brown at the spot before Morrison was injured.

When you watch the linebackers do their drills, there’s no doubt that Morrison and Howard are the most athletic and seemingly best linebackers on the team. When you watch these same linebackers line up and play against the run, Brown has outplayed Morrison quite often. To make matters worse for Captain Kirk, his cap number (~900k) is less than Brown’s (~1.1M) for the 2009 season, so there isn’t an incentive to keep Morrison as a starter.

Ask Greg Biekert, Napoleon Harris, and Danny Clark about being the Raiders’ former starting middle linebacker for any indication of what they do when they find another guy for the position.

Justin Fargas

Fargas looks great in camp and on the field. Unlike the previous two players, there is nothing wrong with the gifted veteran back–except that the Raiders have three other gifted backs waiting in the wings. The Raiders clearly want to use 2008 first-round pick Darren McFadden and 2007 fourth-round pick Michael Bush more than they did last season.

Although Fargas has been a clear leader in the locker room and on the field, his age (29) and his penchant for injury may push the Raiders to trade the runner for a player who fills a position of need. There have been whispers that the Raiders might trade Fargas in order to beef up their defense or to acquire more draft picks for the 2010 NFL Draft.

It’s not like the Raiders wouldn’t have three running backs without Fargas. In fact, they would have four still on the roster who are capable of contributing, with three possibly more than ready to be the primary back. Bush proved last season that despite his leg injury during the first game of his senior year at Louisville, he has the wiggle and enough speed to be a force in the league. Louis Rankin has had another outstanding camp and may be nearly as fast as McFadden on a sprint. Gary Russell, a longshot to make the team, has also had a good camp and wears a Super Bowl ring from last season where he scored a touchdown against Arizona.

Getting rid of Fargas might not be the most popular choice by the Raiders, but it could be a move that brings with it more talent at areas the Raiders are in need of.

John Wade

The veteran would seem to be the likely backup to Samson Satele, but he hasn’t been much of a factor so far in camp and his play has been less than extraordinary. Wade has been out of camp since the Dallas game with a kneck stinger, but wasn’t working all that much prior to the injury.

With former backup center Chris Morris still on the roster and Jonathan Compas getting plenty of time at the position, the Raiders may opt for the two younger and more versatile lineman rather than keep the veteran, (center only), player on the roster.

Tony Stewart

Stewart hasn’t really done anything for him to not be on the final 53-man roster when the Raiders face the Chargers in their opener. This is more of a case of a veteran getting supplanted by a younger face who is really playing well–or in Stewart’s case, two younger faces.

With Brandon Myers and Darrell Strong both having solid camps, Stewart’s time in silver and black may be coming to a close. Both Myers and Strong have been shown that they can block as well as catch when called upon to do so. That doesn’t always bode well for a veteran when his salary could be the final factor in the decision to keep him over the younger and cheaper Strong.

This will all boil down to how many tight ends the Raiders actually want to keep on the roster. If they keep four, Stewart will be one of those guys, but if it’s three, he may be looking for a job elsewhere.

Other 2008 Raiders that may find themselves searching in September

Here’s a short list of other Raiders that may find themselves ‘crunched’ off the team:

  • Jonathan Holland – This will hinge on injury and/or the play of Nick Miller.
  • Sam Williams – He’s the third-string SAM and with the injury to Morrison he’s been backing up at MIKE. The re-siging of Napoleon Harris and the play of Slade Norris at SAM doesn’t bode well for this special teams player.
  • Paul McQuistan – His battle with Chris Morris for the backup spot at left guard isn’t going as well as he’d like. His position on the team will depend on if the Raiders feel they have the depth they want at right tackle and guard.
  • Luke Lawton – Hasn’t looked very good this preseason, which made the release of Lorenzo Neal that much more confounding. He does play on special teams, but that might not be enough for the Raiders to keep him with Oren O’Neal and Marcel Reece at fullback.
  • Greyson Gunheim – Too many other defenders at his position and his play hasn’t been enough to make him noticeable so far.
  • John Bowie – It’s likely he’ll get another year since he’s the player the Raiders received for Randy Moss. Now that the Raiders have cut Jason Horton, only Darrick Brown remains between a paycheck and the unemployment line for this guy.