Raiders postcard (cont.)
New Faces, New Places
The Raiders knew that they were getting an upgrade at safety when they inked Gibril Wilson to a six-year, $39 million contract during the offseason, but they didn't know that they were acquiring a player with exceptional leadership qualities. "I really like that attitude that he brings to the huddle," said Kiffin. "He is kind of becoming the vocal leader of our defense."
Wilson gives the team a sure tackler in the secondary, and his versatility allows defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to play man coverage against the premier tight ends (Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez) within their division. In addition, Wilson brings championship experience that will be invaluable to a team that has not sampled success in recent years. "I think the little knowledge that I have will help," said Wilson. "I think that I can show them how to prepare well, and do all of the little things that will help us become a great team."
Looking at the Schedule
The key to the Raiders' success will be getting off to a quick start, but the schedule is littered with three divisional games during the first month. After the bye in Week 5, the team has a favorable middle season stretch that includes winnable games against the Falcons and the Dolphins. It will be critical for them to gain ground during that part of their schedule, as it gets tough for the team down the stretch with games against the Chargers, Patriots, Texans and Bucs to close the season.
Watching Lane Kiffin talk to his entire team prior to a "move-the-ball" drill during the second session of practice. The team had been a little sloppy during the early portion of the practice, and Kiffin immediately assembled his guys to encourage them to pick up the tempo of the drill. Though the discussion didn't last longer than two minutes, it was apparent by the way the team responded with more energy and better focus, that Kiffin still has the ear of his troops. Given all of the speculation that surrounded the young coach during the offseason, it was impressive to see his team respond positively to his leadership, and is a telling sign that things may be on the rise in Oakland.
The Raiders have two stars in the making in linebackers Thomas Howard and Kirk Morrison. The duo came into their own last season, but the team's dismal record caused their play to go largely unnoticed by outsiders. Howard, who racked up 95 tackles to go with his team-leading six interceptions, displays outstanding speed and athleticism while flying to the ball. Morrison, who led the team in tackles for the third consecutive season, is more of a "banger" between the tackles, and he quietly racks up production with little fanfare. If the Raiders' defense experiences the resurgence that many predict, expect these two to play prominent roles in the turnaround.
Don't be surprised if Darren McFadden reprises his role as the multi-purpose threat that made him a star at Arkansas. The Raiders used an array of formations with that had the speedster line up at several positions, including quarterback. The team obviously wants to take advantage of his unique skill set, and is attempting to get him the ball in a number of ways.
Unheralded receiver Todd Watkins has been the talk of the camp, and is making a strong run at a roster spot. Watkins, who originally impressed Lane Kiffin as a collegian at BYU by hauling in four receptions for 94 yards in a 42-10 loss to Southern Cal in 2004, has been catching everything in sight, and displays enough to speed to be a capable deep threat in the Raiders' vertical offense.
Ronald Curry looks great after spending the offseason diligently hitting the weights. Curry lost almost 10 pounds during the offseason, and looks noticeably quicker getting out of his routes. "This is the best that I've seen Curry since I've been here," said Kiffin. With Javon Walker struggling to establish himself in the line up, Curry is poised to be the Raiders' top receiving threat again this season.