Raiders Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Oakland Raiders

August 31, 2008
Russell looks to play it safe

ALAMEDA - JaMarcus Russell received some good advice from former Raiders coach Jon Gruden.

Russell met with Gruden prior to the 2007 NFL Draft. Gruden showed Russell film from his days at LSU when he got outside of the pocket and lowered the boom on smaller players.

Gruden's message was simple. You wouldn't do that playing for me.

"He was telling me 'Id fine you on this play, I'd fine you on this play, I'd fine you on this play,'" Russell said.

With the season approaching, everyone is curious as to how Russell will handle coming in as the starter and knowing the balance of when not to take risks.

Russell's size gives him an advantage against smaller blitzers. The best example came in the preseason when Arizona sent a cornerback at Russell.

Russell brushed him off and ran for 12 yards. He only hopes the next time he does that, the play isn't killed by a penalty like it was that night.

There's also the safety factor. Russell realizes he can't always take on a hit, even from a smaller player.

Lest we forget, Steve Young's career ended on a hit by a cornerback.

"You can't underestimate a small guy," Russell said. "He might knock the wind out of you, knock the fire from you."

Now that the preseason is over, you can expect to see a lot more of Darren McFadden doing more than taking handoffs.

The game of "Where's Darren" begins against Denver on Monday, Sept. 8.

"The engine can only crank up," Russell said. "I'm ready to see that and I'm pretty sure everyone feels that way."

McFadden said he's not necessarily begging to line up wide, but is looking forward to seeing what the coaching staff can come up with.

"It's going to be real exciting when we get out there and do that," McFadden said. "I like getting out there and moving around, splitting out wide or whatever it is they want me to do, I enjoy doing it."

Here's another vote for division games counting more.

Lane Kiffin made it clear last year that he wasn't going to anything extra on games in the AFC West.

WR Javon Walker said this about playing against Denver to open the season.

"A divisional game puts you in contention of winning your division and obviously a playoff berth," Walker said. "Obviously other games are big, but division game were just a little bit more."

I suspect part of Kiffin's reasoning last year had to do with the Raiders having lost 17 straight in the AFC West before finally beating Kansas City last November.

With a team struggling to beat anyone, it might not have been wise to dwell on winning in the division.
But there would be no better way to get the season started then by earning a division win.

As far as playing against his old team, Walker said he harbors no bad feelings against Denver.

"I'm just a Raider," he said. "Go out and play my game...this is just a business."

Walker changed from No. 17 to No. 84, the number he's always worn in the NFL.

He wore No. 80 at Florida State and No. 33 in high school.

Walker said grabbing No. 17 was a spur of the moment decision in the spring, but he's glad to be back in his old number. Actually he said he was "excited."

Arman Shields had No. 84, but is now on injured reserve.

Walker said he didn't pay Shields for the number, but would have because he "treats everybody the same," even rookies like Shields.

Kiffin didn't give the team a big speech because chances are when the team meets again for practice on Wednesday the roster will be different.

The Raiders have 10 offensive linemen and could also shave a linebacker and defensive lineman or two from the roster.

Kiffin would really like a fullback to backup Justin Griffith.

"We run the ball a whole lot and the fullback is used in the running game," Griffith said. "Our system is probably one of the only few left like that."

As for other moves, Kiffin said the reason the Raiders kept DT William Joseph over Josh Shaw as a matter of size.

"(Joseph is a) bigger guy that has played the run at times," Kiffin said. "More consistent."

Health and conditioning were other factors. DE Kalimba Edwards has a groin injury two other contributors are still getting into prime shape.

"Tommy (Kelly), we're still trying to get his weight down," Kiffin said. "And (Terdell) Sands is never going to be a guy that plays the whole game."

RT Willie Anderson, who was cut by Cincinnati would appear to be an instant upgrade over Cornell Green.

Kiffin said the team looked into adding Anderson, who has been a Pro Bowl player, but said the Raiders zone-blocking scheme means adding a good player doesn't always make sense.

"There's good things about having this system with our offensive line and some bad things," Kiffin said. "One of the bad things is if guys haven't been trained in this system, it's hard, especially if they're bigger guys to come in and be real functional in this system."

WR Todd Watkins didn't drive to Sacramento to be with his girlfriend and child on Saturday, which turned out to be the right decision because he made the team.

But that didn't mean everything was easy.

Assistant receivers coach Sanjay Lal made a call to Watkins around 7 p.m. on Saturday after final cuts had been made.

"My heart stopped for a second," Watkins said. "I was like, 'What, did they change their mind?'"

After making practice squads the last two seasons, Watkins isn't resting. He still wants to prove he belongs in the NFL.

Watkins said consistency and hard work can keep him on the team.

"In this business you can never relax," Watkins said. "Especially guys that are two, three on the depth chart. There's no room for comfort."

Kiffin said P Greg Pakulak's inclusion on the practice squad gives the team a "security blanket" for Shane Lechler, who has been dealing with a quadriceps injury.

Lechler is expected to be able to play in the season opener.

Lechler, CB Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle), S Rashad Baker (ankle), LB Robert Thomas (knee) and Kelly (flu) did not practice.

Asomugha expects to practice on Wednesday.

S Michael Huff missed practice to attend the funeral for his grandfather. CB DeAngelo Hall was excused for the funeral of his father.

--Jason Jones

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About Raiders Blog and Q&A

Matt Kawahara was born in Sacramento and attended McClatchy High School and UC Berkeley, where he wrote for the independent student paper The Daily Californian. He graduated from Cal in 2010 and started at The Sacramento Bee as a summer intern. He joined The Bee's sports staff in fall 2011.

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