ALAMEDA - You've got to love Lane Kiffin's honesty.
When the Raiders signed center John Wade, he thought Wade would take the starting job.
But Jake Grove would have none of that.
So go ahead and make Grove the starting center on Madden 09 as he's won the job in real life.
"It was very close," Kififn said. "Both guys played extremely well in preseason, gave them both starts, gave them equal opportunities, and Jake, I wouldn't have guessed when we signed (Wade), but Jake's rehab, the way he's come back, ended up beating him out."
Grove had microfracture surgery on his right knee in January. He spent much of the offseason in the weight room getting stronger to fend off another free-agent center.
Grove was beat out by Jeremy Newberry last year.
But Grove feels healthy for the first time since his rookie season. He said he injured his right knee Sept. 18, 2005 against Kansas City, had surgery that year after the Raiders played the Cowboys, and has never felt right since.
"I couldn't move right to left," Grove said. "I couldn't go to my left. I could go to my right, I just couldn't plant off my left. You can't tell the coach, 'Nah, let's just run right.' It doesn't work too good. Getting that thing fixed has been the biggest thing for me."
The second biggest thing might be the new weight program instituted by Brad Roll.
One of the reasons Newberry won the job last year was his superior strength.
Grove started two games last season but the bad knee limited him to seven total games.
"Before Jake got hurt he was playing well but he wasn't the same Jake that we see right now," Kiffin said. "He's much stronger, quicker. He came out and took the job. He earned it. He didn't get it by default. I love the way that it went down as opposed to just being out here and not having competition. That competition pushed him when we signed him. That's two years in a row we've signed a center even though Jake's been here. I know that's made him better."
OK, no need to panic.
Michael Bush will not be moved to fullback.
"Michael Bush is a tailback here," Kiffin said. "We're going to look at some things in some certain personnels to utilize him because he catches the ball so well and he is a bigger tailback. But don't mistake that. We claimed a fullback (Luke Lawton). We'll look for another fullback to compete with this guy or, depending on how this guy does this week, the final waiver cut. Michael Bush isn't here to be a fullback. Michael Bush has a chance to be a spectacular tailback in this league and that's what he's here to play."
This is the right decision.
Bush's skills as a receiver make him a nice player to throw a wrinkle in a dual-halfback set. But his excellent feet and running would be wasted blocking for Justin Fargas and Darren McFadden.
I'm sure Bush is glad to hear that.
He's genuinely enjoying his role on special teams. He likes running the ball.
And it would have been a shame to see him fight back from injury to only be played out of position.
And here's another reason why Bush at fullback would be a waste of his talents.
"When you have dynamic tailbacks its hard to call a play and give the ball to the fullback unless it's short yardage," Kiffin said.
Clearly Kififn sees Bush as more than a short-yardage option.
Replacing Oren O'Neal isn't as easy as just dropping a big body in front of a running back.
O'Neal blocking style was all about running through someone. That's something that can't be taught and Kiffin knows that will be hard to find.
"You're probably not going to find a really good one that's an iso guy," Kiffin said. "We may find one that's more like Justin Griffith that's more of a system fit where he's not a
downhill guy. That'll probably be easier to find."
CB Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle), S Rashad Baker (ankle) and P Shane Lechler (quadriceps) are out for Friday's preseason finale.
S Hiram Eugene (hip) is questionable.
WR Javon Walker was excused from practice for personal reasons.
K Sebastian Janikowski will play at least the first half. P Greg Pakulak can handle kicking duties when Janikowski is done for the night.
Kiffin said tests were being done on LB Robert Thomas' knee. He was carted off at the start of practice this morning.