Raiders Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Oakland Raiders

August 19, 2009
Neal released, Baker signed

The Raiders' surprising release of fullback Lorenzo Neal prior to Wednesday's second joint practice with the 49ers was a shocker in more ways than one. First, it means that third-year fullback Oren O'Neal, who suffered a devastating left knee injury on the opening kickoff of an exhibition game against Arizona on Aug, 23, is healthy enough to carry the load, or at least share it with Luke Lawton. Second, it means that Neal's quality character was better than his production. At least in the eyes of the Raiders.

Because remember, the Raiders mightily touted the leadership skills of the four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection when they signed the 38-year-old from Fresno State who is still widely considered the best blocking fullback of his era.

Besides the similar names, O'Neal is 13 years younger than Neal, who was trying to catch on with his eighth team. Plus, they have similar punishing styles coming out of the backfield.

"I'm just preparing for where we need to be as a football team, really, and what we thought we have, and whether that was enough and all that," said coach Tom Cable in explaining the move. "So it was time to go in a different direction there."

Still, when Neal signed in May, many questioned the logic as his skills as a blocking back were not all that necessary thanks to the Raiders' zone blocking scheme. So Cable was asked if Neal simply did not fit the system.

"No, he fit it," Cable said. "It wasn't anything to do with that. It was just really, you know, who's here and what we think's best for the team at this point."

O'Neal is coming back from torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments as well as surgery to reattach a hamstring muscle to the knee.

Shockingly, O'Neal could start on opening night.

"You know, I think this - if he continues to progress like he's doing right now, he'll have a great shot at it," Cable said. "I think that's the best way to say it right now. He's doing really, really good."

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- Neal's release allowed the Raiders to bring back safety Rashad Baker, who appeared in 10 games with Oakland last season, starting one. The move can be viewed as a insurance, what with rookie safety Mike Mitchell's strained hamstring a lingering issue.

"Potentially, yes," Cable said. "And then just having someone back in here that was a heck of a special-teams player, and a guy who also really worked himself into being that third safety when Tyvon (Branch) went down last year. So (the signing) gives us good depth."

Baker, who was cut by Philadelphia on Tuesday, had three interceptions with the Raiders last season, tying DeAngelo Hall and Chrish Johnson for the team lead.

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- News on the Chaz Schilens front: the second-year receiver who broke a bone in his left foot on a freak, untouched play, reportedly underwent surgery Wednesday. Cable said Schilens, who had been the best player in camp while emerging as a favorite target for JaMarcus Russell, will return in 4-to-6 weeks.

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- The Raiders did not embarrass themselves in the fourth and final practice with the 49ers, as the offense had in the morning session with five interceptions.

"It was a tremendous response," Cable said. "Defensively, really lights out on third down. Just want to see us make a couple of those throws down the field. You saw one get tipped and you saw one get dropped. And one got tipped and intercepted. So I just want to clean up those three plays. Third-down run looked good; blitz looked good there at the end. Two of them, I thought, we mis-keyed it, but other than that, pretty good."

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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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