Raiders Blog and Q&A

News, observations and reader questions about the Oakland Raiders

June 21, 2009
Silver and Black doing laps?

The Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma County this weekend had a definite Silver and Black feel to it, what with Kenny Stabler serving as the Grand Marshall of the NASCAR weekend in Wine Country. Plus, Bee colleague Matt Barrows, the paper's resident 49ers expert who is covering the race, ran across Thomas Howard today.

According to Matt, Thomas said he was trying to immerse himself in the Bay Area and wanted to be a part of the big event. "I've watched it on TV - watching the cars go around the oval. But you have to come here to get the whole feel for it. I haven't been to a hockey game either. But seeing the (San Jose) Sharks is something I want to do."

Howard said offensive lineman Paul McQuistan was also planning to attend and added that there was a rumor that coach Tom Cable was at the track.

Matt wrote that the connection is Heath Cherry, who works for Joe Gibbs racing and who attended a Raiders practice earlier this year. Howard was hanging out in Gibbs' garage area.

June 17, 2009
More OTA updates

Players who were not at the voluntary OTA workouts included Nnamdi Asomugha, who was here last week, Derrick Burgess, Andrew Walter, Chris Johnson, Tommy Kelly and Michael Huff. Jeff Garcia returned after the birth of his son

Players nursing injuries included Jay Richardson (knee), second-round draft choice Mike Mitchell (hamstring), Oren O'Neal (knee), John Foschi (chest), Javon Walker (knee), Arman Shields (knee), Chaz Schillens (hamstring), Will Franklin (hamstring). First-round draft choice Darrius Heyward-Bey limped off the field during practice with a still-sore hamstring originally tweaked in mini-camp in May.

As I wrote before, we did not get a chance to speak with Greg Ellis to give you his side of things but he did look fit and sleek while working exclusively on the left side of the line as a defensive end with the first-team's 4-3 defense.

In Dallas, he played as a blitzing outside linebacker in the Cowboys' 3-4 alignment.
So I asked coach Tom Cable what he's seen from Ellis, given the small sample size.

"Well, he's been here the last couple of days," Cable said. "The quickness, power, the things you saw on film, are the reason you signed him in the first place. A good football player, that's what you see."

So could he be an every down player, even as the 6-feet-6, 262-pounder turns 34 in Aug. 14?

"I think he can be," Cable said. "You look at the film and he's been doing that, albeit in a different position, this is a guy you would rely on to come in and compete to be a starter and all that. He's got so much left in terms of where he's at physically, in terms of his body, his production, so again, just a positive for our team."

JaMarcus Russell's final throw of the day was a 90-mph fastball that missed everybody and landed about 30 yards upfield. He threw a strike, though, after practice when he revealed he planned on organizing a summer get-together with the receivers and tight ends.

"Just go along by ourselves and accomplish something that would make us a lot better during the year," Russell said. "Just work on our own, with nobody out there but us. Get ready for camp. Get ready for a new year."

After Thursday's final OTA workout, the team is off until July 29, when the Raiders report to Napa for training camp, with the first practice the next day. Until then, the players are on virtual radio silence from the tea,.

"You have a plan, and we've kind of given each guy things to be thinking about when they go, but you really can't do a lot with them based on the rules," Cable said. "(You want to) get them rested up, get them rested up mentally, more mentally than physically, for when they go to camp in July."

June 17, 2009
Initial final OTA thoughts, observations

The final OTA session open to the media came and went Wednesday and while I'd love to fill you in on the thoughts, musings and attitude of the newest Raiders signee - defensive end-linebacker Greg Ellis - sorry, your favorite team made him unavailable. Ellis, wearing No. 99 and looking fit, was quickly ushered off the practice field by a member of the team's P.R. staff, ignoring reporters' obvious desire to speak with him. Too bad, too, because as reporters, our job is to serve as a bridge for readers and fans and it seemed like a positive story for Silver and Blackdom to celebrate. Strange, but not really all that surprising.

Near the end of practice, a spirited, several seconds-long brawl between offensive guard Cooper Carlisle and second-year defensive back Tyvon Branch erupted. Even after the two were pulled out of the scrum, several more punches were thrown, with Robert Gallery in the middle of the pile, but even more obscenities flew that would have made Joe Buck and Artie Lange cringe. Nothing like a little fisticuffs to tighten the team bond, right?

June 15, 2009
Ellis a Raider? Stay tuned

So, apparently, the Raiders have signed former Dallas Cowboys pass-rushing linebacker Greg Ellis to a three-year deal, according to a report from AOL's NFL Fanhouse on Monday.
Thing is, and not surprisingly, the Raiders have not confirmed or denied the account.
We should know more Tuesday, when the Raiders begin their final three-day OTA workouts at the team's Alameda compound. And we should know something definitively on Wednesday, when the workouts are open to the media.
If Ellis is indeed the newest Raider, joining recent veteran signings in quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Charlie Frye and fullback Lorenzo Neal, he would not only bring solid leadership to a young and impressionable pass-rushing unit, it might hasten an end to defensive end Derrick Burgess' time in Silver and Black.
Ellis, who turns 34 on Aug. 14, was released by Dallas on June 2 after an 11-year, 162-game career with the Cowboys in which the former first-round pick out of North Carolina started 156 contests and had 634 tackles, 77 of which were sacks. He was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year and a Pro Bowler in 2007. The 6-feet-6, 262-pounder had 36 tackles, eight sacks and an interception last season.
Thing is, he played outside linebacker in the Cowboys' 3-4 defense; the Raiders play in a 4-3 scheme. Meaning, if he has some gas left in the tank, he'd switch to defensive end, which definitely makes the purportedly unhappy Burgess, who has been linked to trade talks with New England, all the more expendable.
Remember, though, the Raiders brought in Greg Spires last offseason in a similar move, but he did not make the team.
Stay tuned...

June 12, 2009
Raider Nation Celebration set

The Raiders have announced they will hold their 2009 Raider Nation Celebration, AKA Family Fun Day, on Aug. 8 at the Coliseum from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. The event is free and will include a Raiders practice, appearances from current and former Raiders players and coaches, the Raiderettes, an interactive Kids Zone and the organization's three Super Bowl trophies. Parking is also free.

June 10, 2009
OTA observations and ruminations

Players that did not attend the voluntary OTA workout included quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Andrew Walter, running back Justin Fargas, defensive tackle Terdell Sands, defensive ends Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson, punter Shane Lechler and placekicker Sebastian Janikowski. Second-round draft pick Mike Mitchell was not here either as his classes at Ohio are just ending.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, though, showed up, exhibiting some of the leadership expected of him after signing his three-year, $45.3 million contract.

And first-round draft choice Darrius Heyward-Bey was back on the field, the strained right hamstring he suffered in mini-camp on May 9 sufficiently healed. He struggled through practice, though.

The brightest spot, perhaps, was the improved play of quarterback JaMarcus Russell in the red-zone offense in 7-on-7 drills.
"Red zone? Definitely," said coach Tom Cable. "There is a lot of improvement today. He was pretty good last Thursday, which was probably his best practice since he has been a Raider. Today was a good day for him."
Russell spoke to reporters briefly this week, after blowing by the media last Wednesday.
"I think earlier coach kind of emphasized giving the guys a chance," he said. "If he gives you a chance to put it in the end zone as far as pass rush, you've got to put (the ball) somewhere in that location where they can catch it. Just give them a chance.
"We can run the ball all day. Once you get inside the 20, we're going to take shots at the end zone and that's what we were lacking. We'd get down there sometimes and try to run the ball all three downs and had to kick a field goal. If you don't take a chance at the end zone, how are you going to get there?"

Recently signed quarterback Charlie Frye was on hand, wearing No. 3, but did not take any snaps.
So what made Frye, a former starter with the Cleveland Browns and two-year backup in Seattle, choose to sign with Oakland, which already has an unquestioned starter in Russell and an unquestioned backup in Garcia?
"A job," Frye said. "It's just good to be back out here (on the field)."

Also, running back Darren McFadden continued to impress and spent much time lined up at wideout. Maybe the Raiders will actually use his hybrid talents to their full potential this season?

Khalif Barnes finally spent time with the first unit at left tackle.
"It's just getting equal reps for everybody right now in the learning process," Cable said. "Read nothing into that, believe me.

Also, the Raiders are again looking into a one-day workout with the 49ers during training camp at Napa.

June 10, 2009
Frye signing means what, exactly?

So the Raiders have signed another signal caller in Charlie Frye and it means what, exactly? Not much, unless you're into heated competitions for the third-string quarterback position.

True, Frye has a decent pedigree - he started 19 of the 21 games he played in for the Cleveland Browns from 2005 to 2007, including a 9-7 defeat of the Raiders in a rain-soaked Coliseum on Dec. 18, 2005 - but he is also the only QB in NFL history to start a season opener and then be traded the following week, as he was in 2007 when the Browns shipped him to Seattle.

A third-round draft pick out of Akron in 2005, Frye, who turns 28 on Aug. 28, has played in just two games for the Seahawks, starting one, and has a career passer rating of 70.5.
The signing of Frye, which has not been announced by the Raiders but is listed on their Web Site under "transactions," should not send shivers up the backs of franchise QB JaMarcus Russell or four-time Pro Bowl backup Jeff Garcia. Rather, it should finally end the star-crossed tenure of Andrew Walter with the Raiders and give veteran Bruce Gradkowski and rookie Danny Southwick a run for who gets to wear the headset and hold the clipboard.

June 10, 2009
Gruden's take on JG pushing JR

Jeff Garcia piled on Jon Gruden when the coach was nudged out of Tampa Bay at the end of last season, intimating he, like some other players claimed, had been misled by Gruden. Apparently, the former Raiders coach-turned incoming Monday Night Football broadcaster doesn't harbor a grudge with his former Buccaneers QB, telling "The SIRIUS Blitz" show on SIRIUS NFL Radio recently he likes the Raiders signing the 10-year veteran to push JaMarcus Russell.

Following is the transcript provided by SIRIUS.

Host: "Jeff Garcia [has] landed in Oakland with JaMarcus Russell. What type of impact will he have, not only in the meeting room, but certainly maybe on the practice field? He's not the type of guy, as you know from being around him, that he's certainly not complacent and he's never going to be comfortable being a backup guy."

Jon Gruden: "No, that's for sure, because he's a premier competitor and I think that's the No. 1 criteria that you have to have to survive in the NFL at that position. You have to be a premier competitor. Garcia is that. And if you look at Jeff's career in the history of this game, he protects the ball as good or better than anybody that's ever played. He's one of the top four or five all-time in not turning the football over. And I think that's one thing that Jeff Garcia always brings to you, is a guy that will protect the football. It might frustrate you at times. You might want to take a little bit more risk, but Jeff Garcia will take care of the football. He'll be a premier competitor and I think that will help JaMarcus Russell as much as anything. And Oakland does have a fine supporting cast. They proved that against us [the Tampa Bay Buccaneers]. They've got some dynamic backs. They got a big, fast wide-out in the draft, and they're pretty darn good on defense. They have the best corner, in my opinion, in football and this could be a year that they could turn it around."

Host: "The first three games of the season for the Oakland Raiders - all three foes in the division - right now, who gives the Raiders the best chance to win those games, Garcia or Russell?"

Gruden: "I think they gotta go with JaMarcus Russell. He's the No. 1 pick in the draft. They've added Paul Hackett who I think is an outstanding coach. He's a tremendous quarterbacks coach. No one talks about the addition of Paul Hackett. I think he's going to really reach out and help JaMarcus Russell. But they've got a lot invested in him. This is only his third season. This is the time where JaMarcus Russell has to explode onto the scene. Hopefully [Darren] McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, some of his young support system, can help him, because he does have great ability throwing the football."
Later in the interview, Gruden shared one of his favorite stories about Rich Gannon, who was also on "The SIRIUS Blitz" that day, in which the fiery former Raiders QB had some choice words for his coach while under center during a Monday Night game years ago.

Gruden: "Rich Gannon, in the middle of an audible, against the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football, we were in a situation where we wanted to run one play or another, we either ran the play that was called or we canned it to another play. And right out of nowhere Gannon saw something better and he started a live audible. So I started yelling at him from the sideline and in the middle of his audible [he says], 'Black 350...Shut up, leave me alone!...Black 350.' He told me to shut up in the middle of an audible. I will never forget that as long as I live."

June 3, 2009
Raiders snubbed by Canton?

Chatted with Tom Flores briefly during today's OTA and catching up with the only two-time Super Bowl-winning coach in Raiders history got my blood going again.

The fact that the man is never given any love for Hall of Fame consideration is ridiculous. And if that makes me sound like a Raiders homer, so be it. But the fact remains, he has won twice as many Super Bowls as the recently inducted and well-deserving John Madden.

Ask any somewhat knowledgeable football fan who was the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl, and I bet you'd hear so many Tony Dungy references you'd think you were in Indianapolis. Sorry, but that trail was first blazed by Flores...twice. And Marv Levy, a four-time AFC champ who four times lost the Super Bowl has a yellow blazer and his bust in Canton but Flores' name can't get into the voting room the day before the Super Bowl? Please.

It got me to thinking. Sure, the Raiders are well represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but I came up with a list of five that deserve not only consideration, but enshrinement. Yesterday. I receive my Baseball Hall of Fame vote this winter but, with what many will see as a rant, I'm sure I'll never get a vote for Canton. In any event, here's PG's 5 Biggest Raiders Snubs By Canton, in order. What are your thoughts?

1) Tom Flores
2) Jim Plunkett
3) Ray Guy
4) Cliff Branch
5) Ken Stabler

June 3, 2009
OTA observations and ruminations

Some observations and ruminations from the Raiders' second OTA media availability in Alameda on Wednesday.

OTAs are voluntary, but when a star player chooses to take a pass, it inevitably raises eyebrows. Such was the case with backup quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, who had a family issue to deal with, and Andrew Walter, whose future with the team is tenuous at best, defensive ends Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson, running back Darren McFadden, defensive lineman Tommy Kelly and the highest paid cornerback in the game in Nnamdi Asomugha skipping this OTA.
"You'd like to have everybody here," said coach Tom Cable. "Some of these guys have's not mandatory so you really have to let them get some of that (personal) stuff out of the way before the season starts."
Indeed, but with a fairly young team and a boatload of new assistant coaches and fresh schemes to learn, it would behoove veterans to at least be on the field, no? Even if Pro Bowlers like Burgess and Asomugha have never really made OTAs a priority?
So Cable was asked if Asomugha would make an appearance (the Raiders also have OTAs June 6-8 and June 13-15).
"I don't know that," Cable said after a brief pause. "I'm hoping he'll be here the last two. If not the last two, the last one."

With no Garcia looking over his shoulder, JaMarcus Russell seemed much sharper in a practice that focused on a passing game more dink-and-dunk than bombs away. For a day, anyway. In fact, Cable said the practice we watched Wednesday focused on the same red-zone drills we were privy to two weeks earlier.
"It was red zone," Cable said. "I think we were two of 32 (then) and today we were 11 of 32 so there's some progress there. Still, I would like some more consistency but it's coming and you've just to go keep pushing it and pushing it. We've got tomorrow and then two more weeks so I hope we can make a good amount of progress as we get ready for camp."
I wanted to ask Russell how it all felt after practice but was blown off.
"I'm talking to my coach right now," he said as he walked briskly off the field, chatting with first-year quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett, and into the locker room.

First-round draft choice Darrius Heyward-Bey is still nursing the sore hamstring he tweaked during mini-camp on May 9 and sat out practice.
"The strength is there in the hamstring and everything," Heyward-Bey said. "I'm just trying to make sure I'm 100 percent. I'm out there working out after going about 95 percent speed. Basically, I just want to make sure it's taken care of before I get back on the field."
Per NFL rules, Heyward-Bey missed the first OTA two weeks ago because his college class at Maryland was still in session (second-round pick Mike Mitchell is not in Alameda as his class at Ohio is still in session).
"It's like I said, if you remember, a lot of times the draft's over and (the draftees) stop doing things," Cable said, "and then all of a sudden you put them back to work and they're not ready for that workload."
Cable said he expected Heyward-Bay to practice during next week's OTA, even as the rookie said he is not aware of any ongoing contract negotiations between his agent and the Raiders. Still, rookies don't usually start signing deals until early July, though McFadden inked his on June 6 of last year after Russell's prolonged holdout the season prior went into the regular season.

And the Raiders announced a $200,000 grant to the Richmond Children's Foundation and its partners, the City of Richmond and the Association of Sports Field Users, as part of the NFL's Grassroots Program. The grant, which was awarded by the Raiders, the NFL Youth Football Fund and Local Initiatives Support Cooperation, will be used to install artificial turf at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park's football field to help revitalize the Nystrom neighborhood.
Doing something for the kids is always a good thing, methinks...

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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