Oakland Raiders: Secondary Depth Chart
Jerry Rump – May 16, 2012
As the Oakland Raiders enter the 2012 NFL season, the defensive backfield faces the daunting task of returning the Silver and Black to their reputable position of being a force to be feared and respected in the NFL.
An all new coaching staff and defensive scheme leaves more questions than answers at this stage of development.
So, let us begin by examining the weapons new defensive coordinator, Jason Tarver and newly signed defensive backs coaches, Johnnie Lynn and Clayton Lopez, (a returnee from the 2004-05 seasons) will have in their arsenal.
First, are the players returning from last year which, thanks to GM Reggie McKenzie slicing and dicing bloated contracts and unproductive players like a Hibachi chef on Adderall, is a pretty thin list.
Tyvon Branch-SS: Branch leads the list and was arguably the best player in the secondary last season. Branch led the team in tackles and was the one bright spot week-in and week-out on what ended up as the 27th ranked pass defense.
He recently signed his tender agreement, so look for Branch to provide much needed veteran leadership and to be “quarterbacking” the defensive backfield this season.
Matt Giordano-FS: Giordano led the team in interceptions with five picks to his credit. However, Giordano needs to improve his tackling skills as he missed more ball-carriers than Pedro Cerano swinging at curve-balls in the movie Major League. Still, he is a good back-up and a fan favorite.
Michael Huff-FS: Huff restructured his contract to remain a Raider and will need to stay healthy and step up this season as his production was limited last year.
He leaves many in Raider Nation wondering if he will ever live up to the hype Raider fans had when he arrived from the University of Texas seven years ago.
Mike Mitchell-SS: Mitchell is an adequate backup and great situational player, but he too needs to stay healthy and improve his coverage skills as he is enters his fourth season with the Silver and Black.
Chimdi Chekwa-CB: Chekwa showed flashes last season of why the Raiders picked him in last year’s draft, but injuries slowed his development. Look for improvement and for him to be used as a nickel-back and a replacement if someone goes down with injury.
Demarcus Van Dyke-CB: Van Dyke is a second year man out of "The U" and like Chekwa, showed he has the skills to play the position.
Injuries also slowed his progression and he will need to avoid them this season and step-up in critical dime package situations or fill-in if injuries occur to the starters.
Brian McCann-DB: McCann was signed last year when Chekwa went on IR for a hamstring injury. He is a decent backup earning prior experience with both the Ravens and Cowboys and is primarily used as a special-teams player.
Now on to the new additions this season which begins with the veteran corners, Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell.
Shawntae Spencer-CB: Spencer is not a physical corner and tape from 2010 repeatedly showed a lack of one-on-one coverage skills, as he continually played a good six yards off the receiver, leaving him vulnerable to underneath routes and short passes.
Look for Spencer to be utilized in mainly zone coverage schemes since he is familiar with Coach Lynn as the two worked together during their time with the 49ers.
Ron Bartell-CB: Bartell spent last season on IR with an injured neck suffered in the season opener for the Rams. Before the injury, he was a standout on that squad and he is familiar with Coach Lopez who was with the Rams from 2009-11.
Their familiarity should payoff in both on-field production and in helping to make the coaching transitions easier for the rest of the squad.
Pat Lee-CB: Lee is a former second-round draft pick by Green-Bay in 2008 with experience in 32 games over a four year span.
McKenzie was involved with scouting him for the Packers, so there is obviously something he sees in the guy. He did play well in relief for Charles Woodson when the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.
Brandon Underwood-CB: Underwood is another McKenzie guy that comes over to the Dark-Side from the Packers.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2009, Underwood has battled injuries along with a domestic abuse incident early in the pre-season last year which led to his release by Green-Bay.
Now for a look at the undrafted free-agents and honestly, this group has a lot of potential to challenge and compete for positions on the squad.
McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen really pulled some unique talent from the depths of the undrafted players led by free safety Aaron Henry from Wisconsin and cornerback Conroy Black out of Utah.
Aaron Henry-FS: Henry a 6’- 208 pound rookie was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection last season and was ranked 5th out of 70 free safeties coming out this year. He is aggressive, but not out of control when attacking the run and smartly goes low when tackling opponents.
He will need some work on his coverage skills but keep an eye out for him to make a name for himself as this guy is motivated to succeed.
Conroy Black-CB: Black, a 6’-185 pounder out of Utah, he possesses the tools athletically, but is raw and undeveloped in his skill-set.
However, he is fast with a 4.37 clocked 40 yard dash time and is primed to be molded into a big-time corner. He just needs time to develop and to get stronger.
Chaz Powell-S: Powell is an interesting selection out of Penn State with an impressive 6’1” frame and weighing 207 pound and 4.5 speed. He is a converted wide-out and shows decent ability in both man and zone coverage.
However, look for Powell to make an immediate impact in the return game as he possesses great vision and a good burst of speed.
Curtis Taylor-DB: Taylor is a fourth-year guy who spent his first two seasons with the 49ers. At 6’ 2” and 210 pounds, Taylor was a heralded draft pick in the 2009 draft and provides added depth at this position.
LeQuan Lewis-CB: Lewis is a 5’ 11” 186 pound rookie out of Arizona State. He is the latest pick-up by the Raiders and is a guy that could make an impact in the return game as he possesses that blazing speed which was for so long a coveted attribute by Al Davis.
With the squad learning Coach Tarver’s new scheme and the competition being wide open for most positions, this year’s secondary tryouts look to be an area that will provide much excitement during training camp.
How the secondary adjusts to all the new changes in both personnel and coaches will go a long way in determining how far the team will improve this season on defense.
One thing is for certain, with the New Era well underway, it is still all about bringing that fourth Lombardi trophy home to the Promised Land.
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