Oakland Raiders Injured Players Who Will Help When Healthy
Justin Smith – Oct 9, 2012
Few teams are in more of a transition period than the Oakland Raiders right now. Combine new owner and leadership for the first time in fifty odd years to a cadre of new players and coaches and you have a team that, despite all the selling points to the contrary, is in full on overhaul mode. That doesn’t sell tickets – but neither does losing.
A rebuilding team needs a few things to succeed during the process: a common theme and goal, veteran leadership, health and a little bit of talent here and there to build on. The Raiders have some talent; they have some veteran leadership. They even seem to have a common theme and goal: better discipline and smarter play.
But they haven’t been able to stay healthy. A rebuilding team needs all their best players on the field to compete with the more established foes; and the Raiders have been shorthanded often this season.
The list of important Raiders laid up with injuries is long. The Raiders own one of the worst pass defenses in the league as starting cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer are both out, and have been the last two games. Starting RT Khalif Barnes and starting OLB Aaron Curry are out as well, along with young, promising TE Richard Gordon and starting WR Darrius Heyward-Bey – the third WR to be injured thus far this season.
With little depth on the team anyhow it was paramount that the Raiders stay healthy. They haven’t. They’ve struggled. Some of the injured players are expected back soon. What impact will they have?
DARRIUS HEYWARD-BEY, WR
DHB became the latest casualty when he was victimized by a vicious helmet-to-chin launch by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Mundy and knocked unconscious. Yet another wide receiver, joining fellow starters Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, sidelined for at least a game. Moore missed preseason and the first two games of the regular season; Ford, at a position very shallow on the Raiders’ depth chart, will miss the entire season.
Fortunately Heyward-Bey is a tough cookie, the hit wasn’t as serious in the outcome as it appeared at the time, and he’s back practicing and should be ready to rock in Atlanta this Sunday by all accounts.
Amazing considering Heyward-Bey was unconscious before he even hit the ground and he suffered a neck strain and a concussion. But despite being immobilized, he was talking the next day of playing ball with his teammates.
Good thing. Heyward-Bey is the Raiders most reliable downfield receiver – who would’ve thought THAT two years ago? – and a leader on this team. He counsels and mentors rookies Rod Streater and Juron Criner, and sets an excellent example with his stellar work ethic and attitude.
But it’s his speed, route running and downfield blocking that are especially missed. Perhaps because he doesn’t launch into them and then taunt them afterward he doesn’t get the credit of a, say, Hines Ward as being a good blocker for a WR. But DHB is one of the better downfield WR blockers in the entire NFL, and the Raiders need him to help out in the run game as much as in the pass game as the entire offense struggles.
Bey is their best receiver, best downfield blocker and also the elder statesman of the group. With Moore now healthy, he and DHB could form a formidable 1-2 punch on the outside. They just haven’t had the chance yet.
KHALIF BARNES, RT
At the moment, Barnes is still out with a sprained ankle and Willie Smith is still in at right tackle. Is Barnes much of an improvement over Smith? With Barnes in the lineup the Raiders still struggled to run, and the protection for Palmer was no better.
Barnes gave up only 3 sacks all last season and committed 9 penalties on a Raider team that led the league in laundry. However, in the first two games of the season Barnes unfortunately gave up 2 sacks before getting injured. He has committed no penalties; but he’s moving slower and it showed.
Smith, though, has also allowed two sacks. The bottom line is that both tackles have been disciplined; neither has committed a penalty. But that is part of the new Raider mantra. They have both been somewhat ineffective stopping the pass rush as well, and Palmer is a player who needs time for plays to develop.
At this point, Barnes’ experience gives him an edge over smith, but Smith is younger and hungrier. Neither one is much to write home about, but I feel that when Barnes returns Smith has played well enough – and Barnes not well enough to guarantee a starting spot – to stay at RT for the foreseeable future.
RON BARTELL AND SHAWNTAE SPENCER, CB’S
Bartell was a rising star in the NFL at the CB position, having breakout seasons in 2008 and 2009. He was ready to become a star but took a bit of a step back in 2010, especially in pass coverage, and was set to bounce back in 2011. In the first game of the season Bartell suffered a serious neck injury – though at the time he felt it was just a tweak and wanted to return. Trainers, fortunately, refused to let him - and was put on injured reserve – designated for return. He is eligible to return to practice in week 8 and could possibly play by Week 10.
The Raiders, last in the NFL in pass defense and giving up a passer rating of over 125 in their last two contests, need corners more than anything else. The new regime saw the Raiders struggled against the pass last year, so they cleaned house. Gone were starters Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson; nickel corner DeMarcus Van Dyke; backup Joe Porter; and to the practice squad went Chimdi Chekwa.
All well and good except the Raiders replaced them with Bartell, who is now injured, Shawntae Spencer, who is in a walking boot – still – and made little progress over the bye week, and Michael Huff, a fine and talented young safety playing out of position.
As a result the Raiders have been dusted by Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning the last two games, giving up 7 TD’s, getting no INT’s or sacks and generally looking clueless in pass defense.
The Raiders beat the Steelers by scoring a ton of points and answering the bell whenever necessary, but the run game is struggling and they need some stops on defense. They got none in their last two games.
Bartell and Spencer may not be Neon Deion or Revis Island but they are better than Pat Lee, Joselio Hanson, and the other cast-offs the Raiders are currently trotting out.
But the biggest reason their health is needed is depth. The corners the Raiders currently have may not be the greatest; and when they can’t get off the field because there’s simply nobody to replace them, then it’s double trouble.
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