Sorting Out Oakland's Secondary Plans

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Antoine Johnson – Jun 22, 2013

On paper, the 2013 Oakland Raiders’ secondary looks extraordinarily better than what was put on the field in 2012. General Manager Reggie McKenzie did his best in dealing with a salary upheaval and a token of draft picks to put the best talent he could on the field. It took late in the season for him to realize that he had a “secret weapon” and decent cornerback in Phillip Adams, who was arguably the best defensive back Oakland had on the field in 2012 with a limited role.

            In a recent article from Rick Drummond of Pro Football Focus, he crafted how well Adams played in his most snaps at cornerback in his young career ( PFF writers do a good job of grading how players do at every position; in terms of Adams, Drummond graded how Adams performed after a rough week 7 against Jacksonville when he was beat on a stop-and-go route by Cecil Shorts lll for a touchdown. After getting his feet wet, Adams graded positive to Pro Football Focus each week, including back-to-back interceptions in week 13 and 14, his best overall game coming against the Denver Broncos. Against one of the best QBs in NFL history, Peyton Manning targeted Adams five times and completed just two passes for six yards, while also throwing a critical interception to Adams, which switched momentum into Oakland’s favor and they almost pulled off an upset.

            Adams’ coverage skills have vastly improved, but the question is has his tackling? Adams is more of a shoestring tackler than a bruising cornerback like, say, Charles Woodson. Could that be the reason Reggie McKenzie was so busy improving the Cornerback position, that Adams could possibly be a fourth option this year?

            One has to assume that Oakland will put their first round pick DJ Hayden on the field week one (if healthy) and a veteran, either Tracy Porter or Mike Jenkins when the season starts as the #1 and #2 corners on the depth chart. But if Phillip Adams gets equal snaps with the first-team defense in training camp as Porter and others, it could conceivable that he wins a starting job. But having two veterans on one-year deals with everything to prove (Jenkins and Porter), we also shouldn’t rule out the chances that Adams is marginalized again until after the veterans are given a chance to prove that they can still compete at a high level.

            The equation to Oakland’s Safety positions seems easier to sort out than what to expect from the Corners come week one; Charles Woodson is listed as the starting FS, but leaving him at one position stagnates his versatility, and Coach Tarver is a crafty Defensive Coordinator. So we can expect to see Woodson come down to CB in nickel situations and Usama Young plug in at Free, while Tyvon Branch does his usual duties as a hard-hitting Strong Safety and Brandian Ross as a primary backup. But when Oakland faces teams with an aerial assault this season like Denver twice, Indianapolis, Houston and potentially San Diego, who will defend who?

            Rookie corner DJ Hayden is arguably the best CB to come out of the 2013 draft class, and having him for training camp and the regular season is very crucial. Against teams like the Colts, it will be more feasible to have Hayden start off shadowing the second WR, who happens to be former Raider Darrius Heyward-Bey. Not discrediting Hayden’s talent, but Reggie Wayne is a seasoned veteran who we should expect to see Woodson and Tracy Porter covering, because the veteran instincts Wayne possesses will have him licking his chops when there is a rookie in front of him. Of course Hayden will have certain moments that Reggie Wayne will be aligned in front of him, and I believe Hayden will hold himself up well. But DHB will probably be as quiet as a church mouse if the Hayden we saw in college is anywhere near as good in the pros.

            Three veterans who will have an interesting time in training camp are corners Chimdi Chekwa, Joselio Hansen and newly converted corner Taiwan Jones. It can be penciled in that Hayden, Adams, Woodson, Porter and Jenkins will make the team, but is there room for the other three? Not only do Chekwa, Hansen and Jones have to worry about outworking the veteran guys, but they also have to account for the undrafted free agent rookie corners Mitchell White and Chance Casey. McKenzie is known for giving undrafted guys a chance, as we are witnessing what a diamond in the rough Rod Streater was and can possibly be the #1 Wide Receiver when the season starts. White is a decent sized physical corner, while Casey has been regarded as more of a finesse corner in college, who loves taking risks to pick off balls. So those are two guys with completely different styles to present to the Silver and Black in search of a job, and they’ll probably take one of the aforementioned guys fighting to stay on the roster. Of the three, however, Hansen may have the better chance of making the team, given that he is solely a nickel cornerback. That provides insurance in case Woodson is needed to stay back at FS in nickel situations, giving Hansen more playing time.

            Brandian Ross praised Charles Woodson for being a great teacher to him for the little time they spent together in Green Bay. Ross has been moved to Safety, but he does have some good coverage skills, as he has had a lot of time at cornerback in Oakland in 2012. He will be an interesting backup who can be used all over the field.

            Oakland did a fine job in trying to fix their problem from 2012 of lacking to apply pressure to the opposing Quarterbacks; as long as they can create more pressure in 2013 than they did in 2012, their secondary already presents a more dangerous threat. Not giving QBs all day to throw will benefit Oakland, and there will be more forced turnovers. But no matter how they get it done, just get it done. As Al Davis famously quoted, “Just Win Baby!”

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