Raiders Get in the Draft Mix, Take OT/G Bergstrom

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After almost three rounds of waiting, the Reggie McKenzie era has kicked off. The Raiders selected OT/G Tony Bergstrom from Utah with the 95th overall pick (Compensatory, 3rd round). Bergstrom is a tough, versatile player who has shown good strength and mobility. This 2011 All-Pac-12 Conference First Team selection played OT in college but will likely push Cooper Carlisle for the starting left guard spot. This fits a need and is about the range Bergstrom was expected to go, so I like the pick.

GM Reggie McKenzie had this to say [of Bergstrom] “There’s no way you can know who you’re going to take at No. 95 until you see names come off the board. He was still there and was the one we liked.”

The main reason Bergstrom fell to Oakland is that he will turn 26 years old this year because of a LDS mission trip before college. The Raiders have made their first pick, and it looks to be a good one.

Giordano Re-signs

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The Oakland Raiders announced Monday that they have agreed to bring back safety Matt Giordano. Giordano saw action due to injuries in the secondary last year, and played admirably. In his nine starts, Giordano totaled career highs in tackles, 70, and interceptions, 5. He was one of the few playmakers in a secondary which was shredded time and time again. While a liability at times in coverage, Giordano is a high-effort, athletic player who finds himself around the ball consistently. He is ideally a reserve, but can fill in with the starters if need be.

DE Tollefson a Raider Once Again

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Northern California native and former New York Giant defensive end Dave Tollefson has signed a two-year, $2.5 million deal. Tollefson was a key reserve for the Super Bowl winning Giants, having tallied 5 sacks in a rotational role. He will add to an already talented defensive line, and gives the Raiders defense another pass rusher. Based on comments from the various football sites, Tollefson was a fan favorite who was known as being a high-character and high-motor guy. This signing brings Tollefson full circle; he is from nearby Walnut Creek, CA and was a practice squad player for the Raiders in 2007.

New GM Reggie McKenzie is now six-for-six in signing free agents who he has had visit. This is another solid signing, but also further signifies that the Raiders free-spending days of the past are over. Bringing in good football players at a bargain is what makes teams competitive for years.

State of the Raiders: Defense

This is the second of a three part series. My first post covered the offense; this post will cover the defense. Now that the free agency dust has more or less settle, the Raiders starters seem to be set. Last year, the defense was flat out bad. In fact, it’s one of the reasons Hue Jackson was replaced by the defensive-minded Dennis Allen. The 2011 Oakland Raiders were 29th in points against/game (27.1) and 29th in yards allowed (387.6). These numbers alone do not tell the whole story. If you, like me, watched the games, then you know the pain of watching the defense cave in the most important times of games. Against Buffalo and Detroit the team lost on last minute drives. In five of the other six losses, the defense never even showed up to the game (I blame the week 7 loss to the Chiefs on the 7 turnovers committed by quarterbacks). Yet, a new scheme is coming to Oakland, and there still exists quite a bit of talent, especially on the defensive line. Here is a breakdown of each positional group, along with a letter grade.

Defensive Line

This group is made up of a wealth of talent and experience. Richard Seymour is coming off a Pro Bowl year, and has become a true leader in the locker room. Fellow DT Tommy Kelly had numbers similar to Seymour’s, and some could argue he was deserving of a nod to Hawaii as well. Defensive end Lamarr Houston has impressed so far during his two year career, and has rare physical ability. DE Matt Shaugnessy has a clean bill of health, and is an above-average starter with a high motor. Desmond Bryant offers versatility in reserve as both a pass-rushing DT or a run-stuffing DE. The Raiders are also reportedly interested in former Giants defensive end David Tollefson, who would offer some much needed pass-rushing abilities. Versatility is the key with the defensive line. If Dennis Allen does implement a hybrid 4-3/3-4 defense, he’ll have plenty of toys up front to play with. This unit can pressure the quarterback and stop the run, but needs the rest of the team to improve to see its true potential unfold. Grade: A-

Linebackers

Going into the 2011-12 season, I knew we had one of the largest 4-3 linebacker cores in the league. Yes, they were big and fast. But I had my doubts – could they cover? The resounding answer was no, no they couldn’t. Aaron Curry brought more speed and aggressiveness, but still lacks the football IQ and coverage skills necessary of a Will linebacker. Rolando McClain consistently proved to be… inconsistent. Aside from a mid-season arrest, McClain’s season was full of incorrect angles, poor coverage, and over-aggression against the run. He is very talented and was a leader at Alabama, so it is disappointing to see him acclimate to the NFL so slowly. Incumbent starting Sam linebacker Kamerion Wimbley was cut, but offered little more than pass rush. In fact, I find him to be highly over-rated; he’s never tallied more than 69 tackles in a season, despite playing in all but one game for his teams during his six-year career. To put that in perspective, free agent acquisition Philip Wheeler scored 80 tackles in only 11 starts last year. While not the pass rusher Wimbley is, Wheeler is better both in coverage and against the run, and should bring in some much-needed discipline.

This unit is in serious need of depth. Travis Goethl is a serviceable player but has durability concerns. Practice squader Carl Ihenacho is the only other linebacker currently on the roster. Yikes. Look for at least two more players to be brought in for depth and special teams. There’s lots of talent here, but Dennis Allen will need to bring along Curry and McClain (especially) if there will be any improvements from last year. Grade: B-

Secondary

Where do I begin? This unit was so bad that both incumbent starting cornerbacks were cut. They were so bad, Matt Giordano got significant playing time. I think Calvin Johnson just scored again. All kidding aside, a big goal for GM Reggie McKenzie this offseason was to overhaul a broken coverage unit. Stanford Routt’s silly contract was terminated. Chris Johnson was sent packing as well. This left 2011 draft picks Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke as the only NFL-level talent (at corner) on the team. Reggie McKenzie, however, saw an inexpensive solution: enter Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer. Both are big, fast, and experienced cover corners. While not elite talents, they come on-the-cheap, and will at least offer more consistency than last year’s unit. McKenzie pulled from his Packers days by adding CBs Pat LeeĀ  and Brandon Underwood, but neither should see much playing time aside from special teams duties.

The safety positions are set in stone, with incumbent starters Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch giving it another go. My hope is that both thrive in Dennis Allen’s more aggressive/less man-oriented defense. Branch is a stud, and it will be interesting to see how a true defensive mind uses him. Huff will need to be better in coverage and make more plays, or his bloated contract could be ended at year’s end. Talent-wise, this unit is about the same on paper. Can a new scheme make that big of a difference? Let’s hope so. Grade: C+

Raiders Off-season Program Begins

Today marks the beginning of the Dennis Allen & Reggie McKenzie era. As part of the new CBA, the Raiders are one of six teams allowed to start their off-season training Monday. The rest of the league starts April 16. This will be the time for Allen to put his mark on the team, both in coaching style and defensive scheme. Mini-camps and OTAs also allow new players to form chemistry and establish roles in the locker room.

Raiders Add Starting Linebacker

The Raiders signed former Colts LB Philip Wheeler Friday to a one-year deal at an undisclosed amount. Wheeler has started 24 games over the past three seasons for Indianapolis, including 84 tackles in 11 starts (this past year. He will likely take the “Sam” linebacker spot vacated by Kamerion Wimbley, who was cut earlier this off-season. While Wheeler does not rush the passer as well as Wimbley, he is a better run defender, and a solid player overall.

This move gives Oakland much needed depth at the linebacker position. Wheeler also offers versatility, as he can play OLB in a 4-3 or ILB in a 3-4. He may prove to play a key role in Dennis Allen’s multiple-look defense. If Wheeler proves to be a good fit, the Raiders can lock him up long-term, as he is only 27 years-old.

Raiders Acquire RB Goodson from Panthers

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In a straight player-for-player trade, the Oakland Raiders bolstered their running back depth Friday by trading for RB Mike Goodson for former 4th round pick OL Bruce Campbell. Goodson is a talented back who has seen his fair share of NFL work; he saw work in all 16 games in 2010 due to injuries to both DeAngelo Williams and Jonthan Stewart, averaging 4.4 ypc and scoring 3 touchdowns. He will be an important reserve as starter Darren McFadden has a history of missing time.

Campbell, the 106th overall selection in the 2010 draft, starred in the weight room but never saw his physical abilities translate to on-field success. His poor technique and football IQ made him expendable in the new zone-blocking system offensive coordinator Greg Knapp will implement, as it is mentally demanding.