Moves Ahead for Raiders
by Glenn Dickey
Apr 26, 2005

CHANGE IS ON the way for the Raiders, and their selections in the draft last weekend illustrated that.

After making off-season changes to improve their offense, trading for wide receiver Randy Moss and signing running back LaMont Jordan, it was obvious that the Raiders would have to go for defense in the draft.

Still, when the Raiders traded to move up in the first round on Saturday, the buzz in the lunch room at Raiders headquarters was that the team was looking to grab Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Frank Cooney, who runs the website which provided me with a “mock draft” (and correctly predicted that Alex Smith would be the 49ers pick), walked by and said, “Fabian Washington ran a 4.29 at the combine.” From long experience, Cooney and I both know how much Al Davis loves speed.

Sure enough, when the Raiders turn came, they selected Washington, and on the second round, took another very fast cornerback, Stanford Rouett.

Some writers have speculated that Charles Woodson will be moved to safety. Raider coach Norv Turner said that Washington and Rouett will learn while playing behind Woodson and Nnadmdi Asomugha. I don’t think either scenario is likely.

It seems logical to move Asomugha to safety, where he played as a sophomore and junior at Cal, while moving one of the drafted corners, probably Washington, into one of the corner spots. Though the Raiders have tried to trade Woodson, he has no value because no other team wants to assume his $10.5 million contract or work out a deal with the intractable Poston brothers, who haven’t been able to make a deal with either the Raiders on Woodson or the 49ers on Julian Peterson for two years.

Woodson is still a good corner, though not deserving of his current contract, and he should be kept there. Asomugha is another matter.

When Asomugha was drafted, in 2003, he seemed a perfect fit for the Raiders, who have always loved big, physical corners, starting with Willie Brown, who could knock receivers off stride.

Now, with NFL officials strictly regulating contact, it’s a different game. As Turner noted after the Washington pick, the emphasis is on speed and quickness. Neither Washington nor Ruett are known for their tackling, but both have the speed to keep up with receivers.

Under the current system, Asomugha is better suited to safety, and the Raiders need help there. Making that move will strengthen two positions.

ANOTHER INTERESTING pick was Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter in the third round.

Turner was quick to say that the organization still thinks highly of reserve quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, but Walter has a much better chance of eventually starting for the Raiders than Tuiasosopo.

It comes down to the system. Tuiasosopo was drafted in 2001, when Jon Gruden was the coach – and those around the Raiders believed he was a Gruden choice. Gruden’s offense, a spinoff from the original Bill Walsh offense, featured a mobile quarterback who could make plays, passing or running. The passes were primarily short- or mid-range throws. Rich Gannon was a master at running that offense. Tuiasosopo had played the same way in college, at Washington, and Gruden believed he would eventually be able to step in for Gannon.

Turner’s system is much different. Like his boss, he prefers to throw the ball downfield, and he now has probably the best combination of deep threats, with Moss and Jerry Porter, that the Raiders have ever had.

That plays to the strength of the starting quarterback, Kerry Collins, and it also plays to the strength of Walter, who is a classic drop back passer with the height, 6-6, to look over and throw over defensive lineman.

Because he’s played so little, Tuiasosopo is still an unknown quantity, which means he doesn’t have high trade value. The Raiders may keep him as a reserve this season, to protect against the possibility that Collins is injured, while giving Walter a chance to work in gradually. But Walter is definitely the future, not Tuiasosopo.

IT WOULDN’T be the Raiders if their draft didn’t include some risk.

One was picking up Cal defensive end Ryan Riddle on the sixth round, and I think this is a pick that could be a very good one.

Riddle is one of those players the scouts downgrade because he doesn’t fit the physical profile, at just 6-2 and 260 pounds, for a defensive end. All he does is make plays; he set a school record with 14 ½ sacks last season. He reminds me of another former Cal player, linebacker Gary Plummer, who was too small and too slow but was always around the ball. Plummer played 12 years in the NFL, the last four for the 49ers, including their last Super Bowl season, 1994.

If defensive coordinator Rob Ryan sticks with his 3-4 defense, Riddle could be used as an outside linebacker, whose primary responsibility would be to go for the quarterback.

Another risk, for a different reason, is defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne, a 6-4, 320-pounder who has tested positive for marijuana, which means he enters the NFL as a first-strike offender in the substance-abuse program. A little thing like that has never bothered the Raiders, though, and Hawthorne has the physical ability to be a good player.

A team that wins only nine games in two seasons, the worst stretch for the Raiders since Davis came to the team as coach in 1963, obviously needs a lot of work, but the Raiders have made enough strides with their offseason moves and this draft to give their fans hope.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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