From a new and little known high school in Michigan called Forest Hills Northern, to a Division II college called Hillsdale, to a standout left tackle at that college, to a rookie starting NFL center. That is the path of the 6'8" 315 pound Oakland Raiders rookie, Jared Veldheer.
But Veldheer is not the only starting change since the beginning of training camp. Also coming along with him as new faces in the starting line-up will be veteran cornerback Stanford Routt and possibly the offseason addition from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Quentin Groves.If you could recall a month or so ago, some folks were hanging their head in sorrow about the state of the Oakland Raiders' offensive tackles. I said I would be more concerned about the starting center and poor depth behind the starting offensive guards. Evidently, Cable saw something in the one start by Jared Veldheer at center that he failed to see from Samson Satele. Veldheer is a 6'8" mauler who can handle the big 3-4 defensive tackles the Raiders will face on ten different occasions this year. Satele has always had trouble with big defensive tackles which is part of the reason the Miami Dolphins were willing to part with Satele, their second round pick of four seasons ago, for just a sixth round pick.
Here's what Bill Romanowski said when he was asked what he would do if he had to line-up against Veldheer: "Well, I'd try to figure out the best way to get around him, because I know I'm not going to be able to go through him."
Today, head coach Tom Cable was asked what went into the decision to make Veldheer the first string center to which he replied, "Well the fact he has it in his background. The fact that there was a need for it on our team, then the fact that when you first start to do it with him, how natural he was at it."
Veldheer spent almost the entire Raiders training camp switching back and forth between center and left tackle. It's now obvious the Raiders feel better about Mario Henderson at left tackle than they do about Satele at center.
Meanwhile, Chris Johnson (last year's starter opposite CB Nnamdi Asomugha) couldn't stop anything against Seattle's back-up wide receivers on Thursday night and secured his spot on the bench for the opening of the 2010 season. Stanford Routt will get the start and there is little doubt in anyone's mind that Routt has earned the gig.
When Stanford Routt was given a first and third round free agent tender in March, it left some in Raider Nation scratching their heads. But when he came into OTA's and mini-camps this year, it seemed as though there was a new focus about him.
"Stanford had a really good mini-camp and OTA's," said Asomugha. "I think we challenged him a little more because we wanted to see more out of him at the nickel position with the things we were doing. And he's been doing great at it, so now when we come here in (training) camp and he's playing the outside corner. If he continues to build on that, you never know how it will unfold."
"It (was) a pretty heated competition, actually," said Tom Cable. "If you ask me what I see in Stan, I see a guy that when he's focused, he's an outstanding talent. I think Stan probably feels like it's time and it's his time. I'm all for that because he's definitely, definitely a very talented guy that can help us."
I wouldn't call Johnson's last outing a "heated" competition, in fact it is probably what solidified this move. Johnson gave up 4 catches for 124 yards to four different Seahawk receivers while he often looked out of position and seemed to be slow on every catch he surrendered. He left some folks pondering the possibility of Jeremy Ware or Walter McFadden, both late round draft choices in 2010, starting at the nickel cornerback position. We'll just have to wait and see what happens between now and one week from now.
In recent practices Trevor Scott has been working with the defensive linemen. He said afterward that he's been working exclusively as a defensive end while Quentin Groves has been working with the first team at weakside linebacker. Cable spoke of the possibility of Groves starting in place of Trevor Scott on Sunday at weak-side Linebacker. Here is what he said:
"We're working on a couple of things and I think Wednesday, some of that will get cleared up for you. (Quentin Groves) was (a 4-3 DE) at Jacksonville, but in college (at Auburn) he was a drop-backer, so he has some experience with that. I think for us, we're just experimenting with some stuff right now to make sure we get the right 11 guys on the field. There's some things that we've asked him to do in the past couple of weeks and one of them was to play in the pass defense with a little more instinct, a little more break on the ball and keeping the ball in front of him and he's done those things."
Personally, I thought Scott was a lock for the position after taking over for four-year starter, Thomas Howard, mid-way through the 2009 season. It's not like Howard was injured and lost the job, he was just plain out-played by Scott for the spot after Scott switched positions from his original home at defensive end.
Now, however, it appears as though Scott may have been out-played by newcomer, via a pre-draft trade, Quentin Groves. Groves is about 10 pounds heavier than Scott, who is about fifteen pounds heavier than Thomas Howard. In the short time since Tom Cable has been the head honcho in Oakland, the Raiders have gone from a small and aggressive front seven to one of the biggest defensive front seven's in the league. The hope is that more bulk up front will help stop teams from draining the defense with their running game.
Contrary to that theory, the purpose of this particular move seems to be to have a WLB who can provide better skills in pass defense. But it is not as though Groves is a slouch against the run. The guy will be hard to block for the opponents rushing attack assignments and he is a hard working guy who realizes that this may just be his last chance in the league. So when you add it all together, Groves is a large linebacker, who is good in pass defense, and is apparently a better fit at the position than either Scott or Howard.
This move does make some sense though. Scott has been one of the team's best pass rushers. Regardless of whether Scott is playing OLB or DE, he should get his fair share of snaps on the defensive side.
Still, going from Howard, Kirk Morrison, and Ricky Brown to Groves, Rolando McClain, and Kamerion Wimbley should be considered an upgrade. Once this unit gels, it could be one of the best linebacking corps in football.
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