Raiders OL coach Tom Cable
How well quarterback JaMarcus Russell will do in his first season running the Raiders offense will largely depend on how well the team does in keeping him upright. Russell’s powerful arm won’t mean much if he’s on his back or getting knocked around, like Daunte Culpepper and Josh McCown were most of last year.
Offensive line coach Tom Cable did a phenomenal job squeezing the league’s sixth-best running game in 2007 but the Raiders had numerous problems in pass protection, a fact Oakland’s opponents exploited last year by blitzing heavily and frequently.
With at least two new starters this season Cable might have his hands full trying to get the issue corrected. Both starting guards, Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle, are back as is right tackle Cornell Green. But center Jeremy Newberry wasn’t re-signed and left tackle Barry Sims was let go in the offseason, leaving a pair of holes to fill.
Third-year player Chris Morris and John Wade were atop the depth chart at center during the Raiders’ most recent offseason workouts and it’s still too early to tell which direction Cable intends to go there.
At left tackle, though, the job belongs to Kwame Harris. Harris will be primarily responsible for protecting Russell’s blind side, a factor that will be critical to the development of the second-year quarterback.
Harris was a decent enough right tackle during his early years with San Francisco but fell out of favor with the 49ers in 2007 and lost his starting job.
Greg Knapp, the Raiders offensive coordinator, was coaching in San Francisco the year the 49ers drafted Harris and convinced Oakland head coach Lane Kiffin and the front office to bring the veteran offensive lineman in for a workout.
“H’s a very good run blocker,“ Knapp said. “He just, unfortunately, went through what’s very tough in this business – three coaches in four years. And so he has unfortunately not had a very strong foundation for him to build from. But the traits that I saw coming out, we evaluated as a staff and we saw, ‘Hey, here’s something he still does well.’ And he just needs to hopefully get a steady hand of teaching it and training him a certain way.”
That’s where Cable comes in.
Cable was successful in creating the foundation for the Raiders’ rushing attack last year and played a key role in Gallery’s transition from tackle to guard. If he can do the same with Harris, the Raiders will have a much better chance of improving upon their 31st-ranked passing game from a year ago.
Harris himself is convinced that a new environment and working with Cable will make a difference.
“The pass blocking system in San Francisco was much more technique driven,” Harris said. “Very strict, in a sense. Here one of the great things about coach Cable is that yes, you have a set of fundamentals, techniques and principle you have to work inside of but you also need to go out and block he guy. Don’t let the guy get to the quarterback, that is the main goal.
“It’s not ‘keep your hips square and stay in position.’ It’s to keep that guy away from JaMarcus.”