Oakland's Michael Huff (with ball) and safety Tyvon Branch celebrate after Huff's interception against the Falcons this season. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
At first, Michael Huff took his lumps at cornerback.
In his first two games at the position, against the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and the Broncos’ Peyton Manning, Huff was left with burn marks.
He allowed 12 catches on 17 attempts in those two games according to Pro Football Focus and admits it was rough not playing well.
But now, after several games at corner after switching from safety, Huff is not only feeling comfortable, he’s been solid.
In the past two games against the Jaguars and Chiefs, he’s been in pass coverage for 84 snaps, reports the Associated Press (citing Pro Football Focus) and has allowed just one catch for 2 yards. In the week previous – after a bye week – he held his own against Matt Ryan and a strong Falcons passing attack, allowing five catches for 62 yards on 12 attempts against him. In that game, he also knocked away three passes and picked one off.
Huff was forced to move from safety – where he played his first six full years in the NFL – when corners Ronald Bartell and Shawntae Spencer went down with injuries in the first two games. Backup Pat Lee moved into one slot and Huff the other, with Matt Giordano taking Huff’s safety spot.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said he knew Huff could do the job.
“I’m not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, all right,” Allen told the media this week. “I don’t think Willie Brown (former Raiders great) has anything to worry about yet. But he has improved. That’s what we expect and that’s what we will continue to expect, that every day he has an opportunity to go out and work he’ll get a little better every week.”
Bartell says Huff has improved markedly.
“I kid him all the time, I think he’s a lot better corner than he is a safety,” Bartell told the Associated Press. “I’ve been impressed with Huff. That’s tough to ask a guy to do. He hasn’t played a lick of corner all camp or all (offseason workouts) and then guys go down and he’s able to go in a pinch. He’s gotten better every game, and he takes pride in it. I’m really impressed with him.”
The Raiders, now 3-4 and tied for second in the AFC West with San Diego behind 4-3 Denver, will face the 3-4 Tampa Bay Bucs at O.co Coliseum this Sunday.
This Sunday will likely be a bigger challenge for Huff than his last two games against K.C. and Jacksonville.
The Bucs come in with Josh Freeman at quarterback, who’s thrown for 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns and a pair of big-play wideouts in former Charger Vincent Jackson (29 catches, 626 yards, 5 TDs and a terrific 21.6-yard average per catch) and Mike Williams (25 catches, 436 yards, 4 TDs, 17.4 average).
Huff goes into the game with his confidence much higher than it was after rough outings against Roethlisberger and Manning. His mistakes caused him to work harder.
Now, going into Sunday’s game, he’s ready for another challenge.
“It wasn’t quick enough for me,” Huff told reporters of his growth. “I had those couple of rough games early. I knew I’d go through some growing pains. I had never really played outside (cornerback) for a whole stretch. … I’m starting to learn from them.”