In his seventh season in the NFL, the Raiders’ Michael Huff is experiencing some rookie jitters.
That’s what happens when a fine veteran free safety suddenly finds himself at cornerback, covering fleet receivers one-on-one while one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks is flinging footballs all over the field.
That was the case last Sunday when Huff stepped into the cornerback role because of injuries that knocked out the team’s starters over the first two weeks of the season, and had a rough afternoon in a game the Raiders won, 34-31.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 384 yards and four touchdowns, with Huff often victimized.
He’s remaining at corner this week, getting ready to face Peyton Manning and the Broncos this Sunday in Denver.
“Got thrown in the fire, kind of learned a lot last week,” Huff told Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group Wednesday. “Had my growing pains on a few plays. Obviously should have played better. Got to hold up better on the outside. But luckily we got the W and that week’s over, so I can learn from that film and get better this week.”
His biggest mistake, he told Corkran, was giving receivers too much cushion.
“It’s been so long since I was out there,” Huff said, referring to his career at the University of Texas, when he played his first two seasons at corner. He said he sometimes lined up 10 or 12 yards off a Steelers receiver. “But this week I’ll be more focused on my depth on certain things, so definitely this week will be better.”
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen says Huff is going through “a learning process” and expects him to make rapid improvements.
“The great thing is he was able to learn and we were able to get the win,” Allen told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I would expect the next time he goes out there, he’ll be a little bit better.”
The Chronicle’s Vic Tafur pointed out that the website Pro Football Focus wrote that Huff had “spectacularly bad results” in his debut at corner and “beat himself far more than the Steelers’ receivers could ever manage” by playing too far off of them and giving them too much room.
You can bet that Manning – who threw for 330 yards and two scores last week in a loss to Houston – has watched the film and will test Huff this Sunday.
Huff promises to be better. He also knows his former teammate and All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, now with the Eagles, will be paying attention. After last week’s game, Huff told Corkran that Asomugha gave him a no-punches-pulled critique of his play via text.
“He has high expectations for me, so he didn’t cut me any slack,” Huff said.
Allen has faith in his veteran. He told the media this week that Huff did some things very well at corner, but he needs time to settle in. The Raiders need him.
“There’s a learning process out there,” Allen said. “It’s not like you just go out there and he looks like an All-American or an All-Pro player the first time.”
Coming up Sunday: Game 2 of Huff’s “rookie” season.