Michael Huff The Raiders' veteran safety may see some cornerback duty Sunday against Pittsburgh.

Raiders' depleted secondary braces for Steelers' speedy receivers

Published: Saturday, Sep. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 3C

ALAMEDA – Raiders safety Michael Huff made it sound as if the Pittsburgh Steelers plan to line up the Jamaican track team out wide on Sunday. The Steelers have the "fastest receiving corps in the NFL," Huff said. And wideout Mike Wallace? "Fastest kid in the world."

Touch of hyperbole or not, the Raiders will have their hands full trying to slow down Wallace, Antonio Brown and company. And they'll have to do so without their two starting cornerbacks from the season opener.

Shawntae Spencer is out Sunday with a sprained foot, and Ron Bartell is on injured reserve, leaving erstwhile backups Pat Lee and Joselio Hanson as the only two active corners who have played a defensive snap for the Raiders this season. So the Raiders kept their options open by having Huff take practice reps this week at both corner and safety.

"They haven't told me either way yet," Huff said. "If I'm out there (at corner), I'll be ready, or if I'm at safety, I'll be ready. It's not really much of a difference because during one-on-ones, I do everything with the corners anyway."

Huff, a free safety who often slides to nickel cornerback, pointed out that he has lined up on an island in college and a handful of times in the NFL, including two years ago against Pittsburgh when the Raiders used their nickel defense with Nnamdi Asomugha out injured.

Whether the Raiders would use him on the outside or in the slot this weekend is unclear. Hanson also has guarded slot receivers for much of his career.

"For me, outside is easier than inside, because inside you're working on slot, quick receivers," Huff said. "Outside is pretty much just press and run, more the deep routes. So outside would be more comfortable for me anyway."

Pressed into every-down action after Spencer went down last Sunday, Lee and Hanson struggled against the Miami Dolphins' wideouts, while cornerbacks Coye Francies (Cordova High School) and Phillip Adams played solely on special teams.

And the Steelers present a more established passing game with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a receiver group that includes two players who amassed more than 1,100 receiving yards last season in Wallace and Brown.

Coach Dennis Allen said Friday he believes the Raiders "have a pretty good plan for what we're going to do and how we're going to attack that position."

One thing they might actually have going for them is the low profile of their cornerback group.

On a conference call this week, Roethlisberger demurred when asked about facing the Raiders' depleted secondary.

"Everyone is in this league for a reason," he said. "The biggest thing is just, not knowing who's going to be out there, to watch them on film."

Injury report – Two of the Steelers' defensive stalwarts were ruled out of Sunday's game: safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and linebacker James Harrison (knee). Neither played last week against the New York Jets, with Ryan Mundy starting in place of Polamalu and Chris Carter replacing Harrison.

The Raiders, meanwhile, have ruled out Spencer and right tackle Khalif Barnes (groin), meaning Willie Smith, who filled in after Barnes was hurt last Sunday, likely will make his first start for the Raiders.

Linebacker Rolando McClain (concussion, ankle) is listed as questionable after being limited in practice the past two days. Allen said McClain is still going through league concussion tests and that "we'll see where he's at (today) and then even on Sunday."

Backup running back Mike Goodson (hamstring) did not practice Friday and also is listed as questionable. Allen said he doesn't think the injury is "any big deal," but the Raiders probably will work out Goodson before the game before deciding if he'll play.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matt Kawahara



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