Bartell, Spencer look for new starts with Raiders
NAPA, Calif. (AP)
A team looking to go in a new direction at cornerback brought in two veterans sorely in need of fresh starts.
Bartell and Spencer have brought sage leadership skills to a young secondary in Oakland that is adapting to a brand-new defensive system after years of playing predominantly press-man coverage.
Whether they can be impact players for the Raiders (No. 23 tie in the AP Pro32) as well as teachers remains to be seen with the first test coming in Monday night's exhibition opener against the Dallas Cowboys (No. 15, AP Pro32).
''They're smart guys, man,'' Raiders safety Tyvon Branch said. ''They know the game. They're wily veterans. They're older guys so they know the ins and outs of the game. It's not so much a skill set with them, it's the mental capacity, and they know a lot about football.''
The two 30-year-old cornerbacks - both coincidentally born on Feb. 22, 1982 - spent their entire careers with one team before signing in Oakland within days of each other in March.
Bartell had been let go by the St. Louis Rams after missing almost the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. Spencer was released by the San Francisco 49ers after losing his starting job last season shortly after injuring his hamstring on the third day of training camp.
''I think it was needed,'' Spencer said of his change of scenery. ''I think the direction San Francisco was going was obviously in a different direction, and I think it was something that was positive for both sides, for them and me. I'm looking forward to just getting a fresh start.''
It's a similar situation for Bartell, who was St. Louis' top cornerback for years before sustaining the season-ending injury a year ago.
''I'm just happy to be back on the field, be healthy, and be in a situation I think is perfect for me with a great group of guys that I get to play with, a good coaching staff, a good front office,'' Bartell said. ''It's just a blessing to have another chance.''
The Raiders made the moves to add Bartell and Spencer after cutting starter Stanford Routt one year into a $54.5 million, five-year contract, releasing Chris Johnson and letting Lito Sheppard leave in free agency.
That left Oakland with only second-year players DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa as cornerbacks who had started a game in the NFL.
The two veterans are being counted on as much for their vast experience as for their talents on the field.
''I don't know whether to take that as a compliment or a dis,'' Bartell said. ''I've played a lot of football. Shawntae's played a lot of football. We've seen a lot of different things. We've started a lot of games. We have some knowledge. There's a familiarity with a lot of receivers around the league and just tendencies and just knowing the game of football. I never want to step on coaches' toes and try and be a coach out there, but young guys do ask questions because they know you have experience, so I just try to let them know my experience and just try to teach them how to be a professional.''
Bartell missed virtually all of 2011 after sustaining two neck fractures in the season opener after being blocked by a Philadelphia lineman. No one knew the severity of the injury at the time and Bartell nearly went back into the game.
Tests after the game showed the breaks and Bartell was in a brace until December. He said it took until March until he had his full range of motion and strength back.
''You get banged up a lot in this game, but it's the first injury I've ever had where I've had to miss a significant amount of time,'' he said. ''Luckily for me, it was not a simple injury but a straightforward, or fracture, and everything healed up fine. I'm just ready to play ball and I'm happy to be back.''
Coach Dennis Allen has been pleased with Bartell's progress in offseason workouts and since returning from a hamstring injury that cost him the first week of training camp, but still sees some rust.
''It takes a while,'' Allen said. ''It's not an easy game. It's a tough game played by tough people. So, it takes a little bit of time to knock the rust off. Fortunately for us, we got a lot of time to get him ready.''
NOTES: Former Raiders coach Jon Gruden attended the team's training camp for the first time since 2001 to prepare for Monday night's telecast. ... LB Mario Kurn and WR Duke Calhoun left practice with knee injuries that Allen said looked to be significant. ... Tests on TE Brandon Myers' injured shoulder came back negative and his status for Monday is undetermined.
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