Groves adds spark to Raiders defense

Quentin Groves gathered the Oakland Raiders’ linebackers
together after meetings Friday and talked about making the unit the
heart of the defense.

Groves then went out and got into a fight with fullback Alex
Daniels at practice Saturday, flinging his 6-foot-4, 260-pound
teammate to the ground and landing a few punches before trying –
and missing – with a kick.

”I was just trying to provide a spark,” Groves said while
taking a break between practices. ”I talked to my ‘backers last
night and said we have to come out and be one of the most feared
groups in the league. That’s what the Raiders are known for …
that’s what we are.”

Groves has extra motivation, too. He’s trying to find a spot on
Oakland’s 53-man roster and is listed behind strongside linebacker
Kamerion Wimbley on the depth chart.

It’s not hard to find Groves on the field. He’s one of the most
vocal defensive players and routinely takes verbal jabs at his
offensive teammates.

After Saturday’s altercation, Groves joked with some of his
defensive teammates about the skirmish and later smiled when
talking to reporters about it.

”It’s what we needed,” Groves said. ”Anytime you go live on
goal-line or short-yardage, there’s going to be fights. Who wants
it more? We’re both in the same position, trying to make a spot on
this team. Either I’m going to eat or you’re going to eat. One of
us has to win.”

Daniels, who is splitting time between the defensive line and
fullback, shrugged off the fight.

”It was a little scuffle and then that was it,” Daniels said.
”We shook hands, we hugged, we talked in the locker room. It was a
good play and then after that it was over.”

Raiders coach Tom Cable has said in the past he had no problems
with players fighting in practice but acknowledged Groves attempted
kick was over the line.

”Sure it is because that would probably get him thrown out of
the game,” Cable said. ”We talked about that and they handled it
as a team right afterward.”

Groves’ message was clear, though.

If the Raiders are going to have any shot at ending their streak
of seven consecutive seasons with double-digit losses, the defense
has to improve.

Oakland targeted the linebacking corps in the offseason as part
of its makeover.

The Raiders acquired Wimbley from Cleveland in March and sent a
fifth-round draft pick to Jacksonville in April for Groves. They
used the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft to get Alabama’s
Rolando McClain and immediately dubbed him the starter at middle
linebacker.

They also traded leading tackler Kirk Morrison, McClain’s
successor in the middle, to Jacksonville.

It’s part of Oakland’s effort to fix a defense that was 26th
overall and 29th against the run in 2009. Since their last playoff
appearance in 2002, the Raiders haven’t finished higher than 22nd
against the run.

”We can do a lot,” Groves said. ”One moment you might see us
in a 3-4, the next you could see us in a 4-3, the next one you
could see us in the 5-2, maybe even the 4-6. We just have to tune
in the game plan and that keeps teams on edge.”

NOTES: QB Bruce Gradkowski has a sore groin but was able to
practice. … RB Darren McFadden left the morning workout with
hamstring tightness. … FB Luke Lawton has been officially
diagnosed with a concussion and the Raiders are putting him through
a battery of tests before he returns to practice. … Cable expects
to unveil his quarterback rotation Monday for the preseason game
against Dallas next week.