Bartell, Spencer look for new starts with Raiders

The offseason moves that brought Ron Bartell and Shawntae

Spencer to the Oakland Raiders on the surface seemed to be a

perfect a union.

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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