After a rough adjustment when he first made the move from safety to cornerback for the Oakland Raiders, Michael Huff is now starting to feel right at home at his new position.
Huff has provided lock-down coverage on the outside the past few weeks to bolster a banged-up secondary that has been missing both starting cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer because of injuries since midway through the second game of the season.
That led to the Raiders moving Huff from free safety, where he could survey the entire field, to cornerback, where his main responsibility was shutting down one receiver.
He has made quite the adjustment.
"It wasn't quick enough for me," Huff said. "I had those couple of rough games early. I knew I'd go through some growing pains. I had never really played outside for a whole stretch. I knew I'd go through some growing pains and I'm starting to learn from them."
After being picked apart for 12 catches on 17 attempts by Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Denver's Peyton Manning in his first two games, according to game charting by Pro Football Focus, Huff has shown marked improvement since the bye week.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan went after him repeatedly three weeks ago, but Huff more than held his own, allowing five catches for 62 yards on 12 attempts. He also intercepted one pass and broke up three others as his increased confidence showed up on the field.
"I kid him all the time. I think he's a lot better corner than he is safety," Bartell said. "I've been impressed with Huff. That's tough to ask a guy to do. He hasn't played a lick of corner all camp and all OTAs and then guys go down and he's able to go in in a pinch. He's gotten better every game, and he takes pride in it. I'm really impressed with him."
Huff said going up against accomplished passers like Roethlisberger and Manning his first two games has paid dividends. He has had nearly airtight coverage the past two games.
According to Pro Football Focus, Huff has been in coverage for 84 snaps the past two weeks and allowed just one catch for 2 yards on seven throws his direction in that span.
"I'm not ready to put him in the Hall of Fame yet, all right," coach Dennis Allen said. "I don't think Willie Brown has anything to worry about yet. But he has improved. That's what we expect and that's what we will continue to expect, that every day he has an opportunity to go out and work he'll get a little bit better every week."
Huff said he still tries to take in the entire formation before each play as he did as a safety, observing the alignment of receivers on the opposite side of the field for any clue about what type of play will be run.
But once the ball is snapped his vantage point changes and he is focused almost solely on the receiver he is responsible for and the quarterback.
Many players have made the opposite move that Huff did as they get older and no longer have the speed and athleticism to play on the outside. Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber, who is playing the Raiders this week, made the switch this season after playing primarily cornerback his first 15 seasons.
"That's not a transition you see very often," Barber said. "Actually, I can't think of any that have actually done it off the top of my head. He's a good enough athlete to play out there. I'm sure he's adjusting, but I think it's a lot easier transition to go from corner to safety."
Whether Huff remains outside all season remains to be seen. Bartell practiced for the first time Wednesday since breaking his left shoulder blade in the season opener.
Bartell, who is on the short-term injured reserve list, worked with the scout team and is trying to get back into football shape after being sidelined for the past seven weeks. Bartell is first eligible to play on Nov. 11 against Baltimore. The Raiders have a 21-day window to activate him, put him on season-ending injured reserve or cut him.
"I'm good enough to play," Bartell said. "The shoulder is not a concern. I just need to get back in shape and sharpen some things up and go from there."
Oakland's other starting cornerback, Spencer, remains sidelined. He sprained his right foot in the second game of the season in Miami and initially targeted a return after the bye against Atlanta on Oct. 14. But he has yet to return to the practice field and it is uncertain when he will be able to play again.
NOTES: RT Khalif Barnes (groin) remains sidelined. DT Richard Seymour also did not practice to give his sore knees a rest. ... C Stefen Wisniewski (left ankle) and RB Mike Goodson (turf toe) practiced despite injuries in last week's game. ... LB Aaron Curry practiced again but Allen has not decided whether to activate him from the physically unable to perform list this week. ... The Raiders signed G Jason Foster to the practice squad to replace released DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
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