Safety Michael Huff defended coach Tom Cable's decision to replace him in the Oakland Raiders' starting secondary early last season, saying it was the right call at the time.
Huff, the team's first-round draft pick in 2006, admitted being frustrated by the move but said Cable's call to replace him with Hiram Eugene was warranted.
"Definitely, because I knew I wasn't playing up to par," Huff said Thursday. "And when somebody's not playing up to their potential, it's his job to go out there and put the best players on the field. Hiram played well last year and made the open-field tackles that I didn't make last year. So I've strived this year to tackle better and be more of an all-around safety."
In order to get back in the team's good graces, Huff spent the summer studying tapes of the top safeties in the NFL today, going through a checklist of issues in his own game to correct.
Through the first week of Oakland's training camp, however, Huff has been relegated to working primarily with the Raiders' backups while Eugene practices with the starters.
It's a far cry from the scenario Huff and the Raiders envisioned when he was the seventh overall pick in the draft back in '06. Coming off a stellar senior season at Texas, where he won the Thorpe Award given annually to the nation's top college defensive back, Huff was also the fastest player at the scouting combine.
He started every game his first two seasons in the league despite playing out of position at strong safety, then fell out of favor last year after moving to his more natural free safety spot and missing a pair of open-field tackles during Oakland's season-opening 41-14 loss to Denver.
"Then it was all downhill from there," Huff said.
Eugene, an undrafted free agent in 2005, started five games in 2007 and replaced Huff in the lineup shortly after Cable replaced Lane Kiffin as the Raiders' head coach.
Eugene remained atop the depth chart when Oakland opened training camp and has taken the majority of reps with the starters while Huff has practiced with the backups. Huff is also getting time in the nickel and dime formations.
"He's in the mix, there's no question," Cable said. "He's a good player. He knows what he needs to do in terms of becoming a sure tackler. We'll see when we get to playing the games. But how he responded, he took his role well, particularly when we put him on special teams. We got him more involved there and he made some plays."
In hopes of having the same impact on Oakland's defense, Huff spent much of his summer reviewing film of other safeties around the league, like Baltimore's Ed Reed, Denver's Brian Dawkins, Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu and Indianapolis' Bob Sanders.
Huff watched every tackle each of the four made in 2008, taking notes in hopes of improving his own game.
"They all play different defenses and they approach the game different so I tried to take a little bit from each," Huff said. "Obviously I can see with Cable the best man is going to play, so I need to go out there on the field and prove to him that I can tackle and do all those things to be a starter."
NOTES: WR Javon Walker still hasn't been cleared to practice, meaning he's doubtful to play in the Raiders' preseason opener against Dallas on Aug. 13.