Raiders go from building track team to basketball team

Up until this season, the Raiders draft strategy was easy to figure. Just find the fastest player and put him in the Raiders' draft slot a round ahead of where he is projected. This draft it was not so easy to predict what the Raiders would do. But it seems they have switched from the track meet to the basketball court.

Before the draft, the Raiders were showing particular interest in tight ends with a basketball background and then signed Cal State Fullerton basketball player, Andre Hardy. They also had a private interview with a basketball player tight end prospect at the BYU pro day.

Litte did we know that the interest in players with a basketball background was not limited to tight ends. Their first pick, Tony Bergstrom, aside from playing offensive tackle, was a three year letterman in basketball in high school.

When the fifth round rolled around, it was time to take a chance on a couple basketball players with raw football skills.

Both players are defensive end prospects and both didn't set foot on a football field until late in high school.

The traded down in the fifth round and took Jack Crawford out of Penn State who was a guy who was a basketball star in England and came to the U.S. to pursue it. He decided to try football as a junior and according to him, he instantly knew it was for him.

"Stepping on that football field for the first time, it was a feeling I never had before," said Crawford. "I like how it was physical game. I grew up playing rugby and stepping on the football field, there was just a lot more excitement. When I started to get more of a feel for the game, I became more and more intrigued by it.

"My high school coach told me, when I stepped on the field, just told me a little bit about the positions I'd be playing, defensive end and wide receiver and then he just told me, on defense, just go get the ball. And that's what I did for him. Every play I lined up, I took off and try to get back to the running back as much as possible. And one thing I think helped me was just my work ethic. I used to always do the extra part just to try to get better."

With the Raiders next pick, they stepped decidedly away from the speed quotient when they chose wide receiver Juron Criner out of Arizona. Criner's draft stock plummeted after he ran a pedestrian 4.68 40 yard dash at the combine. But he is known for his ability to put his body into a defender and his leaping ability-both valuable basketball skills.

In the mid-sixth round, the Raiders pulled the name Christo Bilukidi out of obscurity. Well, Georgia State to be specific. Georgia State has a brand new football program and Bilukidi was one of the school's first recruits. The 6-5 defensive end hadn't played a down of football until his senior season in high school. Before that, he was all about basketball and was at one time considered a top round ball prospect.

Bilukidi lived in Ottowa and credits a friend of his who played in the CFL for convincing him to give football a try.

"I was always a basketball player and he asked me if I wanted to play football my senior year in high school. I started playing and started liking it.

"It's not like basketball. Basketball is physical but football is just another game and it's more physical. The whole contact about it, just hitting people, that's what I like to do."

The Raiders still have a lot of remnant speed on the team but it appears the team of the future in Oakland won't be running past their opponents as much as jumping over them.

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