By trade, Hiram Eugene is a safety. That’s what it says right next to his name on the Oakland Raiders roster.
But Eugene also has played a large role on special teams, particularly as the “gunner” on the punt-coverage team, tasked with sprinting downfield under one of Shane Lechler’s booming punts to seek and destroy the return man.
As Paul Gutierrez of Comcast Sports Net wrote earlier this week, “In Hiram Eugene the Raiders had one of the most skilled gunners in the league.”
So when the Raiders lost Eugene – possibly for the season – to a dislocated hip suffered in Thursday night’s exhibition game against the Arizona Cardinals, it was a double whammy: to the depth of the secondary and the proficiency of the special teams.
“That’s a tough one,” head coach Hue Jackson told reporters.
In four seasons with Oakland, Eugene has played in 60 games, including several starts at safety. Last season, the former Louisiana Tech standout – signed as a free agent -- had 22 tackles, many of those coming on special teams. He re-signed with Oakland this year.
Earlier this week in practice, the Raiders were giving three wide receivers a shot at filling Eugene’s gunner position: Shawn Bayes, Shaun Bodiford and Chad Jackson.
Now the Raiders have signed two safeties to throw into the mix as well, Matt Giordano and Josh Bullocks.
Giordano, from Fresno, is a fourth-round draft choice in 2005 from Cal by Indianapolis, and has played for the Colts, Packers, Falcons and Saints. He started four games for the Colts in 2007. Bullocks, in his seventh NFL season out of Nebraska, has played for the Saints and Bears.
Both will get a chance to show what they can do in Eugene’s roles.
“I think we have some very young, talented players and some veteran players that can do it,” Jackson told Gutierrez. “We’ll see how that unfolds, but obviously it’s a tough job.
“It’s a job that guys are vying for. They want that job. They want that opportunity because we know how important it is to our football team.”