I took a couple days off from my inspection of the Oakland Raiders depth chart to do a couple other things, but with the players checking into the Napa Marriott in the next 24 hours it’s time to get back to it.
No.1 Javon Walker
Walker will be examined early and often by Raider coaches during training camp. He may be cleared to play by then, but it’s still unclear what to expect from the wide receiver. Walker was held out of the second practices of the mandatory mini-camp and OTA’s. Twice Kiffin referred to Walker’s weight, once telling the Sacramento Bee,“he’s a little heavy right now.” Walker has said all the right things since his Vegas mugging to try and reassure his coaches that he’ll be there for training camp, and fans that he’ll be ready for the start of the season. I still don’t trust him, but with his back already against the wall due to the many questions about his commitment and work ethic, maybe his effort will increase. I’m hoping he feels regret for his conditioning and choices in Vegas, and proves to everyone that he wants it as much as he says he does. Next Up: practice starts Thursday, the first chance for Walker to live up to his words.
No.2 Ronald Curry
Curry has recovered from offseason surgery to remove bone-spurs in his left foot, and not only looks to be ready to run at 100% by training camp, he looks stronger. “I never took the weight room too seriously. I would do just enough,” Curry said. “But Kiffin wanted me to get in there and really hit the weights, and [strength] coach [Brad] Roll was really a blessing for me.” Having trained with both football players and power lifters for most my adult life, I can’t stress how important I think the weight room is to staying healthy on the field. Curry didn’t make any of the mini-camps, and seemed to sit out every other play during OTA’s, but when he showed up, he made sure to impress. Anyone concerned with Curry’s surgery needn’t be, because the 6’1” pass catcher played at a high level even with the injury last year, and in no way are the bone-spurs linked to any of his prior injuries. Next Up: dust off the rest of the rust with a strong training camp.
No.3 Drew Carter
This was one offseason move that I was really excited about, and after mini-camps and OTA’s I’ve got reason to think Carter may surpass my expectations. “He has been really impressive,” said a team observer. “He has looked like the best player at the position during workouts.” JaMarcus Russell has been able to find the 6’3” former Panther with ease. With Walker and Curry out for the better part of the last few months, Carter has become Russell’s primary target and the receiver he trusts the most. Carter is a bigger target than Curry, and might find himself on the outside no matter if Curry and Walker get the nod to start or not. Curry has always been effective inside, and Carter has the frame to stretch the field, so if Carter can finally live up to his amazing skills the Raiders might have one hell of a threat down field; Walker or no Walker. Next Up: continue to keep play at a high level, and force Walker and Curry to keep up.
There was little I could find on the remaining receivers that I could assess, so here’s from a guy who gets a closer look; NFL writer Jerry McDonald.
No.4 Johnnie Lee Higgins – “Higgins is being talked up by Kiffin for his playmaking skills and improvement in Year 2, and will be given every chance to be the punt return specialist.”
No.5 – Todd Watkins – I do know Watkins well, and am glad to have heard many good things about him this offseason. “Based on what he showed in the offseason, Watkins is an extremely gifted physical receiver who has a chance to stick if either of the rookie draft picks isn’t deemed ready for the 53-man roster.”
Rookie Draft Picks: Chaz Shilens and Arman Shields – “Shields and Schilens both seem extremely bright and earnest, and have the physicality the Raiders are looking for as receiving partners for Russell. Shields is a project who needs plenty of snaps but who promptly had a hamstring pull, robbing him of valuable learning time. He will need to catch up to Schilens in training camp.”
Long shots: Jonathon Holland, Chris McFoy, Drisan James, Will Buchanon (just cut to make room for Greg Wesley) – “McFoy was elevated to the 53-man roster late last season, but rates no better than a longshot to stick this year along with one-time camp phenom Buchanon, Holland and James.”
Marcel Reece – “Kiffin would love to see Reece make a move if for no other reason that the Washington receiver made the training camp roster on a tryout basis. If he were to contend for a roster spot or make the practice squad, he would serve as an example that draft status or salary takes a back seat to production when it comes to making the team.
Reece has a tight end’s size and a wideout skills.”
No.1 Zach Miller
One of the bright spots last season was Millers progression. Great numbers (44 rec. 444 yds. 3 TD) came as Millers effort on the practice field and in the film room increased. Miller’s draft concerns (4.86 40, 16 reps at the bench) came to show early in 2007. He struggled with blocking and getting off the line quick enough to get down field. By the end of the season Miller had improved on all levels, but will never be a great blocker or get any faster. He runs precise routs, takes the right angle to get the most out of his strength when blocking, and doesn’t let the defender keep him from getting off the line of scrimmage. Miller is kind of like the complete opposite of Rickey Dudley. Miller struggles with speed and power, something Dudley didn’t lack. Where Dudley failed was with rout running and pass catching; exactly what Miller excels at. Next Up: sophomore year begins on July 24th, hope there’s no slump.
No.2 John Madsen
I love the way this guy always finds a way to get open. He lacks everything you want in a tightend: size, strength, speed; but yet he’s always open. He’s not the prettiest rout runner, but catches every pass thrown his way. He even seems to break a tackle or two with ease after every catch. Madsen’s an average blocker that’s not going to get much better, and most of the time needs to be used off the line of scrimmage to find success. He’s nothing special, but one hell of an asset to this team. Next Up: look for him to at least triple his current 1 touchdown a season average.
No.3 Tony Stewart, No. 4 & 5 Chris Wagner, Darrell Strong
“Stewart was a non-factor in the passing game, his two main roles being as a special teams player and as the union player rep.
Wagner and Strong are practice squad hopefuls.” – Jerry McDonald