New coaching staff, new management and new players will always bring change to any organization. There are no more “coach favorites” or Al Davis commands that are keeping positions locked down for any Raiders players this season. With training camp always comes position battles. Although there is always a battle for any position, I think it’s safe to say that some of the positions are much more concrete than others. For example, Carson Palmer and Tyvon Branch. When you’re paying guys this much money, the organization obviously views you as a starter unless there is injury, obviously. Other positions, however, are much less concrete (i.e. cornerback).
The Raiders signed Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer to have some veterans on their defense but these two guys have been middle of the road cornerbacks their whole career and are now in their early thirties. This is the perfect time for someone like Chimdi Chekwa to grab a starting spot over one of the two. Camp will be an exciting time for this position. Although the Raiders do not have the most talented group of corners, the thirst for a starting spot on this evolving defense will push every player to his limit and help the team grow.
Another position where there will be a lot of competition falls at a position with a lot of depth: wide receiver. Last year, Heyward-Bay finally came into his own and had his best season, living up to the potential that Al Davis saw in him. 5th round sleeper Denarius Moore shocked the NFL with multiple highlight reel-esque games. Jacoby Ford, although injured for a lot of the season, had some highlights during the season and has already proved himself in his rookie campaign. The Raiders also added wide outs Juron Criner and Rod Streater, both bigger, taller receivers that add some size to the speedy roster. Both of these young guys had outstanding spring OTA’s but keep in mind, OTA’s are designed to make receivers shine. With DHB possibly facing some suspension time from his DUI in the offseason it will be interesting to see who steps up in this position early on.
The remaining two positions that will have serious camp battles are right tackle and tight end. Khalif Barnes and Joseph Barksdale are both competing for the starting right tackle position. With an offensive line that is starting to turn heads after a decade of down years, the only weak position is at right tackle. Barnes has underperformed in the past and Barksdale has hasn’t really had a big chance to prove himself. Barnes has some experience in the zone block scheme so look for him to start early in the season, but don’t be surprised if Barksdale gets some serious looks and possibly takes over. At the tight end position it will be the battle of the receiving tight end versus the blocking tight end. Brandon Myers has the most experience (3 years) where Ausberry and Gordon are coming off of their rookie season. Ausberry, a converted receiver, shows a lot of promise in the passing game where Gordon shows potential as a blocking specialist. I think one of the two younger guys will steal the position from Myers, but it’s going to be whoever can learn their weakness the quickest.