Training camp is just around the corner. While most of the populace is still grinding through the end of the summer there will be 90 men in Napa sweating it out for 53 roster spots.
From a distance it would appear as if the majority of the roster is already set. The reality is any and every man has something to prove especially considering this is a new era of Raiders football. Outside of the heavy hitters like Darren McFadden, Carson Palmer, Richard Seymour, Tyvon Branch, Sebastian Janikowski, Shane Lechler and a few others most every job, position and role is up for grabs. Here’s a look at the best camp battles to keep an eye on.
5) Right Tackle – It’s the position that the Raiders have pretty much ignored for nearly a decade it seems. That Khalif Barnes is the best of the bunch in years says it all. No disrespect to the penalty machine named Barnes but his value is only derived in how horrible it was watching Cornell Green and Kwame Harris play the position. Now he’s got some competition but even that’s not saying much as Joe Barksdale didn’t exactly wow anybody playing situationally as a rookie. None the less this gig is very much up for grabs and if Tony Bergstrom isn’t made into a full-time guard there’s even a chance he could put his name into the hat.
4) Backup QB – Really there isn’t much drama here…yet. Matt Leinart knows the offense, is familiar with Greg Knapp and is the perfect backup for Carson Palmer as he learns yet another new playbook. But Terrelle Pryor is hungry and has something to prove. He wasn’t drafted by McKenzie so you know he’s feeling the pressure. Plus, let’s not act like Leinart is some proven commodity in this league. He’s one bad camp away from being thrown back into the biggest bust debate. Like Khalif Barnes and the men he replaced, Leinart only looks good when compared to Kyle Boller. Pryor never got a chance to taste NFL action during his humbling rookie year which means there’s a 100% chance he does whatever it takes to be next in line behind Palmer. The odds are long but like I said, Leinart is a better-safe-than-sorry thrower who is on his last legs. For Pryor, the future is now.
3) Wide receiver – The top three spots are set. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford are Oakland’s most dangerous weapons in the passing game. However the roles of each of the aforementioned men are very much up in the air. DHB should have the inside track for the Z role with Moore taking the X and Ford in the slot at Y. But don’t think for a minute that can’t change with each passing day of camp. While those three men battle it out for their roles, Louis Murphy’s job is suddenly on the line. Oakland kept Eddie McGee around for a reason, there is some potential there. Drafting Juron Criner and seeing him go all Denarius Moore in OTAs only fuels the flames of Murphy being on the outs. If that wasn’t enough an undrafted rookie named Rod Streeter was also turning heads during the offseason program. This could easily be the best and most entertaining battle of all. Get your popcorn ready!
2) Backup Running Back – Being the man behind the man can be as important as being the man himself. Michael Bush proved that pretty often during his time in Oakland as he frequently filled in for Darren McFadden with almost no falloff in production. This year the job to be ready when called if (knocking on wood) Run DMC again falters is going to be critical. We’re all waiting for Taiwan Jones to breakout and announce himself as the Darren Sproles upgrade. But that’s going to take time. Jones could easily emerge as a premier weapon on passing downs so long as you’re not asking him to block. Being an NFL runner is much more than finding the hole, making a cut and then making a house call. You’ve got to do the dirty work too. Mike Goodson should be able to assist in blocking and short yardage situations but he’s got ball security issues. To add to this drama there has been plenty of talk of Cedric Benson potentially joining the ranks which would only make this battle all the more intense.
1) Cornerback – There is no position with more uncertainty on the roster. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer are on one-year deals for a reason. McKenzie couldn’t afford to pay Stanford Routt the kind of coin Al Davis gave him and Chris Johnson was well past his best days. Both Spencer and Bartell are coming off of disappointing seasons filled with injury and inactivity. How well they will perform is anybody’s guess. So too are the prospects of DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa. Both men flashed some potential in their rookie seasons but neither played with any consistency and Chekwa was constantly dealing with injury issues. Michael Huff might get some work in the slot which means there will be plenty of ripe battles everyday and in everyway. This position was a serious weakness last season so you’d better believe all eyes will be on those lonely NFL islands.
Honorable Mention – Linebacker: Don’t look now but most every linebacker gig could be up for grabs. Rolando McClain’s uncertain future combined with the question marks of Aaron Curry and Philip Wheeler nothing is guaranteed. There isn’t much depth but Travis Goethel and rookie Nate Burris could get some looks at various positions.
One to Keep an Eye on – Tight End: This is a camp battle of a different variety. Between Brandon Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon you have one very good tight end. Between the three of them you have a tight-end-by-committee that could end up being either the biggest surprise or biggest mess on the roster.