Oakland Raiders Coaches Excited Over Tight End Depth


May 8, 2015; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tight ends coach Bobby Johnson (right) with tight ends Terrell Pinson (44), Gabe Holmes (82) and Clive Walford (88) at rookie minicamp at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few seasons, tight end has been an extremely thin position for the Oakland Raiders. 2013 late round draft pick Mychal Rivera being forced to shoulder the load at the position due to mediocre surrounding talent and injuries that seemed to weaken the tight end group each season in Oakland. The likes of David Ausberry, Nick Kasa and Brian Leonhardt all pairing with Rivera in forgettable spells on the roster due to limited ability and limited health.

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Because of that lack of depth and production from the tight end group outside of the usually dependable Rivera, general manager Reggie McKenzie made it a focus to shore up the talent level at the position in both free agency as well as the 2015 NFL Draft. Bringing in run blocking specialist Lee Smith from the Buffalo Bills before drafting Miami Hurricanes prospect Clive Walford in the third round to improve what has been a position of weakness since the general manager took control of the Raiders roster decisions.

The additions of Smith and the offensive threat in Walford give the Raiders something they haven’t had in years as they went from the offensive threat in Rivera paired with a run blocking specialist to having two young playmakers downfield along with a proven run blocking talent in Smith. A trio that the Raiders coaching staff has been excited about since the start of OTAs earlier this month and throughout the week in Alameda. Tight ends coach Bobby Johnson gushing about a group in which he feels every player having their own niche will breed success for the Raiders.

“Because each guy has their niche, we can highlight those guys’ strengths and not make them play to weaknesses,”Johnson said in a feature ran by the Raiders official website this week. “We have a nice mix of guys. There’s a lot of good things in that group.”

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New head coach Jack Del Rio is firstly excited about having tight ends that can block in the running game, but added that the playmaking abilities of Walford and Rivera give the team needed upside at the position.

“There is some size there. I think if you want to run the ball, you better have a tight end or two that can block,” said JDR of the tight ends who are currently putting in work at OTAs. “We feel like we have several that can, but we feel like they can do more than that. I’m excited about that position and how it was changed.”

There are still unknowns in having two new faces at tight end in Smith and Walford, one of which hasn’t played a snap of NFL football while the other has simply been a run blocking TE for the majority of his career, but on paper the Raiders depth at the position is the best in years. With a head coach who likes power football and an offensive coordinator who is going to want to see tight ends on the line of scrimmage in Bill Musgrave, the depth the team now has is important. If Smith, Walford and Rivera can form a productive trio the Raiders offense will be far more successful than in recent years. There is plenty of work to be done, but in the positive time period that is OTA season the Oakland coaching staff feels that the sky is the limit when it comes to their tight ends this season.