Top 7 Position Battles to Watch in Oakland Raiders Training Camp
The first glimpses into the new era of Oakland Raiders football have slowly been filtering in since the media gained access to the rookie minicamp over the weekend and organized team activities this week.
What the players do during these organized practices and meetings will set them up for opportunities to compete for a job and make the team.
A few of the training-camp battles are already apparent and the result of the camp battles could play a key role in the success or failure of the team in 2012.
Starters and key reserve positions are the most important, and the Raiders have several position battles in these categories.
Backup Quarterback: Matt Leinart vs. Terrelle Pryor
When Jason Campbell was injured and the Raiders executed the trade for Carson Palmer, the confidence in Kyle Boller was at an all-time low.
A week later, Kyle Boller had a horrid performance and lost the backup quarterback role that day, although he would technically remain the backup for several more weeks.
The Raiders had the choice to go into the 2012 season with Terrelle Pryor as the backup or bring in a veteran quarterback.
Reggie McKenzie decided to bring in the veteran backup in Matt Leinart and he is the early favorite to be the backup to Carson Palmer due to his familiarity with Greg Knapp's offense.
Athletically, Pryor has an edge on Leinart and that will make for an interesting coaching decision if Pryor can pick up the offense quickly.
Prediction: Leinart wins the backup job, but Pryor is involved in the game plan each week and ends up getting more playing time.
Backup Running Back: Mike Goodson vs. Taiwan Jones
The Raiders decided not to try and bring back running back Michael Bush. To address the position, the Raiders traded offensive tackle Bruce Campbell to Carolina for veteran running back Mike Goodson.
In trading for Goodson, the Raiders decided bringing in a big back was unimportant.
Sophomore running back Taiwan Jones had trouble staying healthy last season but was receiving a few carries prior to the injury. It was preseason 2011 where Jones really flashed his big-play speed, but his carries in 2012 were nothing special.
Jones' problem has been running east and west too often, but if he understands the one-cut-and-burst philosophy that embodies the zone-blocking scheme, he could be just as effective as Darren McFadden until he encounters a linebacker.
Goodson comes from a zone-blocking system in Carolina, the same scheme the Raiders are switching to in 2012. Goodson has three career starts all coming consecutively in 2010. In the three starts, Goodson has averaged 133.3 yards per game from scrimmage, but also one fumble per contest.
If Goodson is to become the primary backup for Darren McFadden, he will need to correct his issue with fumbling and continue to be productive. Goodson is also a good receiver out of the backfield.
Prediction: Goodson and Jones share carries as the backup, but Goodson receives the bulk of the carries if the backup becomes a starter.
Tight End: Brandon Myers vs. David Ausberry
The Raiders don't really know what they are going to do at tight end. Two seasons ago it was Zach Miller locking down the position and last season it was Kevin Boss. Reggie McKenzie is running out of time and options.
The tight end serves two purposes: catching and blocking. A starting tight end should be able to do both reasonably well.
Ausberry is a converted tight end and would need to improve his blocking to become the starter. Richard Gordon is more of a blocking tight end and would need to improve his catching.
That leaves Brandon Myers. He's an adequate blocker and pass-catcher, but his ceiling is limited and he's not a long-term option at the position.
Prediction: If McKenzie doesn't bring in a veteran, it will be Myers, but Ausberry should see an expanded role.
Left Guard: Cooper Carlisle vs. Tony Bergstrom
The classic veteran versus rookie draft pick camp battle.
Cooper Carlisle had been the Raiders right guard since the team first tried the zone-blocking system in 2007. He'll be battling for left guard this season.
It has been an interesting offseason for Carlisle, who was cut and replaced at right guard, re-signed to play left guard and then the team used its highest pick on a left guard. It would only be logical to assume Reggie McKenzie doesn't think much of Carlisle.
Carlisle has been hanging by a thread as a starter for the last few years but managed to endure, so it's tough to count him out.
Tony Bergstrom played in the zone scheme in college and is shifting inside after playing mostly outside at Utah. He'll need to continue to transition well and pick up the nuances of the position and speed of the NFL. There is no reason he shouldn't be able to beat out Carlisle for the starting job.
Prediction: Bergstrom wins the job outright.
Right Tackle: Khalif Barnes vs. Joseph Barksdale
The Raider Nation has been hoping the Raiders would get rid of Khalif Barnes almost since the day he arrived. Barnes was released and the Raider Nation celebrated until he re-signed on a one-year deal worth $2 million a few days later.
In a way, the battle for the right tackle job is like the left guard battle. It features a young player going up against a veteran.
Barnes struggled with run-blocking in 2011, which could be part of the reason he was re-signed. The zone-blocking system often makes up for run-blocking deficiencies of offensive linemen.
However, Barnes has also struggled with penalties and pass-blocking in the recent past and those are two issues the zone-blocking doesn't impact.
The problem with getting rid of Barnes is you don't yet know what you have in Joseph Barksdale. Is he a better guard or tackle? Can he execute the zone-blocking scheme and do so with fewer penalties than Barnes?
Prediction: Barnes until we see more of Barksdale. There is no way to feel comfortable penciling Barksdale in as the starter until we see more of him in game action.
Nickel Cornerback: Chimdi Chekwa vs. DeMarcus Van Dyke vs. Michael Huff
The Raiders would like to keep Michael Huff at free safety this season, leaving Chimdi Chekwa and DeMarcus Van Dyke as the most likely candidates for the job as the nickel cornerback.
Both Chekwa and Van Dyke struggled with injuries last season but played reasonably well when given the opportunity.
The Raiders brought in veteran defensive back Pat Lee and the talented, yet troubled Brandon Underwood. If Chekwa and Van Dyke really struggle in 2012, Matt Giordano or one of the other safeties will again be shuffled in to accommodate Michael Huff moving down to cornerback.
Prediction: Chekwa wins the job, but to keep it, he needs to do well to fend off other players.
Wide Receiver 4: Juron Criner vs. Louis Murphy
The first three receivers to make the roster are a virtual lock: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford.
The leading candidates to be the fourth receiver are Juron Criner and Louis Murphy, but other candidates can still emerge from the many options the Raiders have on the roster.
Criner put on a show for the media at the first media-covered organized team activity. Murphy was marginalized and hardly utilized by Hue Jackson last season despite many injuries to receivers, but he's been productive when given the opportunity.
It's hard to tell just how the depth chart at receiver will shake out until the players put on pads and are forced to beat the press, but it's certainly a promising start for Criner and the Raiders are certainly satisfied that they may have found another late-round gem at receiver.
Prediction: Criner. He'll get playing time on third down and in the red zone. He could eat into the snaps given to Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
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