Predicting 2-Deep Oakland Raiders Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystJune 13, 2012

Predicting 2-Deep Oakland Raiders Depth Chart, Pre-Training Camp

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    A lot can change, but the Raiders have surprising few starting jobs that are likely to be altered by performances during training. Several backup and situational jobs are yet to be determined, and that's where there is potential for training camp performances to make a difference.

    The Raiders lack depth, and injuries have the most potential to change things. Injuries can thrust a third-string player into a backup role at multiple positions or force the team to keep an extra player at a certain position.

    Staying healthy is going to be a key for the Raiders in 2012. Football is such a violent sport there is a good chance every player on this list gets significant playing time this season.

    Thankfully the Raiders head into training camp with a relatively healthy squad and aren't simultaneously trying to improve the roster and get healthy.


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    Starter: Carson Palmer

    The Raiders have a lot invested in Carson Palmer. Not only did the Raiders give up a 2012 first-round and 2013 second-round draft pick to acquire Palmer last season, they will also pay him like an elite quarterback.

    Palmer is learning a new system, but even if he can't execute elements of the offense, the Raiders are still going to put him out there.

    Backup: Matt Leinart

    Terrelle Pryor is going to be stuck as the third quarterback in 2012 like he was in 2011 thanks to the signing of Matt Leinart.

    Leinart is very familiar with the offense and is probably miles ahead of Palmer and Pryor in learning the playbook because he spent the past two seasons in Houston with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

    Knapp was the quarterbacks coach in Houston and tutored Leinart daily for two years. Leinart should be miles ahead, and it might take a full year before Palmer has caught up. Pryor, just based on his experience level, might take even longer to catch up to Leinart's understanding of the offensive system.

Running Back

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    Starter: Darren McFadden

    Darren McFadden is the Raiders' best offensive weapon. He'll start and be a key to the success of the Raiders in 2012. So important is McFadden that the Raiders will do whatever is necessary to keep him healthy in 2012.

    A healthy McFadden starts and propels the Raiders to the playoffs. An injured McFadden put a lot of pressure on the backups to pick up the slack.

    Backup: Taiwan Jones

    The popular choice to be the primary backup to McFadden is going to be Mike Goodson. Goodson was traded to the Raiders by another zone-blocking team in Carolina.

    While Goodson is the likely candidate to get the starting job should McFadden go down with an injury, it is Taiwan Jones that is more likely to steal snaps from a healthy McFadden.

    Goodson has experience in the zone-blocking scheme, but once Jones understands the scheme, it will be harder to play the older, less explosive Goodson over him.

    Jones is blazing fast, and his speed, coupled with the zone-blocking scheme, will prove dangerous to defenses. Jones will be dangerous enough for him to steal a few snaps from McFadden and make him the primary backup.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       


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    Starter: Marcel Reece

    Reece is a unique weapon in the passing game. At 6'2" and 250 pounds and the skills of a receiver, Reece is a difficult cover for a linebacker and too physical for a corner or safety.

    Offensive coordinators love to create matchup problems,  and it's relatively easy to do by using Reece in the passing game.

    The only reason Reece isn't the only fullback the Raiders will keep on the roster is because he still has a lot of work to do on his blocking.

    Backup: Owen Schmitt

    The Raiders signed Owen Schmitt when they lost Manase Tonga to a knee injury until training camp, but Schmitt was not just another body.

    Schmitt is known for his blocking and is a perfect complement to Reece.

    Don't be surprised if Schmitt is on the field more than Reece because offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is known as one of the most run-heavy coordinators in the league.

    Knapp knows Schmitt from his year in Seattle, and Schmitt has been a blocking fullback for a zone-blocking team for his entire career.

    Schmitt also should provide something on special teams.

Wide Receiver

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    Split End Starter: Darrius Heyward-Bey

    Last year's most consistently productive receiver will still have to earn his starting job in 2012. Rookie receiver Juron Criner could push him for playing time, but his starting spot seems relatively safe because Heyward-Bey is a good down-the-field blocker.

    Split End Backup: Juron Criner

    If Juron Criner is every bit as good as the media reports, the Raiders have struck gold two years in a row. Last season, it was Denarius Moore, now Criner.

    The media is even applauding Criner for making a catches that thud off his chest, Darrius Heyward-Bey has rarely received the same applause for such receptions.

    If Criner's performance continues into training camp, he'll push for playing time, backup or not. That'll either be at split end or in the slot, depending on the situation.

    Flanker Starter: Denarius Moore

    Moore left Tuesday's mini-camp practice with a hamstring injury. Moore will be evaluated, but head coach Dennis Allen expects Moore to be out only a few weeks.

    Expectations are high for Moore, but his rookie campaign was slowed by injury, and it's not a good sign to see him slowed by the injury bug this early in the offseason program, but that's football.

    Only Darren McFadden is more of a key to the Raiders' offensive success. Hopefully Moore will be ready to go by the start of training camp at the end of July.

    Flanker Backup: Jacoby Ford

    When Moore was hurt during practice Tuesday, Ford stepped into the starting role once again. Ford was the starting flanker entering 2011, but got hurt and lost it to Moore. 

    The Raiders would prefer Moore is healthy so Ford can start in the slot, but Ford is a more than capable receiver and still has a lot of potential.

    Ford still needs to learn how to use his speed to set up defenders, but could make a leap in his third year.

Tight End

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    Receiving Tight End: David Ausberry

    The tight end position isn't so much a starter and backup as it is based upon what the tight end does best.

    Ausberry has the best chance to be the "starter" after adding 20 pounds in the offseason. The converted receiver will be given a long look by the coaching staff.

    Given the Raiders plethora of receivers, it's not lock that Ausberry gets significant chances in the passing game, but if history is a guide, Knapp likes to use his tight end.

    Blocking Tight End: Brandon Myers

    Myers, not Ausberry, was the tight end that stole snaps from Kevin Boss last season. He's not a horrible receiver, but is more of a blocker.

    If Ausberry can't develop his blocking to an acceptable level for coaching staff, they will call upon Myers routinely to help in the running game and also in max pass protection.

Left Tackle

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    Starter: Jared Veldheer

    The Raiders have finally secured the left tackle position. Veldheer still has work to do to become a franchise left tackle, but at the very least, Veldheer is solid and reliable.

    The is basically zero competition for his job

    Backup: Kevin Haslam

    Joseph Barksdale appears locked on the right sides, so there isn't much pushing Veldheer on the left.

    Haslam can play on the right or left at guard or tackle. Haslam might even be a long shot to make the roster, but he's versatile, and that gives him a shot to make it and be the primary backup left tackle.

Left Guard

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    Starter: Cooper Carlisle

    After using their first draft pick on offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom, the Raiders appear likely to give the starting job to Carlisle at left guard. At least initially, Carlisle has been running with the starting during the offseason program.

    Expect that to remain until training camp when the coaching staff will begin tinkering with roles.

    Carlisle continues to find ways to keep his starting job despite sub-standard performance.

    Backup: Tony Bergstrom

    Bergstrom certainly has a chance to claim the starting job, but he's not going to be given the position. He'll have to beat out Carlisle.

    Sooner or late, Bergstrom will start over Carlisle, but when could be a little longer than many expected.


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    Starter: Stefan Wisniewski

    Wisniewski shifts from left guard to his more natural center position in 2012.

    He should be better at center than guard. Wisniewski is intelligent, but he lacks the ideal power to play guard at a high level in the NFL.

    Like left tackle, there is little competition at the position, and there is a good chance the backup doesn't even make the roster.

    Backup: Alex Parsons

    Parsons has been running with the first team offense in the absence of Wisniewski during OTAs and mini-camp.

    Parsons can back up guard and center, making him one of the leading candidates to make the roster as a reserve lineman.

Right Guard

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    Starter: Mike Brisiel

    The first signing of the free-agency period for the Raiders was the signing of Brisiel. Brisiel formerly helped anchor the zone-blocking scheme for the Houston Texans and worked with offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and offensive line coach Frank Pollack there.

    Brisiel is as locked into being the starter as almost any other player on the roster, but he's played a full season just once in his seven-year career.

    Backup: Joseph Barksdale

    Eventually, Barksdale is going to find a role or risk not having one at all. A good bet for Barksdale would be a right guard and right tackle backup position.  

    Barksdale recently confirmed to me via Twitter that he liked the zone-blocking scheme and that he ran a lot of zone in college at LSU. 

    It's tough to evaluate offensive and defensive lines, particularly the depth players, until the team gets a chance to hit.

Right Tackle

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    Starter: Khalif Barnes

    Barnes was re-signed for the exclusive purpose of starting at right tackle. The Raiders are hoping Barksdale will develop to the point he can become the starter, but that remains to be seen.

    Barnes has struggles with run blocking in the past and should be a good fit for the zone-blocking scheme for this reason. Barnes' other issue is penalties, something he will have to reduce for fear of being benched in favor a younger player like Barksdale.

    Backup: Joseph Barksdale

    Barksdale figures to get first team reps at right tackle once training camp arrives. The hope is that he has developed to a point the organization feels comfortable starting him over Barnes.

    Would have to think if the Raiders thought Barksdale could start, they may not have re-signed Barnes at all.

Defensive End

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    Starter: Matt Shaughnessy

    Shaughnessy participated in mini-camp Tuesday, his first known football activities since he injured his shoulder in Week 3 of 2011.

    Many believed Shaughnessy was poised for a breakout year in 2011 prior to his injury.

    Richard Seymour thinks Shaughnessy is a big part of what the Raiders are doing and called him, "The best (defensive end) in the NFL against the run." (via The Associated Press).

    Starter: Lamarr Houston

    Despite registering a single sack in 2011, Lamarr Houston is a force at defensive end. His motor runs hot all the time, and he can set the edge. He's a decent pass-rusher too; just not the speed-rusher that gets to the quarterback consistently.

    Backup: Dave Tollefson

    The Raiders brought in a veteran backup defensive end with some pass-rushing ability to help them supplement what they didn't have. Tollefson should help in that area, as he tallied five sacks in 2011 in limited duty.

    Backup: Jack Crawford

    Assuming the Raiders really saw something in Crawford to to draft him, they would probably prefer to let Desmond Brant focus on tackle and hope the rookie is ready for backup duties.

Defensive Tackle

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    Starter: Richard Seymour

    Starter: Tommy Kelly

    Backup: Desmond Bryant

    Backup: Christo Bilukidi

Outside Linebacker

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    Weak-side starter: Aaron Curry

    The Raiders finally solved a big issue at outside linebacker by bringing in Aaron Curry during the 2011 season. Curry had previously been a strong-side linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks and was much better suited to stopping the run as a weak-side linebacker than in pass coverage.

    When healthy, Curry is a very good two-down linebacker. The Raiders will try to keep him from being exploited through the air as much as possible.

    Strong-side starter: Phillip Wheeler

    The Raiders released Kamerion Wimbley for salary cap reasons and were in desperate need of a starting linebacker. To address the issue, the Raiders signed Wheeler, who previously played for the Indianapolis Colts.

    In Indianapolis, Wheeler was accustomed to dropping into zone coverage, but the Raiders have bigger plans for him in 2012. Wheeler figures to be able to rush the passer or drop into both zone and man coverage.

    Wheeler is a thinner linebacker, but he's not a total liability against the run despite his build. 

    Backup: Miles Burris

    The Raiders drafted Burris because of his versatility and nonstop motor. He was an elite pass-rusher in college and was also good in pursuit the ball-carrier. He was rarely, if ever, asked to fall into coverage.

    With such underdeveloped skills against the pass, Burris figures to have a similar two-down role as Curry.

    Backup: Kaelin Burnett

    No more Wimbley means the Raiders need to find pass rush from unlikely sources, even an undrafted free-agent linebacker.

    Burnett's hip injury really derailed his opportunity to get drafted, but he added weight and maintained his speed and agility. The Raiders will give him a look at a pass-rush specialist at linebacker and may occasionally have him put his hand in the dirt.

Middle Linebacker

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    Starter: Rolando McClain

    McClain's legal issues may hang over him like a cloud, but he's still got a job to do. The Raiders don't have a viable alternative to McClain right now. Travis Goethel has potential, but he needs to stay healthy and continue to perform.

    To McClain's credit, he looks like he is in better shape in 2012 than he was in 2011, a sign that offseason stem-cell therapy could have freed him up to do more conditioning.

    A more agile and more explosive McClain would do wonders for the defense. The coaches are looking for players to step up and be playmakers, and it would be nice if the Raiders' top pick from two seasons ago finally made the type of impact fans expected from him.

    Backup: Travis Goethel

    Goethel impressed coaches two seasons in a row, but got hurt and was unable to perform in both of them. He'll give it a third try in 2012 and hope he can stay healthy and contribute.

    If Goethel can stay healthy, he'll challenge McClain, and that's something McClain hasn't had in two seasons as a starter.

    The new regime is going to see what the can get out of McClain, but it's nice to have Goethel available should McClain miss time to tend to legal matters, miss time due to injury or be ineffective.

    Geothel is a smart instinctual player that can pick through traffic and make a tackle.


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    Starter: Shawntae Spencer

    The Raiders signed two veteran cornerbacks to replace the two veteran cornerbacks that were released.

    Spencer was signed after being released by the 49ers. He was injured last season and lost his job in San Francisco, but he's a good fit for the Raiders' new attacking scheme.

    The Raiders are still thin at cornerback and Spencer, and Bartell will basically be starters by default and experience level.

    Starter: Ron Bartell

    Bartell missed nearly all of last season with a neck injury, but appears to be fully recovered. Bartell doesn't quite have the ball skills like Spencer, but he's more physical. 

    The Raiders were fortunate to find two veterans like Bartell and Spencer they could sign for cheap, and the two will be handed starting jobs until the Raiders' young cornerbacks are ready to perform at a high level.

    Backup: Chmidi Chekwa

    Chewka started one game in 2011, and although personally, he didn't have a poor game, the Raiders played poorly collectively. After that, Chekwa was nursing an injury and couldn't get healthy enough to push for the starting job again.

    Now healthy, Chekwa will compete with Demarcus Van Dyke for the nickel cornerback job.

    Backup: Demarcus Van Dyke

    Van Dyke started four games in 2011, but was replaced by Lito Sheppard as the starter and played sparingly towards the end of the year.

    Thinner and lighter than the prototypical Reggie McKenzie cornerback, Van Dyke needs to impress during training camp to solidify his role on the team.

    Van Dyke will be given every opportunity to compete for the nickel cornerback job, but may have trouble winning that job given his size disadvantage.

Free Safety

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    Starter: Michael Huff

    With few options available on the open market, the Raiders will stick with Michael Huff at free safety. Just two seasons ago, Huff was finally starting to realize his potential, but 2011 was a setback.

    A nagging injury and lack of depth at cornerback forced Huff to be the Raiders' Swiss army knife, playing cornerback and free safety depending on the situation.

    Huff's versatility is a good thing, but the Raiders were forced to utilize it too much in 2011, and the injury certain impacted his performance.

    In 2012, Huff should be able to focus on free safety and hopefully regain his form from two seasons ago.

    Backup: Matt Giordano

    Giordano led the team in interceptions in 2011. Always being in the right place at the right time is a result of film study, football instincts and understanding.

    While Giordano struggles in run support, he was solid in coverage. Giordano previously played for Dennis Allen, and that could help him win the backup job if all things are equal at the end of camp.

    As it stands now, little reason to believe any other player has done enough to get the job over Giordano.

Strong Safety

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    Starter: Tyvon Branch

    Branch is the Raiders' franchise player for a reason. Great in run support and way above average in coverage, Branch is an all-around safety that is a few interceptions away from being recognized nationally.

    Expect the Raiders' new defensive scheme to feature more opportunities for Branch to make a play. 

    Backup: Curtis Taylor

    Mike Mitchell has a knee injury and can't get on the field. Dennis Allen suggested after mini-camp practice Tuesday that Mitchell was furthest away from returning to the field, and his absence could extend in training camp.  

    Mitchell's absence opens the door for a guy like Curtis Taylor. The Raiders will need a reserve strong safety who can step into the box and be a big nickel or big dime back and cover tight ends. 

    Mitchell better get back soon because his opportunity to win a roster spot could be dwindling.  

    Of the defensive backs on the roster, Taylor's skill set most closely mirrors that needed at the strong safety spot. Taylor ended a two-minute drill sequence at last month's OTA practice with an interception, and if he continues to perform and Mitchell can't get healthy, the decision will be easy for Dennis Allen and Reggie McKenzie.