They say the playoffs are where stars are made, but training camp? For many people, it's where role players are made.
It may sound condescending, but at the end of the day, nobody can make the Pro Bowl in August. That said, however, for a lot of guys, this is the month in which they can get the break they've spent their whole lives working toward.
For Oakland Raiders fans, it's also a time of optimism.
Three months from now we may forget who Juron Criner is, but hope exists in the belief that we might not. With that in mind, we've identified five guys who have flown under the radar thus far this summer, but whose name just might be familiar a couple months from now.
As camp reports continue to rave about the performance of second-year corner DeMarcus Van Dyke, the talk about Chekwa has remained quiet.
The reason it's Chekwa on this list, however, is because it was actually the second-year man out of Ohio State who seemed the more capable rookie in limited action last year. Like Van Dyke, Chekwa's rookie season was marred by an injury, as he lasted just four games before being lost for the season.
While the Raiders went out and got plenty of help in the defensive backfield this season, I think Chekwa is a guy to keep an eye on this summer, because if he improves upon his rookie campaign, the future is bright.
Like Chekwa, the second player on our list is simply trying to emerge from the shadow of one of his competitors.
For rookie Rod Streater, that competitor is fellow rookie Juron Criner, who stole all of the headlines in minicamp with his surprising play. Streater began his college career at Alfred State College before transferring to Temple for his final two seasons.
Like Criner, Streater has been pegged as a possession receiver at the professional level, but that doesn't mean he lacks athleticism in the slightest. In fact, the 6'2" Streater was the state long jump champion in high school in New Jersey.
Regardless of where he ends up on the field, however, Streater looks to be another guy on the list of rookie receivers to make an impact immediately.
Now entering his third season out of Arizona State, Goethel has spent his entire career in the shadow of the higher-drafted Rolando McClain.
This season, however, might be his chance to make a name for himself.
For starters, people have long speculated about whether McClain will face any type of suspension for his role in an off-the-field incident last season. Should McClain miss any games, Goethel is next on the depth chart and will probably see some extra reps in training camp just to be safe.
The second thing going for Goethel is the possibility of switching to a 3-4 defense at times this season, which could allow him significantly more playing time.
With player No. 4, the meaning of "sleeper" takes a bit of a turn.
For the three guys we first mentioned, the situation they faced was simply low (or no) expectations. For Jack Crawford, however, there is no question as to the potential that exists within the Raiders' fifth-round selection this season, only a matter of if that potential is ready to be tapped.
Crawford, the 6'5", 281-pound defensive end out of Penn State, has all of the physical tools necessary to be a force with his freakish athleticism. That said, however, there's a reason he fell all the way into the fifth round this year—because despite a great 40 time and impressive physique, Crawford has yet to develop into the beast he appears to be on paper.
Could this month be his coming-out party?
Whoah, bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?
A seven-year veteran as a sleeper? A top-10 NFL draft pick?
Yep. And yep.
While years have passed since Leinart carried with him the pressure and expectations he did as a rookie, Leinart seems to have quietly carved himself a nice little niche as a quality backup.
Alongside Terrelle Pryor, few people have paid attention to Leinart thus far, but I'm expecting a great preseason from the USC product as he gets a chance to remind people what they saw in him seven years ago. While never in the best situation in Arizona, Leinart inherited a number of quality weapons in Houston before injuring himself in his lone game last season.
In Oakland, Leinart is surrounded by another powerful offense, and even as a second-stringer, it appears as if the backup offense has some exciting young players alongside him. I don't see Leinart challenging Palmer for his job, but by the end of the month, we'll all feel a lot better about our backup situation.