Oakland Raiders: What to Watch for at OTAs
Monday marks the beginning of organized team activities (OTAs) for the Oakland Raiders, and with some media access, fans will have their first taste of the 2013 team that general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen have put together thus far.
While OTAs are extremely early in the process, and very little stock should be put into the performance of players in which, it is a key part of the process nonetheless. As a rebuilding team, the Raiders will look to kick off their offseason workouts the right way and build some momentum.
These first on-field activities of the offseason allow us some insight into key position battles, development of younger players and offensive/defensive schemes.
Here are five things to watch for at the Oakland's OTAs.
The quarterback competition will be the most talked-about topic for the Raiders throughout the offseason, leading right up to the start of the regular season.
Matt Flynn is the early favorite to start, and we can expect him to get the majority of first-team snaps at this week’s OTAs. Having said that, keeping an eye on the two other quarterbacks, rookie Tyler Wilson and second-year signal-caller Terrelle Pryor, will be important.
Wilson came out of Arkansas as an extremely underrated prospect, having his draft stock hurt by playing his senior season in a struggling program. Pryor is the most polarizing of the Raiders’ quarterback candidates, and his superior athletic ability quite possibly gives him the highest ceiling as well.
From the performances of the quarterbacks at the OTAs alone, it would be irresponsible to forecast who the starting quarterback will be for the 2013 season. Despite Flynn being the early favorite to win the job, an equal split of first-team reps would speak very much toward the openness of the competition.
Starting Offensive Line
While there is plenty of time for camp competition to ultimately determine the starting five (as there is with nearly every other position), the first-team offensive line that the Raiders field at this week’s OTAs should be noteworthy.
The Raiders are returning to the more familiar gap-blocking system used prior to last year; however, all of the lineman will be on the same level in the learning process.
Though early, the OL that the Raiders choose to go with as their first group should, for the most part, be players that the front office and coaches project as starters for Week 1.
Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski are more than likely to stick to their positions of left tackle and center, respectively, and Mike Brisiel should be penciled in as the early stater at right guard after an offseason contract restructuring.
Uncertainties still remain at right tackle and left guard. The Raiders could immediately try out this year's second-round pick, Menelik Watson, at right tackle and slide former RT Khalif Barnes to left guard.
Development of Young Wide Receivers
The wide receiver position is one that the Raiders chose not to address in free agency this offseason. Instead the team will rely on returning players, wideouts added through the draft and undrafted free agents.
With this group, of course, the lack of experience stands out, so the development of a few players will be key.
The Raiders already know that, when healthy, they can count on some dynamic playmaking from both Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, but the receiver position needs to be much deeper.
As such, the team will be counting on the development of both Rod Streater and Juron Criner heading into this season. Given the physical tools that both players showed in 2012, the potential is undoubtedly there.
Whether or not both develop into consistent productive players this season remains to be seen, but their performance in the offense during these OTAs may be quite indicative of their upside and the coaches plan to utilize them.
Competition at cornerback will be another of the Raiders’ most interesting positional battles throughout the offseason.
The first-round draft selection of D.J. Hayden is likely to settle one of the starting spots, but both the second corner and the nickel/slot defensive back role are up for grabs.
The leading candidates for these spots include free agent acquisitions Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, as well as returning DBs Joselio Hanson, Phillip Adams and Brandian Ross.
Both Porter and Jenkins are likely favorites to win the roles due to their veteran experience, but they will have to earn their snaps just like anyone else.
Like several other aforementioned position battles, the cornerbacks that the Raiders field in their base and nickel packages in the first round of OTAs will speak volumes about whom they project as their starters once the regular season arrives.
Multiple Defensive Alignments
Since he took over as head coach, Dennis Allen has consistently spoken of the multiplicity of formations that his defense will give opposing offenses.
Fittingly, the majority of offseason additions to the Raider defense have had a common trait: versatility. For example, the Raiders’ new-look linebacking corps features some impressive depth, with players who can play multiple positions and rush the passer.
While the current front seven shapes up to play a 4-3 base defense, that versatility in the linebacking corps allows the Raiders to do a variety of things with their formations and blitz packages.
This week’s OTAs will give us our first look at how the Raiders plan to utilize fronts as well as which players they see as their featured edge pass-rushers.