Updating Oakland Raiders' Key Position Battles Halfway Through Training Camp
Although wins mean very little in the preseason, there were plenty of positives to take from what was an encouraging performance overall.
For many, this game was also the first live look at some of the Raiders’ key position battles ongoing throughout training camp.
Taking note of some impressive individual performances, as well as who it was that took the field in starting roles, allows for some insight into how those very competitions are shaping up thus far.
Here is an update on the Oakland Raiders’ key position battles, now halfway through training camp.
After the Raiders’ first preseason game, we can gather two important things in regards to the quarterback competition.
First, it has become clear that the hype surrounding Tyler Wilson challenging for the starting job was well overblown from the beginning. At this point, he may even be fighting for a roster spot.
The Raiders were able to move the ball well with both Flynn and Pryor at quarterback, but Pryor’s ability to run the read-option, albeit against the Cowboys’ second-team defense, really opened things up for the offense altogether.
Again, it's more than likely that Flynn takes this starting job heading into the regular season. At the same time, the improvements Pryor has made as a passer, to go along with his elite ability to make plays with his legs, cannot be overlooked.
To gauge whether or not Pryor really is ready to challenge Flynn, the Raiders would be wise to give him a start in at least one of the team’s remaining three preseason games.
Showcasing similar playmaking ability both on the ground and through the air against another team’s first-team defense would make the coaching staff’s decision on a starting quarterback that much more difficult heading into the regular season.
The Raiders may have yet to see anyone step up and take firm control of the No. 1 receiver spot, but there are plenty of talented, young players in the mix.
At this point, as has been expected throughout the offseason, Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are the projected starters, while Jacoby Ford should see plenty of time as the third receiver in the slot.
Together, the three give the Raiders plenty of big-play ability, but they each just need to be used properly within the offensive scheme.
Further down the depth chart, but possibly not for very much longer, is Brice Butler. This year, Butler is the player continuing the Raiders’ apparent yearly trend of having an unexpected training camp star at the wide receiver position.
After his performance in the Raiders’ first preseason game, he will certainly be a player to watch moving forward. He may already be challenging Juron Criner for the fourth receiver spot.
Again, while this position group is quite young and inexperienced, it does have some playmaking ability.
Much like several other positions on the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders have a significant amount of competition at tight end.
In the mix for the primary roles are two veteran players in David Ausberry and Richard Gordon, as well as two sixth-round rookies in Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa.
Although it has long been expected that Ausberry would take over the starting job, it has yet to happen. Despite having less value in the passing game, Gordon still holds that starting spot due to a superior in-line blocking ability.
As such, labeling just one player here as the starter is relatively useless.
Because Gordon brings that much more of a presence as an extra blocker up front, he could very well remain what will be considered the starting tight end in a Raiders’ offense that badly needs to get back to a dominant run game.
Having said that, it would not keep Ausberry from getting the majority of the tight end snaps in passing situations, thus still having quite a significant role himself.
Rivera and Kasa will more so be considered developmental players for the future given their impressive potential, but both will have every opportunity to push for more playing time as the season goes on.
With the potential for these four players to contribute either right away or at some point down the line, each of them should be on the Raiders’ final 53-man roster.
D.J. Hayden still hasn't participated in full-contact drills at Raiders’ training camp, it remains difficult to project how quickly he will be able to challenge for a starting spot.
Ideally, the Raiders will get Hayden into some preseason action in the coming weeks, but until they do so and see that he is indeed ready, he likely would not be counted on as a starter.
As a result, the current starters are free-agent additions Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins. Both players are on one-year contracts and have much to prove. It is a win-win for both them and the team.
Also capable of challenging Porter and Jenkins for a starting spot is Phillip Adams. He is coming off an impressive stretch of play at the end of the 2012 season.
The play of Taiwan Jones and undrafted free agent Chance Casey stood out in the Raiders’ first preseason game, but both are more likely options for the future.
Again, much of the Raiders’ quality of depth at cornerback depends upon whether or not D.J. Hayden can make a quick transition to the NFL game. If he can do just that, the cornerback position may be the team’s most improved heading into the 2013 season.
It’s not too often that a competition at punter is one to watch in a training camp, but that’s exactly what the Raiders have heading into the 2013 season.
As the team looks to replace a future Hall of Famer in Shane Lechler, competing for the spot are both a veteran and a young player in Chris Kluwe and Marquette King respectively.
At this point, Kluwe looks to be the favorite, as he saw the first punts in Friday’s preseason action, as well as the holding duties for kicker Sebastian Janikowski.
However, the reason that this competition remains so interesting is the process in determining whether or not King can quickly find the necessary consistency with his powerful kicks.
If he can do just that, the job will likely be his for now and many years to come. If not, the Raiders would go with the veteran in Kluwe, and hope that they can get King through waivers unclaimed and place him on the practice squad.