Breaking Down Oakland Raiders' 5 Biggest Training Camp Projects
Much has been made of the Oakland Raiders’ many veteran additions this offseason, and deservedly so, as the roster’s overall talent has been upgraded significantly.
However, it is the play of the younger, less experienced players that will dictate the success of the Silver and Black’s 2014 campaign.
Of course, every team has its long-shot projects it only hopes will pan out someday, but for the Raiders, this idea more so surrounds returning, still-developing players who need to step up and become consistent contributors.
Here are the Raiders’ five biggest and most important projects in training camp this season.
Menelik Watson, OT
Given how new he still is to the game of football and his lack of playing time as a rookie, Menelik Watson is likely the Raiders’ biggest project heading into the upcoming season.
Watson played just one year of football at Florida State, but it was his performance there—and his rare athletic ability at the tackle position—that compelled the Raiders to make him a second-round selection in last year’s draft.
As is the case for so many young and raw players, the key for him will be getting as many reps as possible leading up to the season.
If he can do just that, he will have an opportunity to prove himself as one of the Raiders’ five best linemen, earning a spot in the starting lineup as a result.
According to Steve Corkran of the San Jose Mercury News, early offseason indications have been that the Raiders expect Watson to win the starting right tackle job, so it seems as though he is already on the right track.
However, staying the course throughout camp will be important. Given his inexperience not only in the NFL but in regard to the game of football overall, he cannot afford to fall behind.
D.J. Hayden, CB
With some injury issues leading up to and throughout his rookie season, D.J. Hayden wasn’t able to contribute as early as he and the Raiders would have liked.
However, as much as instant success is often expected in the NFL, he will have every opportunity to win a starting job out of camp this season.
As is the case for Watson, being able to capitalize on the extra training camp work that he missed out on as a rookie will be key for Hayden’s early career development.
He certainly has the ability to one day be the shutdown cornerback the Raiders envisioned when they drafted him, but again, it will be about staying healthy and taking advantage of every rep in practice and in games.
While he is the youngest and least experienced projected starter in the secondary, much of the unit’s success—and that of the defense as a whole—will depend on Hayden’s contributions this season.
Andre Holmes, WR
Andre Holmes will be one of the more interesting Raiders players to follow throughout the preseason, as he will have a real opportunity to earn a significant role in the offense.
A four-game suspension to start the 2013 season certainly put him behind in the receivers rotation, but he quickly forced his way into the mix upon his return, showing just why the team stuck with him.
Down the stretch, Holmes became one of the Raiders’ most reliable targets, displaying a consistent ability to make difficult and contested catches to move the chains. He finished the year with 25 catches for 431 yards.
Heading into training camp this year, the receiver position has what will possibly be the most wide-open competition on the roster, with the starting spots essentially there for the taking.
If he can be one of the players to do just that, the receivers unit would become all the more impressive as a whole, providing the kind of depth in playmakers the offense needs.
David Ausberry, TE
Four-year veterans don’t usually qualify as projects, but given his lengthy transition to tight end, David Ausberry certainly does.
Once again, this is supposed to be the year when he makes good on his incredibly high potential as a pass-catcher. He should have a good opportunity to do so, should he stay healthy.
A former wideout, Ausberry’s athletic ability can make him a mismatch downfield against linebackers and safeties.
His questionable blocking ability likely limited his reps prior to a season-ending injury in 2013, but last year’s offense showed the staff’s willingness to give significant snaps to receiving threats at tight end— whether they were starters or not.
Of course, the hope is that Ausberry can develop enough as a blocker to stay on the field as much as possible, but we should expect the Raiders to get him enough snaps to produce regardless.
Stacy McGee, NT
There has been plenty of talent added around him on the Raiders’ defensive front, but the continued development of Stacy McGee will be important for the defense as a whole.
While the unit regressed as the 2013 season went on, showing a lack of depth in a number of spots, McGee’s level of play only seemed to improve.
In line to start at nose tackle in 2014, his rookie-season contributions as a run defender in particular bode well moving forward, as he should be able to continue improving in strength and technique.
While the Raiders did well to address the pass rush this offseason—drafting Khalil Mack as well as signing Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith—it will be important to not sacrifice consistency against the run as a result.
McGee continuing to build on his play from 2013 will go a long way toward ensuring that, as he could establish himself as an interior force sooner than later.