Oakland Raiders' 2014 Training Camp To-Do List
The Oakland Raiders have had an eventful and ultimately successful offseason. After adding several respected free agents and putting together an impressive draft class, the team looks to be vastly improved—at least on paper.
Of course, that doesn't mean anything if the team can't fulfill that promise on the field.
A successful training camp is absolutely crucial for the Raiders. With so many new faces, every member of the roster will be looking to find consistent playing time. It will be up to the coaching staff to sift through all of the personnel and all of the options in order to establish the depth chart at every position that will give the team its best chance of success.
While the team has holes to address or question marks all over the roster, the Raiders must in particular address the following five issues during training camp. If these issues are allowed to continue past training camp, they'll become bigger and bigger distractions and ultimately derail the team's entire season.
Establish Unquestioned Starting Quarterback
This one might seem like a given, but for a team like the Raiders, the importance of this issue being settled during training camp cannot be overstated.
But that was before Oakland selected Derek Carr in this year's draft.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur reported as early as rookie minicamp in May that Carr was already making a good impression on the coaching staff with "a good arm, good decision-making and leadership skills."
The questions about whether or not Carr could take the starting role from Schaub soon followed.
It is way too early to tell who'll ultimately take the job, but one thing's for certain: the questions aren't just going to stop. What the Raiders can't have is a quarterback controversy once the season begins. The team has training camp to figure this out.
This isn't to say that either Schaub or Carr has already established himself as the starting QB. But Oakland has to make sure that they settle on one of these two during camp, and it has to be ready to stick with that player throughout the entire season. This belief in the starter has to be established in the locker room.
The offense needs consistency at the position. If the possibility of a change at quarterback is constantly hanging over the offense's head, the entire unit will surely underperform due to the distraction.
Find Reliability at Cornerback
For all the improvements Oakland made this offseason, the one position that seems to have improved the least is cornerback.
Despite all of the options that were available, the Raiders settled for veterans Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown. These are decent signings, but they were brought in to complement presumed starter D.J. Hayden. The San Jose Mercury News' Steve Corkran reported that Brown was projected to start along with Hayden, while Rogers would be third on the depth chart.
Unfortunately, Hayden is once again injured, and Oakland is left once again to wonder what exactly it will get out of last year's first-round pick. This injury also disrupts the depth chart at the position.
Hayden is expected to participate in training camp, but that remains to be seen. Corkran notes that head coach Dennis Allen acknowledges that Hayden "needs plenty of on-field work to fulfill his part of the equation."
The Raiders need to find an effective solution to this this issue. For all the struggles the Oakland defense went through last season, the cornerback position was arguably the biggest weakness. By the conclusion of training camp, the Raiders need to know whether or not they can depend on Hayden.
The team can't afford to be shuffling players at the position once the season begins. The Raiders either need to know that they can depend on Hayden or to be ready to put the players they do have available in positions and situations where they can succeed.
Clear Up the Logjam at Running Back
2013 was yet another injury-plagued year for McFadden, and Oakland seems to have finally accepted that he is never going to be a guy that carries the ball 15-20 times a game for 16 games.
Of course, the team has known this for years, and the Raiders have continuously kept a solid backup for the inevitable point in the season when McFadden goes down with another injury. What never changed was the understanding McFadden was the starter, and every other running back on the roster was a backup.
Things will be different in 2014.
The addition of Maurice Jones-Drew signals the first time in McFadden's career that he will not be the default starter. Oakland is also intrigued by 6'3", 230-pound Latavius Murray. According to Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area, offensive coordinator Greg Olson has said that Murray has shown "the biggest upside" this offseason.
Oakland now finds itself with two proven starters at the position, plus a guy whom the team is hoping to get on the field to see what he can really do.
Everyone of these players will enter training camp with the intention of securing the starting job. The Raiders must decide whether they are going to have one back carry the load or take a running back-by-committee approach.
Whichever option the team decides to go with, it must established during training camp. Each running back needs to know exactly what his role will be and how many carries to expect once the season begins.
Clarify What Role Khalil Mack Will Play
Mack has made a great impression since arriving in Oakland. Charles Woodson has been impressed by Mack's power and quickness. Donald Penn raved about his relentless motor. Fellow defender Pat Sims simply referred to him as a freak.
However, the question remains: How exactly will Mack be used?
Oakland made a lot of changes to its defensive line with the additions of players like Justin Tuck, LaMarr Woodley and Antonio Smith, and the re-signing of Pat Sims. The linebackers are mostly set with Nick Roach and Sio Moore.
All of these players are expected to be starters, or at the very least see major playing time. This means that, as impressive as Mack has been, he'll have to work to get snaps.
There is also the question of what position Mack is actually going to play. Is he a defensive end? An outside linebacker?
Bleacher Report's Erik Frenz suggests that Mack will play a similar role to that of the Denver Broncos' Von Miller, who's made a name for himself as a linebacker whose terrific at getting after the quarterback. Even Dennis Allen acknowledged the similarity.
According to ESPN's Paul Gutierrez, Mack will step into the lineup as the strong-side linebacker, and the defensive coaches will figure out how best to use him from there. However, this is in a 4-3 base defense, not the 3-4 Miller plays in, so it remains to be seen exactly how Mack will be utilized.
Mack is a rookie, but expectations are sky high. The Raiders can't afford to have his potential go to waste. They need him to have an immediate impact, and the coaching staff must figure out how to make that happen this training camp.
Decide What to Do with Denarius Moore
Along with McFadden, Moore has been the most enigmatic, and arguably the most frustrating, member of the Raiders in recent years. Like McFadden, he has teased the fans with flashes of his immense potential, but he has always negated that with his inconsistency.
In any given game, Moore can look like a legitimate number-one NFL receiver or a guy who should be number three or four on the depth chart.
NFL.com's Chris Wesseling reports that the Raiders continue to express concerns regarding Moore's maturity and work ethic, causing him to possibly fall as far as fourth on the wide receiver depth chart. Some, like Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien, have even begun to discuss what Moore might be worth in a trade.
That's quite a drop for a player who not too long ago was viewed as Oakland's top option at the position.
These questions are not uncommon regarding young receivers, but Moore is now entering his fourth season in the NFL, meaning he's had plenty of time to address these concerns.
All of the potential and promise Moore has shown don't matter if he can't consistently produce. It's put-up-or-shut-up time for Moore. If he doesn't mature and show the progress the coaching staff expects, Moore in 2014 could be playing his final year in silver and black. Waiting on Moore will also stunt the growth of players like Rod Streater, Juron Criner and Andre Holmes, and the team can't afford to let this happen.
Oakland can't keep waiting for Moore to answer these questions. By the conclusion of training camp, the Raiders have to know if Moore can be depended on to be a major factor for the offense or if he will be permanently relegated to a secondary role.