Updating Oakland Raiders Key Position Battles Early in 2014 Training Camp
The Oakland Raiders are heading into the team's most important training camp in years. The depth chart at almost every position is still undecided, which means Oakland will have one of the most wide-open and exciting training camps in the entire NFL.
But there's something different about this training camp. There's something to be found this year that hasn't been there in a really long time.
There's always been hope, there's always been excitement, but the talent hasn't been there to make any of that real. This year is different. The Raiders experienced a huge influx of talent this offseason, and for the first time in years, not only are there roster spots open, there's also the talent to effectively fill those needs.
Now that training camp is underway, the roster will finally start to take shape. The wild guessing is over, players will finally actually step onto the field and coaches will begin evaluating and start making some tough decisions.
There are position battles all over the Raiders roster, but there are some where players are jockeying for starting spots at crucial, impact positions.
Here are five of the closest position battles currently being fought in Oakland's training camp.
Projected Starter: Matt Schaub
Top Competition: Derek Carr
When the Raiders traded for Matt Schaub back in March, head coach Dennis Allen immediately declared him the team's starting quarterback. Given the Raiders quarterback depth chart at that time—Matt McGloin, Terrelle Pryor—the claim made perfect sense.
But that was before the team drafted Derek Carr in the NFL draft.
The San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur reported as early as June that Carr wasn't just impressive in offseason practices, he looked "good enough that he just might push Schaub for the starting job in training camp." It sounded like the Raiders had a legitimate quarterback controversy on their hands.
Of course, offseason practices are notorious for producing impressive performances that ultimately amount to nothing. Just last year, Tyler Wilson, Oakland's fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, performed well in the preseason, and the rumors began that he could make a serious push for the starting job. That was in May.
By September, Wilson was no longer on the team.
This isn't to say that Carr is headed down the same path. However, offseason performances need to be taken in proper context. There's no pass rush. The playbook is a stripped-down version of itself. We haven't yet seen how Carr can perform at the actual NFL level.
The questions about Schaub aren't unfounded given the disastrous year he had in 2013, but he is a proven NFL starter. Aside from last season, Schaub has an entire career's worth of quality production.
It's definitely possible that Carr earns the starting job by the end of training camp, but for that to happen, it would take an extremely good performance by Carr combined with an equally bad performance by Schaub, and that's unlikely to happen.
Schaub is secure as the starting quarterback. That shouldn't change in training camp.
Projected Starter: Darren McFadden
Top Competition: Maurice Jones-Drew
No position on the Oakland roster is as unsettled as running back this training camp. After the first few days, the issue is no closer to being resolved.
According to ESPN.com's Jim Trotter, Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have been splitting first-team carries. It appears that, at least early on, the coaching staff is taking a wait-and-see approach, giving both players the opportunity to stand out.
McFadden remains the ever-so-slight favorite in this competition, especially given that the coaching staff is already considering different ways to get Jones-Drew involved. Per Scott Bair of CSN Bay Area, the Raiders have even taken a look at using Jones-Drew as a punt returner.
This is probably just early training camp experimentation, but it does show the team's willingness to utilize Jones-Drew elsewhere. This could indicate a reduced workload in the running game.
While both players have struggled with injuries, McFadden is younger and remains the more explosive of the two. Given the option, the Raiders will take a healthy McFadden over a healthy Jones-Drew.
Because of McFadden's durability issues, there's no question that Jones-Drew will get plenty of carries, at least to reduce the opportunities for McFadden to get injured, but McFadden is still the favorite to be the team's featured back.
As training camp continues, McFadden will be given plenty of opportunities to secure the starting spot, but he will have Jones-Drew right on his tail the entire time.
Eventually, the team will have to select a starting running back, and that should be McFadden. However, expect this position to be up for grabs throughout training camp and into the preseason.
Projected Starter: Rod Streater
Top Competition: Denarius Moore
The Raiders were looking for a veteran receiver with a proven track record of consistent production, and they believe they found that in James Jones. Barring an unexpected drop-off in performance, he's locked in as the team's No. 1 wide receiver.
The issue now is who will start opposite Jones.
To start training camp, the top candidate for the No. 2 spot is Rod Streater. Since joining the Raiders as an undrafted rookie back in 2012, he's been Oakland's most consistent receiver; he produced a respectable 584 yards and three touchdowns on 39 receptions as a rookie.
Last season, despite the mess that was Oakland's quarterback situation, Streater still managed to dramatically improve his production, finishing the season with 888 yards and four touchdowns on 60 receptions.
The coaches are aware of this, which is why Streater is penciled in as the No. 2 receiver to start training camp, but the position is in no way secured.
The prime challenger for the job remains Denarius Moore, who has teased with his potential since the Raiders drafted him in 2011. The biggest issue has been his consistency and dedication. According to ESPN's Paul Gutierrez, this is something that continues to be a concern for the coaches.
Moore has been an enigma through the early part of his career. At times, he looks like one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. At other times, he's so ineffective you forget that he's even on the field. Until this inconsistency changes, Moore will find himself relegated to third, or even fourth, on the wide receiver depth chart.
However, if Moore performs to his potential in training camp, he'll have every opportunity to take back his starting spot.
Projected Starter: David Ausberry
Top Competition: Mychal Rivera
Will this be the year David Ausberry finally takes his training camp performance to the regular season?
For now, the Raiders are trusting that he will.
Stories of Ausberry's offseason excellence have become an annual tradition for the Raiders, but that has yet to translate to the games that matter. Ausberry has a total of only nine receptions since 2011, and he had none last season after going down with a shoulder injury.
If the story repeats itself and Ausberry once again fails to come through once the regular season begins, the Raiders have an intriguing option in Mychal Rivera.
According to Silver and Black Pride's Levi Damien, offensive coordinator Greg Olson shares a similar concern with both tight ends, saying, "they're serviceable blockers but they're not dominant blockers." In that area, the competition is a wash.
Where Rivera does separate himself is in actual production.
Unlike Ausberry, Rivera has proved that he can produce on a consistent basis. He was forced into action in 2013—do in large part to Ausberry's injury—and he proved that he can succeed against NFL defenses. He finished 2013 with 38 catches for 407 yards and four touchdowns.
His blocking still needs work, be he's established his value as a pass-catcher.
For all of his potential, Ausberry has yet to prove that he can actually produce, much less be depended on. If he does, Oakland has a real gem on its hands. If he doesn't, Rivera will be ready to take on the starting role.
Projected Starters: Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown
Top Competition: D.J. Hayden, Chimdi Chekwa, T.J. Carrie
A month-and-a-half ago, this position would not have been on this list. Unfortunately, the injury D.J. Hayden suffered during minicamp turned out to be a lot worse than initially reported. Now the Raiders are scrambling to somehow deal with his absence.
With Hayden beginning training camp on the physically unable to perform list, Oakland is beginning training camp with only one of its originally projected starting cornerbacks. According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur, Carlos Rogers has now been moved to starter opposite Tarell Brown.
That means that Rogers' original position in the slot has to be filled, leaving the door open for seventh-round pick T.J. Carrie. It also looks like Chimdi Chekwa will be getting a lot more playing time than initially thought, per Tafur,.
While the news of Hayden's surgery isn't good, it may not be as bad as it sounds. NFL.com's Mike Coppinger reports that the expected recovery time for the surgery is 4-8 weeks. Given that Hayden had the surgery four weeks ago, he could theoretically be ready for Oakland's season opener on Sept. 7.
But that depends on when he actually gets back on the field and whether he can get himself into game shape in time. In the meantime, Oakland is going through training camp hoping that someone steps up.
Aside from Brown, the Raiders don't really know what's going to happen at cornerback. Will Carrie impress enough for the coaching staff to feel comfortable leaving him in the slot? Will Chekwa show enough improvement to earn the starting cornerback spot opposite Brown and leave Rogers at his original slot corner position?
The Raiders have training camp to figure it out.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.