Position Battles Around The Corner For The Oakland Raiders
Training Camp is literally days away for the Oakland Raiders. Players are going to start arriving on Tuesday and Wednesday to the Napa facility.
Gone is the music that Lane Kiffin used to play. Gone is the late 7 p.m. second practice during OTA's—coach Cable has moved that up to 4:20 p.m. Gone is the one practice the day after the two-a-day practice. Cable is going to go heavy from the beginning, especially week one as they'll go at least four straight days of two-a-days as of July 31. Let's hope this doesn't push guys too hard that they'll get injured.
Position battles are the best thing about Training Camp. You have guys fighting for their jobs. Whether it's going to be their first season or 10th season, they're going to fight to get their spot and earn a check.
As of now here's the squad.....
(BOLD= Lock at the position and Italics= Position Battle)
QB: JaMarcus Russell FB: Lorenzo Neal RB: Darren McFadden
WR: Chaz Schilens, Javon Walker, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Louis Murphy (only two can start)
TE: Zach Miller
LT: Mario Henderson/Khalif Barnes
LG: Robert Gallery
C: Samson Satele
RG: Cooper Carlisle
RT: Khalif Barnes/Mario Henderson/Erik Pears
Three spots need to be determined on offense: WR, LT, RT
With the wide receiver position, the only thing that's assured is Chaz Schilens starting at No. 1. His improved route running and excellent run blocking has earned him this spot. Chaz has the speed to get down the field, a good combination with him would be the possession receiver, Javon Walker. Will Walker be healthy? Johnnie Lee Higgins should remain as just a slot WR so he can continue to kill teams with his returning. For the four receiver sets, you bring out the wheels—Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy. They will be very dangerous dealing with nickel/dime cornerbacks.
With the tackle position, 24-year-old Mario Henderson's play will settle this. If he plays well, which he has, he should remain at left tackle while the more polished, yet a bit older, Khalif Barnes should play at right tackle. We can't forget about the beast known as Erik Pears. Pears is a monster at six-foot-eight, 305 pounds. His a nimble guy that has the experience in a zone-blocking scheme needed to be effective. Pears could possibly transition to right guard behind Cooper Carlisle. With both Pears and Barnes 27-years old, the winner can hold that post down for years to come. Bring on the battle!
Now, let's take a look at the defense.
DE: Derrick Burgess & Greg Ellis
DT: Tommy Kelly & Terdell Sands/Gerard Warren
OLB: Thomas Howard
MLB: Kirk Morrison
OLB: Ricky Brown/Jon Alston
CB: Nnamdi Asomugha, Chris Johnson, Stanford Routt, Justin Miller, Michael Huff
FS: Tyvon Branch/Michael Huff
SS: Hiram Eugene/Michael Mitchell
K: Sebastian Janikowski
P: Shane Lechler
KR(s): Justin Miller & Johnnie Lee Higgins
PR(s): Johnnie Lee Higgins & Justin Miller
Five spots need to be determined on defense: DT, OLB, CB, FS and SS.
At the defensive tackle position, Tommy Kelly needs help. He played well last year as he returned from his knee injury but his help didn't show up. Terdell Sands is a huge man that should be taking up two blockers and doesn't. Hopefully his weight loss that he showed coming into OTA's will help him out. He has been mentioned in trade 'rumors' recently, maybe that might've sparked something in him to play harder this year.
Gerard Warren has never lived up to his third overall pick status from the 2001 Draft. Last year was his first year since 2005 that he actually played all 16 games. Can he remain healthy again this year to contribute? He was in rotation with Sands all year which helped. A wild card that might crack the line-up during the middle of the year would be Ryan Boschetti. Sure he doesn't have a big name but if plays as hard as advertised with his 'non-stop' motor, he'd be perfect to put alongside Kelly.
At the outside linebacker spot, it's a toss up.
Rumors have been thrown around about Kirk Morrison moving to OLB. I was able to ask Kirk a question regarding him moving to OLB during a chat he held for NFL.com. He said he's always played middle linebacker and hasn't played or looked at the outside and said it was just a rumor.
With that being said, Jon Alston came in ready this year to make a huge impact. He added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame which is now at six-foot, 235 pounds. Take that into consideration with the fact that he didn't lose the speed that the team loved. Now, Ricky Brown was our guy at this position last year prior to his injury. He has gotten snaps with the second team during OTA's but at the middle spot. Coach Cable said that they know what he can do at the outside spot and wanted to see what he can do at middle. Where will he go with this?
At the cornerback position, our starters aren't going anywhere.
Asomugha and Johnson have these spots locked down. Now, the nickel/dime spot's are open. Will Stanford Routt finally breakout? This track star and second round pick hasn't exactly impressed anyone. He had more snaps during the 2007 season then in 2008 and it worked for him, he recorded three interceptions that year. Another former second round pick that can step up would be special teams star, Justin Miller.
He still hasn't recorded an interception in his career. The Jets used him occasionally his first two seasons but after his injury during the 2007 season, things changed and his use at cornerback slowly faded away. Will Michael Huff get a chance to resurrect his career as a corner? Nnamdi predicted that Huff would have a breakout season, so we'll see. Asomugha and Johnson are both very skilled man on man corners and I'd hope that they can teach these guys a thing or three.
At the free safety position, they tried Huff last year and it just didn't work. He'd be a step late, that ball would hit him in the chest, he'd just look confused. It's sad to see from a No. 7 pick that looked so promising. Hiram Eugune stepped in and played well enough to hold the spot for the second half of the year. Tyvon Branch showed a lot of heart playing hard this past season with a cast on. He showed the instincts of being in right area during plays not like Huff. Either Huff is reborn at this position or Branch gets a chance to gain some on-field chemistry with the linebackers, corners and strong safety.
At the strong safety position, Michael Mitchell is who we all want to see.
Sure the Raiders get beat up for picking him in the second round but look as his highlights! They speak for themselves. The Raiders haven't had a hard hitting presence at strong safety for years. Now that that pads come on and he can hit, we'll see what he has. As long as he isn't a step slow and can digest the faster NFL game, they found a hard-hitting gem. Hiram Eugene was service-able player last year. Could this 28-year-old player blossom like Chris Johnson did last year?
His play next week will show how hard he worked during the off-season.
I can't wait for these battles to begin so that we can see the strong survive!
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