Oakland Training Camp: Predictions for Raiders' Five Hot Competitions
Now that training camp has been going on for the last week the speculation has been replaced by reality. There was a lot of speculation about which jobs would be up for grabs for the Oakland Raiders. Now that we have seen several practices, let's look at the top five competitions to watch from here until the season opener.
5. Kamerion Wimbley vs. Thomas Howard
Wimbley was acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Browns for a mid-round draft pick. He had a stellar rookie season but never reached his sacks totals again. Howard has been Oakland's best pass coverage linebacker after he made six interceptions in 2006. But he hasn't come close to that since then.
This competition at outside linebacker features a couple of players who have shown the ability to be great but are yet to play consistently at a high level. I'm picking Wimbley here, he wasn't acquired for nothing.
4. Jacoby Ford vs. Nick Miller vs. Johnie Lee Higgins
This is a three-way match with more question marks than any other competition. Ford is a promising rookie from Clemson who starred on special teams returns with his speed below 4.3 at the 40 yard dash.
Miller was on the active roster all of last season even though he was always injured. In camp last year he looked like he would be good on returns but with the injuries he suffered, we never saw him.
The biggest question mark of the group is Higgins. He had a breakout year on returns in 2008 with three touchdowns. He never recovered his amazing ability after he got clocked on opening night last season. If he finds his 2008 form, this is his job to lose.
3. Chaz Schilens vs. Louis Murphy vs. Darrius Heyward-Bey
Nobody is sure who will get the playing time in this group. So far, Heyward-Bey is winning by default with injuries to Schilens (foot) and Murphy (concussion). Heyward-Bey is a new man from his awful rookie year of just nine catches. Switching his jersey from 12 to 85 isn't his only visible change, as he has been a go-to-guy early in camp.
Schilens, entering year three, is Oakland's best wide out when healthy. After missing half of last season, he racked up 29 catches for 365 yards plus two touchdowns. When healthy, he can be one of the best WRs in the NFL with a good QB throwing to him.
Murphy had some highs and lows in his rookie year. He led the WRs with 34 catches for 521 yards and four touchdowns. Three of those were game savers with a tying catch against the Bengals and two at Pittsburgh. He might be the odd man out if Heyward-Bey continues his improvement and if Schilens stays healthy.
2. Chris Johnson vs. Stanford Routt
I guess the Raiders had different plans for Routt after handing him a $3 million tender. Head coach Tom Cable said that "it's a heated competition" between the two. Routt said, "I just turned 27 a couple days ago so I know I'm not getting any younger." Routt has been a starter at times, but has been mostly a nickel-back.
Johnson seemed calm and confident about his chances of starting. "I'm not even looking back because when you look back, you fall back." He went on to say, "I'm entering camp as the starter, and I'm going to leave camp the starter."
Nnamdi Asomugha seems to think maybe Routt has a chance. "I do get the sense he's been playing well, but you know, year six, you know, by now you have to have it."
Routt has been mentioned before as a possible starter but never secured the job. But with the endorsement of Asomugha, he could give Johnson a real threat.
1. Offensive Tackles (Both Sides)
On the left side, the young Mario Henderson is ahead of the younger rookie Jared Veldheer. Veldheer is also seeing time at center so his focus isn't all on the left tackle spot. Henderson shouldn't have much trouble holding his job, for now.
On the right side, Langston Walker leads Khalif Barnes in the race to replace Cornell Green. Walker is in back with the Raiders while Barnes was supposed to challenge Mario Henderson last year, but he went down with a broken ankle. Walker did a good job with Lamarr Houston in practice Monday, so he seems to be the favorite here.
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