Oakland Raiders: Training Camp Risers and Fallers
It happens every year, players who finished who finished at the top of the depth chart last season slide, and others who thought that they had little chance to make the roster or were underperfromers somehow rise.
Sometimes it is age, sometimes injury, or sometimes a player doesn't fit with a new scheme that the team wants.
The Raiders defensive scheme is certainly changing, and so will the offense under Hue jackson.
So who are this year's risers and fallers so far in camp?
Riser: Jason Campbell
In what was perhaps one of the smartest moves of the off season by any club in the league, the Oakland Raiders acquired Jason Campbell from Washington for a future 4th round pick.
Anointed as the starter after Bruce Gradkowski's torn pectoral injury, Campbell has no disappointed, and thus far in camp has been productive and accurate, which is something that oakland hasn't had in a week 1 starter since Rich Gannon retired.
Campbell has given the Raiders no reason to question his ability thus far though camp and mini camp.
Riser: Lamarr Houston
The second round is high to be taken in the draft, but even so you never really know what you get until you get a guy in pads and the hitting starts.
There was a general murmur of consensus when the Raiders picked Lamarr Houston, and although expectations of him were understandably high, he appears to be exceeding them with his play thus far.
Houston will play left end the the Raiders new defensive scheme, and not only does he have the athleticism to play the position at over 300lbs, but he brings a nasty attitude that this defense has lacked since Matt Millen left.
Definitely a riser.
Riser: Darrius Heyward Bey
At the end of the 2009 season, Darrius Heyward Bey was one of the most unpopular players in the Raider Nation (well, you know, apart from JaMarcus Russell).
What a difference an off season makes.
Heyward Bey always had a good chance to succeed in the NFL, because not only did he have the physical ability to play at a high level, he also had the character and work ethic that it takes to be a winner.
He appears to be a totally different player than last year, in top condition and making good catches on a daily basis. His hands, his route running, everything is drastically improved.
That drive to succeed, working with Nnamdi Asomugha every day after practice and dedicating himself to improvement is what great players are made of.
I don't know if he will be great, but he is an enormous improvement over last year already. Riser.
Faller: Quentin Groves
Quentin Groves has had little success in the league since being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round two years ago.
Traded to Oakland this year for a fifth round pick, he had a chance to start over.
Groves is a down to earth kind of guy, and has won over a lot of fans by engaging with the Raider Nation, but his play thus far has been disappointing through camp and mini camp.
Apart from being burned on a pass route for a long gain by full back Marcel Reece and starting a fight (and I don't say that as a bad thing...), we have barely heard his name called.
With a lot of competition at linebacker, he will have to do better to make the final roster cut down. Faller
Faller: Thomas Howard
If Kirk Morrison payed the price of being a starter in a leaky run defense, then Thomas Howard also has some questions to answer.
With the change of defensive scheme in Oakland to bigger linebackers, Howard is no longer the starter on the weakside. Gone are the times when he led all NFL linebackers with 6 interceptions in his second year, he has only had one in the last two years.
He also had his lowest number of tackles in his career in 2009.
The last report on Howard was that he was runnig with the second team Nickel defense. Not a good sign for him, and I have heard very few positive reports about Howard coming out of Oakland recently.
He will,probably make the roster, but that looks to be about as good as it gets for him right now. Faller
Faller: Johnnie Lee Higgins
What happened to Johnnie Lee Higgins?
In 2008, he looked to be an emerging star for the Raiders, leading all Oakland wide receivers with 22 catches for 366 yards and 4 touchdowns, including an 84 yarder for a score.
He also ran back 3 punts for touchdowns at an average of 13.o yards per return.
Last year he failed to get in the end zone at all on receptions or return, and his yard per return dropped to 5.2.
Whatever has happened, Higgins really is aon the bubble as far as a roster spot goes, and seems to be playing himself onto the waiver wire thus far in camp.
It would be easy for oakland to release Higgins, as they have a rookie with a very similar skill set in jacoby Ford. Faller.
Riser: Jared Veldheer
Jared Veldheer was a good pick by Oakland in the third round of the draft this year, albeit somewhat of a gamble due to his small school career at Hillsdale College.
Whilst fellow lineman Bruce Campbell is buried in the depth chart at guard, Veldheer is already the reserve left tackle, and is getting some looks at center behind Samson Satele (who I have never rated anyway).
Veldheer (and I have seen that name wrongly spelled in SO many articles) has made an impression right from the start, and clearly has a bright future with the raiders as far as Tom Cable is concerned. Riser.
Riser: Stevie Brown
As a seventh round draft choice in the NFL, you are in no way assured of a roster spot on the team that picks you, and you have to go to camp and make a name for yourself.
That is just what Stevie Brown appears to be doing.
He has had a couple of nice pic's, and has been taking good angles to the ball when tackling. There isn't much more that you can ask of a safety than that.
He still has a tough job ahead of him, with Tyvon Branch, Michael Huff, and Mike Mitchell already ahead of him on the depth chart, it doesn't leave many roster spots left for safeties.
He will likely have to beat out Hiram Eugene (I have never been a fan), and Jerome Boyd (now I am a fan of this guy) to make the team.
The way he is playing right now, he just might do it.
Riser: Rolando McLain
The first linebacker drafted he may be, but just like I said about Lamarr Houston, you don't know what a player is like until you get him in pads and the hitting starts.
Rolando McLain is everything that the Raiders thought he would be thus far.
He has shown himself to be very smart, very physical, and a presence in the middle that simply can't be ignored.
Despite some troubles early on in pass coverage, he is now executing well in all phases of the game. A student of the game, with huge football IQ, and physical style of play, McLain couldn't have turned out any better for the Raiders thus far.
He has already shown those that doubted his athletic ability to be a three down linebacker in the NFL that those physical limitations have been very much over hyped, and he is running with the first team nickel defense.
Definitely a riser.
In conclusion, I think we can safely say that the Oakland Raiders have a lot to be optimistic about this coming year.
For every Johnnie Lee Higgins, there at least two players at or reaching their potential, and those problems which have plagued the team for the last seven years (poor pass offense, leaky run defense, lack of continuity) have mostly been addressed.
The Raiders will surprise a lot of people this year, and I have already booked my tickets to see them.