Oakland Raiders: 11 Players Who Deserve a Chance to Start in 2011
There are also 25 unsigned free agents that need to be addressed. Suffice it to say, the Raiders starting lineup may look just as different as the coaching staff in 2011.
Someone will have to step in and fill the shoes of players that can't be re-signed.
Who are the players Oakland is likely to lose? Who are the players that will take over those vacated spots on the starting squad?
I will attempt to answer these questions, or at least provide some insight about the players that will be considered for starting jobs.
Let's take a look at the offense first...
Daniel Loper, OG
Daniel Loper played sparingly in 2010. He came in only when Robert Gallery got hurt.
In his limited playing time, Loper played pretty good. His pass protection was better than average, but his run blocking needs some work.
With Gallery likely gone to free agency, (assuming the lockout ends) and Bob Wiley and Raider legend Steve Wisniewski being hired to coach the offensive line, I expect Loper's game to improve dramatically.
Loper has put in his time and worked hard. He deserves to be considered for the starting left guard spot.
Stefen Wisniewski, C
Most in Raider Nation agree that Stefen "The Legacy" Wisniewski was brought in to start at center for the Raiders. Head coach Hue Jackson said as much in the press conference to introduce the young center.
I'm not suggesting that Wisniewski should be handed the starting job without proving he can do it first. Incumbent starter Samson Satele isn't likely to lose his job to a rookie without a fight.
Maybe this is the motivation Satele needed to step his game up and play better.
Either way, "The Legacy" deserves a shot at being first on the depth chart—and I'm sure he'll get it.
Jared Veldheer, OT
I realize that small-school phenom is not a premier left tackle in the NFL, but he's better than what the Raiders had before him.
Many in Raider Nation (including this writer) are calling for the front office to sign a marquee player at the offensive tackle position. Even if that happens, Veldheer deserves a chance to retain his starting spot on the Raiders' blind side.
Whether he makes it or not is a subject for another article entirely.
Khalif Barnes, OT
When the Raiders signed Khalif Barnes as a free agent, the expectation was for him to take over at left tackle.
That didn't happen.
Injuries took him out of the lineup, then an inability to adjust to the right side kept him out.
Since then Barnes has played only in heavy formations where the Raiders bring in an extra tackle.
In 2011, Barnes may have something to prove, and he deserves a chance to do it.
Now, for the defensive side...
Matt Shaughnessy, DE
When Matt Shaughnessy surprised Raider fans in 2009, many thought he'd be a lock for the starting lineup in 2010.
However, every time he got on the field in 2010, he played fantastic and recorded seven sacks, 43 tackles and two forced fumbles in only eight starts.
As far as I'm concerned, Shaughnessy should be officially named the starter now. But just like everyone, he should still have to prove that he belongs there in training camp.
Thomas Howard, OLB
I know, I know, Thomas Howard has some serious flaws in his game.
His tackling leaves a lot to be desired and he isn't that great at the point of attack. However, his coverage skills are the best of any linebacker on the team.
Assuming new linebacker coach Greg Biekert and defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan can close the holes in his game, Howard can be a very solid weak side linebacker in the league.
I'm not saying the Raiders should pass on a big-time free agent at this position or that Howard should simply be handed the job. I'm only suggesting that Howard deserves a fair shot at making first string.
Stevie Brown, S
With Michael Huff most likely gone to free agency, the competition at free safety is going to be fierce.
Stevie Brown has shown in his only season that he can find that ball and he can tackle pretty well.
Brown isn't as good in coverage as Huff, but truthfully, he's so much better at supporting the run that the drop off in coverage could be worth it.
I'm not sure if any free safety in the league is as good in coverage as Huff, but most can tackle a whole lot better.
Brown is one of those guys, and he deserves to get a long look from Bresnahan and safety position coach Kevin Ross.
Mike Mitchell, S
Mike Mitchell has made mistakes. All young safeties do.
That said, Mitchell can flat out bring the hammer!
He played a hybrid safety-linebacker position in college. You can see why when you see him hit a ball-carrier.
Mitchell is behind Brown in the coverage and "ball-finding" aspect, but is far superior in the tackling aspect.
One of these two men needs to step up and prove they can cover and earn the starting job outright.
Mitchell deserves to be in the competition from the start.
Chris Johnson, CB
One minute Chris Johnson provides blanket coverage and makes a great play. The next minute he blows his assignment and gives up an easy touchdown.
Inconsistency is a huge issue for Johnson.
The fact is, he has the physical tools to be a starter in the league, but for some reason, he can't put everything together on a regular basis.
Whatever the case, Johnson lost his starting job to Stanford Routt last year, but with the future of Nnamdi Asomugha in question, Johnson has a right to be taken seriously for the No. 2 cornerback spot opposite Asomugha's replacement, Routt.
Jeremy Ware, CB
Just like every young defensive back who enters the NFL, Jeremy Ware looked great at times but looked very bad at times.
Ware showed a lot of promise as a rookie with his dramatic interception against the hated Chiefs. He gave up some big plays in the eight games he played in, too, though.
It seems like Ware is on the verge of "the light-bulb-moment" every coach is seeking—that moment when a player just seems to "get it."
Assuming Asomugha is gone, Ware should be allowed to compete for the No. 2 cornerback job against the aforementioned Chris Johnson and the player on the next slide.
Walter McFadden, CB
Walter McFadden played in just four games in 2010, partially due to injury and partially due to being behind in the playbook.
Hopefully, he'll be fully healthy and his play will dictate whether or not he plays rather than unfortunate injuries.
In 2011, I look for McFadden to take strides in his understanding and use his physical gifts and give the players on the preceding slides a run for their money.
To be completely honest, I only see about half of these players actually making the Opening Day starting lineup. That wasn't the point of this list.
All I was trying to accomplish with this article is to draw attention to players that I feel deserve serious consideration to fill the Raiders' starting 22.
This list can, and most likely will be shortened if certain players like Nnamdi Asomugha or Michael Huff are re-signed.
It can also be expanded if players like Zach Miller are not re-signed.
What if the Raiders sign a big-time free agent like Manny Lawson, Rocky McIntosh or Tyson Clabo? Well, in that case, take this article and dispose of it—it becomes obsolete.
So, who did I miss? Who on this list shouldn't be considered? Who do you think is the most likely player on this list to make the starting lineup on Opening Day? Voice your thoughts in the comments.
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