Some quick hits from Wednesday's minicamp practice, the 2nd of 3:
-There was a rookie that played on the first team offense in the stead of Denarius Moore, who injured his hamstring at Tuesday's practice. The surprise was that the rookie that was elevated to first team wasn't OTA and minicamp standout Juron Criner, a 5th round draft pick, but rather UDFA WR Rod Streater.
Streater has also had a fine offseason but hasn't made the same amount of amazing plays that Criner has. Still, coach Allen felt that he had earned the right to replace Moore. "He's earned the right to get the reps," Allen said. "He's done a nice job. He's a young guy. He's continuing to improve but he's obviously caught our eye enough to think he's earned the right to get a couple of first-team reps."
Criner's offseason wasn't forgotten, either, as he ran with 2nd team. Based on the offseason the two are having it's entirely possible that one of them will work their way into the starting lineup at some point in the season as injuries inevitably start to mount.
The Raiders have started a rookie sensation at Wide Receiver mid season the past three seasons with Louis Murphy and Darrius Heyward-Bey getting time in 2009, Jacoby Ford in 2010 and Moore in 2011 all stepping in.
While it's still early in the offseason, it seems a safe bet that Streater will make the final squad as one of the top 5 or 6 wide receivers. Allen was effusive in his praise, saying, "He's caught the ball extremely well, he's run very good routes, he knows how to get open and he has been explosive as a receiver."
-The tight end position is wide open, still, with all of the tight ends having their moments but no single player stepping up and simply grabbing the position. On Wednesday, 2nd year player Richard Gordon had some great plays in coverage and one long TD reception in which he took advantage of poor coverage and was left open for a 60 yard strike. However, he had a couple of drops to end the practice. Gordon isn't a natural receiver but he's a huge guy – one of the biggest on the roster – and as a blocking tight end in a run-heavy scheme, he's a good bet to make the final roster, too.
-Rolando McClain has not come close to living up to his high draft status on the field – or off – but he still shows flashes of his talent. Allen has pointed out before that McClain's biggest weakness is in coverage but on Wednesday McClain used his athletic, long body to make a great play on a Palmer pass for an interception. As we talked about yesterday, interceptions are rare for this secondary – at least for now – and so making plays is a big confidence builder for the defense.
-Streater wasn't the only rookie who was given 1st-team love in yesterday's practice. Rookie OLB Miles Burris was also running with the first team. He was playing in place of Aaron Curry who was held out as a "precautionary" measure due to knee pain, according to Allen. Burris will eventually be able to play inside as well, according to Allen, but they are starting him exclusively at OLB at this time so that he can learn the nuances of the position.
-Also interesting in the linebacking corps was that rookie Nathan Stupar was running 2nd team MLB with previous MLB 2nd team Travis Goethel running 2nd team OLB. This could be a signal that the team wants Goethel to learn the outside position – where he does have some previous experience – or may simply be trying some different looks to see where players are a best fit.
-Palmer has shown that he's the most accurate QB in camp but Leinart has drawn a lot of praise from the gathered writers for his passes which are always tight spirals and look pretty. Leinart has had his problems making decisions in the past but he throws one of the prettiest passes seen in camp for some time and looks to be a big upgrade over last season's Kyle Boller thus far.
-Speaking of QBs, Terrelle Pryor said that he has had some preliminary contact with former Raiders QB Rich Gannon and will be meeting with Gannon at some point this offseason for pointers. Gannon, a former Pro Bowler with the Raiders, has extended offers to help young Raider QBs before – most notably he offered to tutor JaMarcus Russell – but the team had always rebuffed his offers because Al Davis felt that he had been too critical after retiring. Gannon, like Pryor, was known as a mobile quarterback who used rollouts and movement in the pocket to extend plays. Unlike Pryor, Gannon was also known for his accuracy and if he can help Pryor gain an understanding of how to use his athletic abilities as well as improve his throwing accuracy, Pryor can become quite a force under center.
-Allen did give some injury updates at the end of practice. As mentioned above, Curry was held out due to knee pain, Moore was again held out due to an injury to his right hamstring and NT Travis Ivey had been held out because he suffered a concussion in the weight room when he was hit on the head by a weight bar. The injury to Ivey isn't serious, Allen said. Dave Tollefson, Stefon Wizniewski and Mike Mitchell round out the players that have not participated in camp with Wizniewski having had offseason shoulder surgery for a torn labrum and Mitchell having knee issues.
-Final notes: UDFA S Chaz Powell has some speed to him. He chased down Taiwan Jones in coverage in practice and it's widely agreed that Jones is probably the fastest player on a fast team.
The safety position will be one of the most interesting to watch. It's extremely likely that Huff and Giordano will man the free safety position and Tyvon Branch has a stranglehold on SS at this time. Mike Mitchell has been the backup SS for a few years but he's been inconsistent and has been bothered by a knee injury throughout OTAs and into the minicamp.
Powell, a former cornerback, and fellow UDFA S Aaron Henry will be competing with Mitchell and former San Francisco S Curtis Taylor for a roster spot on the team.
Encouraging to hear some of the guys are stepping up - especially Gordon as he has the measureables to become a real force in 2 TE sets (dude is huge, like an extra O-Lineman when he is in, and he is pretty fast and agile as well : If you get the chance Asher, could you ask him what his weight is this year?).
Powell probably won't make the 53 unless they see some return potential in him (but read somewhere that he had muffed a great deal of balls thus far), but he could be a very interesting PS player to groom for a year or two!
Really hope Missile Mike gets back out there so DA and Tarver can get at chance to see what he brings! They might be able to utilize his abilities to the best with the new scheme versatility and blitz emphasis!
(Btw : Juron Criner was a 5th rd pick, not a 4th)
I have lost a lot of faith in Mitchell after last season and would rather see Aaron Henry be given the opportunity. I thought Henry might have been gone in the later rounds and could be a dark horse.
With Streater and Criner both standing out, who will loose out here? DHB and Moore should both be locks, so I could see either Murphy or Ford being shipped out via trade or release. My pick is on Murphy being gone with Ford having the return skills also.
@nilbymouth Missile Mike was injured and often misused last year, imo, and when healthy and utilized correctly i think he has some value to this defense - did some great coverages on TE's for a couple of games as far as i recall (@Asher ; If you should have the time at some point, a Tale of the Tapes of MM34 would be really great), and he is definately best when having a special assignment (preferrably blitzing), as it seems to be his vision that is a bit off sometimes!
... That being said, Henry was one of my favourite UDFA signings as well, and i'll root for him come camp! He is not a hardhitter as MM34 though, and has better field vision and knowledge than hitpower and tackling ability, so if both performs well in camp he could challenge Gio a lot more as back up FS than MM34 as a back up SS. Still, i have every bit of confidence in this coachingstaff, so i'll be satisfied with whoever they decide to keep, as i expect that it will be what is best for the team and our scheme, so i just hope they will be healthy and able to show what they have to offer!
Thinking we only will keep 5 WRs?
I think we will keep 6, so DHB, Moore and Ford are locks (have been running with 1st team, Ford as a slot WR and probably #1 returnman), while Criner and Streeter will take #4 and #5 if they keep performing in camp and not get injured. So imo, McGee, Calhoun and Murphy will battle it out for #6, unless someone is brought in or explodes onto the field during camp to take the spot..
Still really uncertain about how the DL will end up, will be interesting to see how the group shakes out when the pads come on, because there are a lot of talent and potential in the group, and the selection (of the fringe players on the 53) will probably come down to scheme versatility! Bilukidi, Hamilton, Crawford, Dorsey and a couple of the second year guys (especially Ivey as he is the only true natural NT) will be interesting to watch battle it out!