The Raiders are now a week and a half into their 2013 Training Camp, and are less than a week from seeing the field for the first time, facing the Dallas Cowboys this Friday, August 9th.
The media access becomes more restricted after the second preseason game so this is the prime time to attempt to glean what the 2013 team will become.
Here are some notes, thoughts and tidbits on every Raiders position from my days in camp:
-QB: Flynn will start the season at QB. As I’ve talked about, previously, Allen doesn’t trust Pryor because of his inconsistencies. Aside from that, however, Flynn has looked better, overall, than Pryor basically every day of practice.
Pryor has some good days in which he makes good throws but those days are definitely tempered by practices like today, when he misses a lot of throws and has his timing off.
The Raiders’ QBs aren’t at a place that fans should feel comfortable that they’re going to be good. There are still too many drops, late and low throws and poor decisions for my liking.
Here’s a piece I wrote earlier this week, scouting the two primary quarterbacks, Flynn and Pryor, and where they stand.
-TE: Ausberry still appears to be the best receiver on the tight end squad by a good margin. Rivera is good, too. Gordon runs with the first team because of his blocking and while he doesn’t have terrible hands, they don’t send him on routes downfield because if his limitations in that area, so he’d be an outlet receiver, only. Kasa missed time up front and is well behind the other 3. He’s not in any threat of being cut but he’s not making any push to start, either.
No tight end has grabbed the position like Allen is asking for, yet. We’ll see how the squad looks at blocking and putting everything together after the first game on Friday.
WR: Barring injury, Rod Streater and Denarius Moore have a strangle-hold on the two starting spots. The team will likely continue to go with Juron Criner and Jacoby Ford although Criner hasn’t stood out and Ford continues to be fragile.
I think seventh-round rookie Brice Butler is a good bet to make the squad. He’s looked smooth in camp and doesn’t have simple drops like other receivers do.
I also think that UDFA Greg Jenkins is a possible contender to make the final squad based on a strong training camp. Jenkins is a former QB from Alabama State who looks like he may be able to make the conversion to wide receiver in the NFL.
NFL teams have had a lot of mixed success with converting athletic college QBs to NFL-caliber WRs. For every Hines Ward or even a Ronald Curry, there’s a Matt Jones who cannot make the transition.
Jenkins has a legitimate chance to make the team or, at least, the practice squad at this point. He’s showed good hands in most every drill that I’ve seen and can contribute on special teams as well. We’ll see how the receiver position shakes out but I like Jenkins’ shot over both Holmes and Vernon at this point.
-OL: The offensive line, for all of the bodies, there, is still a bit of a mess. LT Jared Veldheer looks good and C Stefan Wisniewski is solid at center but none of the other spots have a guaranteed starter. At LG, Tony Bergstrom is trying to take advantage of his competition, Lucas Nix, still being injured. Mike Brisiel was the starter at RG but he was held out today and RT Khalif Barnes slid over to play RG in today’s practices.
Alex Barron, who has been competing with Barnes for the starting RT spot in camp, played most if not all of the snaps at RT today. The team has been impressed with him, with Dennis Allen specifically mentioning him as standing out. I think there’s a good shot of Barron being the starting RT come week one which is amazing, considering that he hasn’t played in a regular season game since 2010.
It’s quite possible that Barron will also be the team’s swing tackle and would backup Jared Veldheer at LT, if needed, because there isn’t really anyone else that can do it except Willie Smith. I’m sure Raiders fans don’t want to hear his name being announced as coming onto the field.
-RB: The easiest of the positions to call, at this time. Darren McFadden is the starter, here, obviously. Behind him is Rashad Jennings. There was supposed to be a competition between Jennings and Murray, but Murray hasn’t seen the field for at least the last four practices and Jennings has looked good in that time. He fields the ball well and looks like he can contribute in the run game, as well.
The other two running backs on the roster are Jeremy Stewart and Deonte Williams. I’d give the edge to Stewart because he was productive for the Raiders last year but that could go either way if they decide to go with 4 RBs.
Another option for the team is to use Taiwan Jones as an emergency cornerback and running back as necessary.
-DL: The defensive line was so banged up that there are only two healthy defensive tackles on the squad right now – Christo Bilukidi and UDFA Kurt Taufau’asau. The team had to have second-year defensive end Jack Crawford move to the inside to have any depth on the defensive line for the last two days.
Allen indicated that there was move to that move than simply injury, however. He said, “Well, I think some of [Crawford moving] is due to the fact that we’re shorthanded inside but the plan all along was to get him work inside, especially the nickel downs, see what he can do in there.”
Allen said that they team is looking at other options and, indeed, the Raiders were trying out a player after practice with GM Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen looking on. It wasn’t immediately announced who they player was but visually, it appeared to be Ryan Baker, a former DE who has been on the Miami Dolphin’s team the last four seasons as a backup. He has never started a game in the NFL. Because of the dearth of defensive tackles on the squad Baker, if signed, will likely line up as an interior lineman for the team.
Trying to come up with starters is difficult with all of the injuries. Projected starters Pat Sims and Vance Walker have both missed a lot of practices due to injury. If either of them are still hurt come the start of the season, Christo Bilukidi looks pretty decent in drills and could step in to a starting role. After that, it gets much more murky and the Raiders assuredly hope that their top tackles come healthy again soon.
At defensive end, Lamarr Houston will be at one side and Andre Carter will likely be the other starter. Jason Hunter is in the mix as a backup. Jack Crawford hasn’t stood out and struggles in pass rushing but he can play at end and tackle and will likely make the team and work on continuing his development.
-LB: Another position that seems fairly set at this time, the Raiders starting unit hasn’t changed at all in the days I’ve watched. Barring injury, the starters will be Sio Moore at strong side linebacker, Nick Roach at middle linebacker and Kevin Burnett at weakside linebacker. Kaluka Maiava might have won the weakside in camp but his injury significantly decreases his ability to win the starting spot and he’ll likely have to content himself with a backup role early this season.
Another player that was thought to have a shot at a starting role coming into the season was last year’s starting weakside linebacker Miles Burris but he hasn’t practiced at all since having knee surgery after last season and he will likely only be in line for a backup role much like Maiava.
Omar Gaither, who saw some time as a starter at middle linebacker last year when Rolando McClain was suspended/benched, was resigned and appears to be moving his way up the depth chart. I saw him playing next to Nick Roach in a first-team nickel package, today, which was partially due to injury but also bodes well for his chances of making the final team.
-DB: One of the deepest positions on the team, the main players are set but there is still competition at the fringes for roster spots. Tracy Porter, Mike Jenkins and DJ Hayden are all assured of roster spots. Porter and Jenkins are likely to be the starting outside corners with Joselio Hanson the starting nickel corner come week 1. Hayden has a bright future but he’s not ready to be put into a starting spot at this point - he’s yet to shed the red no contact jersey.
After those four, it gets more complicated. I like Taiwan Jones to be able to make a push as a reserve corner/runningback and a gunner on special teams.
Dennis Allen mentioned Chimdi Chekwa’s improvement and said that Phillip Adams has been very consistent. Either or both of them seem like they would be possibilities to make the final squad.
At safety, the starters are Charles Woodson at free safety and Tyvon Branch at strong safety. Usama Young looks to be locked in as Woodson’s backup. Strong Safety hasn’t been consistent from what I’ve seen but Reggie Smith is likely the man to beat, there.
-ST: At kicker, the Raiders just signed K Sebastian Janikowski to a four-year extension and if he plays out the entire deal, he’ll be with the silver and black through 2017. Obviously, the team is set with him kicking as long as he’s healthy.
The punting competition between Kluwe and King hasn’t changed much. Dennis Allen has acknowledged that he likes consistency and that Kluwe is more consistent. To take those statements to their logical end, Kluwe will be the Raiders punter.
Long snapper is set with Jon Condo, who just signed a contract extension himself.