Oakland Raiders: Top Questions Heading Into Training Camp
Oakland Raiders: Top Questions Heading Into Training Camp
The Oakland Raiders finished their final practice of mandatory mini-camp Thursday, entering a six-week break until the start of training camp on July 25.
Just having three days of practice in non-padded work only provides a small sample of what the Raiders will be working with in 2013, but it does give a glimpse of certain strengths and weaknesses.
Consistency so far has been an area of concern, specifically on the offensive end. "I thought, at times, we executed well. We made some plays both offensively and defensively, but the consistency with which we have to execute on a day-in and day-out basis we have to continue to work on," iterated head coach Dennis Allen.
Quarterback play has been questionable (to say the least) and the offensive line, outside of Stefen Wisniewski and Jared Veldheer, has several points of discomfort.
However, Oaklands defense seems to be playing well in the teams first practices. A couple of mini-camp notes credit the defensive line of consistently being able to batt the ball down at the line. CB Mike Jenkins name has also popped up a few times for making plays in coverage.
"Man, just being out there with them I can tell you they are going to present a lot of problems for people," said RB Darren McFadden of the defense. "Just seeing them out here in OTAs and in training camp, they have been moving around, flying around to the ball, so I’m looking forward to that."
All in all though, coach Allen likes what he's seeing from his team. "I’ve been pleased with the work that these guys have put in and obviously, we’re not the finished product. We still have a lot of improvement to do, but I wouldn’t say that’s a whole lot different than any of the other 31 teams. But I like their mentality and I like the way that they work."
With such a younger and different looking roster than the 2012 team, rises numerous questions heading into the next phase of the NFL offseason. Here's taking a look at them ...
How good is the defense?
The defense was by far the most impressive part of the Raiders three day mini-camp. The defensive line generated many pass disruptions at the line of scrimmage and rushed the quarterback consistently. Steve Corkran credits Lamarr Houston for showing "impressive quickness, relentless determination and the looks of a player on the rise".
Reading that Mike Jenkins has been swatting away passes and the fact that Oakland's passing attack has struggled through mini-camp is pleasing for the time being. Tracy Porter has also done well creating a lot of contested passes.
Coach Allen is even impressed with rookie talent Sio Moore saying, "what you look at is you look at football intelligence, and he’s got some football intelligence and some football savvy about him," Allen said. "We got a big volume of stuff that we’re throwing at him and sometimes it can overload him. He’s a guy that continues to go out there and work every day. His work ethic and his understanding of the game of football is what’s going to allow him to be a good player for us."
Corkran also revealed that fans should anticipate a lot more three-man fronts and linemen dropping into coverage.
But how good will the nearly entirely brand new defense be? When you think about there being nine new starters on the defensive side, you have to imagine them taking some time to gel together. Watching how this defense progresses might be the most intriguing topic about the Raiders for me this offseason.
Who will emerge at Tight End?
Crickets are making more noise than the Raiders TE corps right now.
With rookie Nick Kasa injured (hamstring), David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera and Richard Gordon have done little to increase their chances of earning a first-string role.
Right now, FB Marcel Reese seems like the most qualified to handle the job. I wouldn't be surprised to see Oakland run him as the TE in single-back sets as we move forward.
I don't know if the Raiders plan to use the TE much in 2013, but right now it seems that multiple WR sets seem like the way to go for Oakland's offense. For a team whose leading receiver was a TE last season, the outlook on the position is pretty bleak at this point in time.
Even though sitting with an injury, Kasa's stock is building with the small impact that Rivera, Gordon and Ausberry are currently making.
Are Denarius Moore and the other receivers dependable?
With the departure of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore becomes the undisputed number-one receiver for Oakland, as confirmed by coach Allen, "He’s a guy that we’re counting on being our number-one receiver, but we need all those guy ... At the end of the day, we'll have five, maybe six receivers that have a chance to help this football team."
Moore was the leading Raiders receiver last season with 51 receptions and seven touchdowns. Rod Streater, who is likely to start opposite of Moore, is heading into his second season in the NFL. Streater only had 39 receptions in 2012, but showed signs of brilliance and sure hands.
The Silver and Black will have lots of speed on the field in their receiving corps when you throw in Jacoby Ford and newly added Josh Cribbs, but will the receiving corps be dependable enough to count on them?
Moore had nine dropped passes in 2012, while Streater had seven total. Ford also has a history of showing stone hands, while Cribbs has never been much of a receiving threat outside of his downfield speed. Second-year player Juron Criner is a big body type wide-out that can beat people with his size. It would be nice to see him utilized in short yardage and redzone situations.
For the Raiders offense to thrive, they will require a heightened level of play from the receivers. Dropped passes in Oakland has been an issue for the last few years. With the TE position being so short, the receivers will have to pick up the slack.
It's time a WR actually leads the team in receiving for 2013.
How will the Offensive Line progress?
Right now, Steve Corkran believes that the LG spot is the only one currently up for grabs on the Raiders O-line. Tony Bergstrom and Lance Nix have split time with the first-team so far in mini-camp. Rookie Menelik Watson is set to start at RT and Mike Brisiel at RG.
It's hard to take anything away from notes regarding mini-camp about the offensive line, especially in non-padded workouts. It was recorded though, that the defensive line was able to generate a strong pass-rush and play generally well against the pass. I read many times that the QB was forced to escape the pocket to make a throw, implying lapses in blocking.
Like TE, the O-line is pretty unknown at this point in time. Training camp should provide answers to man lingering questions. How good is Watson? Can Bergstrom or Nix perform well against good competition? Can Brisiel, a career zone-type blocker who struggled in 2012, rebound this season in the power-scheme?
We can only hope there is a breakthrough somewhere when the pads get put on.
Will someone standout at Quarterback?
On the first day of mini-camp, Steve Corkran called the Raiders quarterback play the worst he has seen in his 19 years of covering the NFL. Corkran states that passes were wobbly, behind, ahead, too high and too low at different times. To their credit though, they vastly improved on the next two days.
Matt Flynn is currently entitled to the starting gig but hasn't earned it yet in any way. Terrelle Pryor and Tyler Wilson have made just as much noise as Flynn in mini-camp, being able to find the end-zone and thread the ball into receivers on different occasions. It was documented that Pryor and Flynn were both able to beat coverage deep for 50+ yard touchdown strikes.
Training camp will surely help provide some stability to the QB search, but likely nothing will become concrete until preseason competition is underway.
With reports of the QB often leaving the pocket, a shortage of TE's and an excess of speedy WR's, it wouldn't surprise me to see Pryor emerge as the teams starter due to his mobility. If blocking becomes an issue, being able to spread the field could be the teams best option.
"We still have a lot of work to do and that’s something we all know and we are all striving to do," said Flynn.
Right now, no one should feel like there is a sure-fire starting QB on this team. It will be interesting to see how this all works out during training camp.
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