Oakland Raiders 2013 Training Camp Preview
Previewing the Oakland Raiders' 2013 Training Camp
At this point in the year, the people who have faith in the Oakland Raiders being anything more than a subpar football team in 2013 are few and far between. It’s understandable why there is so little optimism, but the silver and black are still hoping their rebuilt roster can prove doubters around the NFL wrong this season.
That all starts with training camp, where the Raiders will look to put the pieces together unlike seasons passed. They’re coming off a 4-12 campaign in 2012 and made several painful moves this offseason with the future in mind.
Unfortunately, the list of tasks to accomplish may be too long for the Raiders to complete in a few weeks. During training camp, the Raiders must find their starting quarterback, put together a quality depth chart at wide receiver, figure out three starting offensive line spots, get an entirely new linebacking unit on the same page and find the two best cornerbacks currently on the roster. Heck, even the starting punter job has a big question mark hanging over it.
Still, the Raiders and GM Reggie McKenzie put together an underrated offseason and are hoping to prove this upcoming season that they’re team worth taking seriously. It’s been some time since they showed a consistent ability to win games, but the Raiders are moving in an upward direction and are primed to take the next step.
Here’s a look at what the Raiders have going for them as they attempt to return to relevance in the AFC West. One step at a time…
When the Raiders kick off training camp, a four-way battle for the starting quarterback job will commence. At this point, it’s assumed that Matt Flynn will win the starting gig. After losing what was supposed to be his starting job with the Seattle Seahawks last season, though, he’s far from a lock. The next candidate in line is Terrelle Pryor, an athletic quarterback who can make plays with his feet but lacks an NFL arm.
This offseason, the Raiders added rookie Tyler Wilson to the mix, who has all of the physical tools to be a difference-maker in the NFL. The Arkansas product looked good during OTAs, but still has a long way to go after a disappointing senior season. The other option, undrafted rookie Matt McGloin, is a huge sleeper with the potential to be one of the biggest surprises of 2013. If the rest of the competition struggles, McGloin could prove himself to be a diamond in the rough.
It’s common knowledge that at some point this season, starting running back Darren McFadden will suffer another untimely injury. When that happens, the running game will fall upon either Rashad Jennings or Latavius Murray, who will battle for the backup gig during training camp. Jennings was a backup for the Jacksonville Jaguars for the past few seasons, but struggled in an expanded role last year and isn’t a reliable No. 2 option. Meanwhile, Murray put together an impressive OTAs performance and could make a serious push for backup duties.
The Raiders have another couple of options at running back, including second-year tailback/fullback hybrid Jeremy Stewart, who played well in limited action as a rookie. Undrafted rookie Deonte Williams looked good during minicamp and OTAs, but is extremely raw and will need time to develop as a small-school talent.
Marcel Reese is the unquestioned starting fullback, and that’s not going to change unless an injury occurs. Jamize Olawale and Jon Hoese will participate during training camp, but neither stands much of a chance of making the 53-man roster behind Reese.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The wide receiver position will offer up a handful of exciting storylines to watch during Raiders training camp. While Denarius Moore is locked in as the No. 1 receiver, the rest of the field is wide open for competition. Rod Streater appears to have the upper hand for the No. 2 spot, but still has to prove that he can be consistent in his second season. Jacoby Ford, the oft-injured sparkplug, needs to get healthy and stay there before he can be a factor. Juron Criner, a late-round sleeper from last season, has the potential to be a star but needs to put all of the pieces together. Josh Cribbs will mostly play a return man role, but could carve a niche for himself in the passing game. The rest of the field, a group of wide-eyed youngsters, will be looking to make their mark during training camp.
Brice Butler, a seventh-round flyer this past April, has all of the physical tools but never quite lived up to his potential in college. Conner Vernon, an undrafted rookie, showed some spark during minicamp, but needs to prove he can compete with pads on. Fellow undrafted rookie Sam McGuffie also turned heads earlier in the offseason and will be looking to keep his momentum going during training camp. Others such as Andre Holmes, Isaiah Williams and Greg Jenkins will be hoping to impress coaches.
The starting tight end job will come down to a four-way race. David Ausberry is currently penciled in as the starter, but will need to prove that he can be more than an athletic pass-catcher. The only other experienced tight end in the race is Richard Gordon, who is a bit limited as a receiver but has noteworthy blocking abilities. Rookie fourth-rounder Nick Kasa is an outstanding blocker, but must prove that he can make an impact in the passing game. Meanwhile, fellow rookie Mychal Rivera has a knack for getting open, but is a bit limited athleticism-wise and isn’t a proven blocker. All four have a shot at starting, but will need to prove they're more than just one-dimensional tight ends.
The Raiders did little to solve their offensive line issues this offseason. Only left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski are solid starters along the front five, while the three other spots are up for grabs.
Tony Bergstrom is penciled in as the starting left guard, but could be put to the test by coaches during training camp after a lackluster showing last season. The right guard job is Mike Brisiel’s to lose, but Lucas Nix could make a strong push for either of the starting guard gigs. The most exciting positional battle to watch will be at right tackle, where Khalif Barnes will have to fend off advances from raw rookie Menelik Watson. Although Watson is unpolished as a blocker, his athleticism, strength and motor make him an ideal candidate to take over on the right side.
This offseason, the Raiders basically scrapped their defensive line and started from scratch. They allowed three starters to walk via free agency, keeping only Lamarr Houston, who will take over as the leader of the front four. They then went out and signed a number of free agents in hope of replacing the production. The first big move was adding Vance Walker, an underappreciated talent who is a proven run stuffer at defensive tackle. Next came Pat Sims, another big defensive tackle who was looking for a fresh start. Jason Hunter was also added to the mix at defensive end and 12-year veteran Andre Carter was re-signed.
While capable depth is scarce for the Raiders, there are a number of intriguing players to watch as they develop through training camp. David Bass, a 2013 seventh-round pick, is a small-school stud hoping to earn a role as a pass-rush specialist. Christo Bilukidi is coming off a quiet rookie season, but could push Sims for the other starting defensive tackle job opposite Walker. The Raiders also spent a sixth-round pick on Stacy McGee, a physically gifted defensive tackle whose off-field issues have kept him from unlocking his full potential.
The Raiders’ linebacking unit is completely rebuilt this offseason, with all three spots expected to feature newcomers as the starter. Veteran Kevin Burnett is expected to take over on one side while Nick Roach, who spent his entire career in the shadows of Chicago’s elite linebackers, fills the other spot. Kaluka Maiava is penciled in at middle linebacker, but a recent run in with the law could cost him his roster spot. Miles Burris, a 16-game starter last season as a rookie, could also push for a starting spot, but is facing long odds after an undisclosed knee injury this offseason.
The wild card of the bunch is rookie third-rounder Sio Moore, an explosive edge-rusher who was extremely impressive during OTAs and minicamp. If he continues to wow coaches early, Moore could find himself in a starting role with the Raiders sooner rather than later.
One of the big Raiders stories this offseason was their decision to use their first-round pick on D.J. Hayden, a talented cornerback who came within minutes of death this past season after a freak accident during practice. He’s penciled in as the starter, but must overcome the traumatic experience that almost cost him his life. The No. 2 job will go to one of the Raiders’ two veteran offseason acquisitions. Mike Jenkins, a former Pro Bowler, is hoping to erase the “bust” stamped across his forehead. Tracy Porter, the New Orleans Saints’ hero of the 2009 playoffs, is looking to bounce back after a rough season with the Denver Broncos. Phillip Adams, an underrated journeyman, will also be looking to make his mark on the Oakland secondary.
It’ll also be interesting to see what happens with Taiwan Jones, a former running back who is hoping to make the transition to cornerback with the Raiders this season. Others such as Joselio Hanson, Brandian Ross and Chimdi Chekwa will just be looking to earn a roster spot during training camp.
The safety position brings a boatload of intrigue after the return of Charles Woodson. The former first-round pick returns to his original NFL home in hopes of boosting a rebuilt Raiders secondary. He’ll team with Tyvon Branch, the veteran leader of the Oakland defensive backfield who could have another big season with the silver and black. Usama Young, who was expected to start before Woodson’s return, should also earn a significant role as a backup.
While the kicker position is locked down by Sebastian Janikowski, the Raiders will hold a competition for the starting punter job. Veteran Chris Kluwe, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, and second-year leg Marquette King will battle for the gig. While it’s assumed that the experienced punter will come out on top, King offers a ton of potential and could push the often distracted veteran for the No.1 spot.
Jon Condo will hold down the Raiders' long snapping job as usual. Offseason acquisition Cribbs should win the kick returning job while Adams holds down the punt returning duties.
Breakout Candidate: Juron Criner
After an up-and-down rookie campaign, sophomore receiver Criner is headed for what could be a big season with the Raiders. Throughout his collegiate career, the Arizona product showed the reliable hands, route running and ball adjustment abilities that a pass-catcher needs to be productive in the NFL. If Criner can carve a niche in the Raiders’ passing game during training camp, he can easily become an integral part of their 2013 game plan.
Here’s a look at why Criner is a breakout candidate for the Raiders this upcoming season.
Breakout Candidate: Phillip Adams
One of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL, Adams showed some promise last season after earning some significant playing time with the Raiders. With a knack for big plays in coverage and the type of consistency that Oakland rarely gets out of its defensive backs, Adams has the potential to turn into a quality cornerback. The first step for him will be finding a role amidst a cornerback depth chart that includes Hayden, Jenkins and Porter.
Here’s a look at why Adams is a breakout candidate for the Raiders this upcoming season.
5 Questions the Raiders Must Answer
There are several issues the Raiders must address once training camp kicks off. Especially after an offseason focused on rebuilding, Oakland will have to figure out where their roster is headed and how the depth chart will look. One big concern will be seeing where first-rounder Hayden is in his recovery from a torn heart cavity that nearly cost him his life. Hayden dropped out of camp earlier in the offseason due to complications with the injury, so making sure that he’s ready physically and mentally will be extremely important.
Here’s a look at the five questions the Raiders must answer as training camps get under way.
5 Battles Worth Watching
On a team with loads of new talent, there are bound to be some battles as players jockey for positioning on the depth chart and on the 53-man roster. None will be bigger for the Raiders than the competition at quarterback, which will pit four players against each other for a starting job that is anyone’s to win. Other competitions loom as well, but the one to see who starts under center will certainly be an interesting one to watch throughout training camp and into the preseason.
Here’s a look at five Raiders roster battles to keep an eye on as training camp gets rolling.