Oakland Raiders Offense: 5 Position Battles to Watch in 2012
John Doublin – Apr 4, 2012
New managing partner Mark Davis and new general manager Reggie McKenzie are ushering in the "new era" of Oakland Raiders football. Players have been cut, salaries were dumped, a trade has been made and free agents have been signed. To put it mildly, the Raiders are operating in a completely new way and the result is a very different team.
Of course, some things will remain the same. Carson Palmer will start the season under center, Darren McFadden will be the featured back and several offensive linemen like Jared Veldheer and Stefen Wisniewski are in no danger of not making the team.
Upon his hiring, McKenzie stated that he'd like to see competition at every position. This would put an end to the perceived "Al Davis scholarship programs." With that said, which positions will be the most competitive? Who are the players that will be forced to fight for their job? Who are the ones that are in danger of losing their jobs?
Tough questions that won't be answered until training camp, but one can speculate.
No. 2 Quarterback: As stated before, Palmer is the clear-cut starter, but with the departure of Jason Campbell there is no obvious player to fill the back up spot. Most Raider fans were saddened to see Campbell go, but the lack of a contract offer to 2011 back up Kyle Boller has the Raider Nation breathing a sigh of relief.
Does the coaching staff trust Terrelle Pryor enough to elevate him to the number two? Will recently signed Rhett Bomar be the back up? Is there a veteran out there that would come to Oakland for a reasonable price? Is McKenzie eyeing a "quarterback of the future" in the 2012 NFL draft?
Most insiders and "experts" in-the-know agree that Oakland needs to have a better option available in the event Palmer gets injured. Pryor has virtually no experience and is extremely raw, while Bomar has been around longer, but has shown even less than Pryor.
There are several journeymen signal callers on the market that would make sense for the Raiders. A.J. Feely has won as a starter, Kellen Clemens has some starting success and Charlie Batch has a ton of experience and has been a winner.
Judging by his previous mode of operation, it's not likely McKenzie will sign the likes of Vince Young or Donovan McNabb. The big, news-making "splashes" aren't his style.
Whatever the case, the back up signal caller will be a battle Raiders' fans should watch closely leading up the the 2012 NFL regular season.
No. 2 Running Back: Much has been made about the alleged fragility of McFadden, but make no mistake—he will be the starting tail back for the Raiders in 2012. The only question at this spot will be—who will be the "next man up" should McFadden get hurt again?
Michael Bush has gone to the Bears via free agency, so who will be the Raiders' insurance policy and "change-of-pace" back to spell McFadden? McKenzie has added two running backs to the roster to compete for the job.
Free agent Rashawn Jackson and a trade of under-achieving offensive tackle Bruce Campbell for one-time Heisman Trophy candidate Mike Goodson are in Oakland to give second year Division-II phenom Taiwan Jones and former practice squad player Lonyae Miller a run for the back up role in the Oakland Backfield.
Each player brings something a little different than the other, and a lot different than Bush. Jackson most closely resembles Bush physically, Jones is ridiculously fast with good hands and Goodson has great agility and more power than you'd expect from a man his size. Miller is a bit of an unknown, but under McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen, he will get a legitimate look. One thing is sure—whomever wins the back up job will have earned it.
This should be a great battle to watch in training camp and preseason.
Wide Receiver: This position doesn't come down to who will be the top four guys, but in what order they will appear on the depth chart. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Louis Murphy are the most likely top four players, but who will be the "X", the "Y" and the "Z" for Palmer and the offense?
Last year saw a lot of transition at this spot. Heyward-Bey was pretty steady, but suffered from the "dropsies" from time to time, Moore exploded on the scene in Week-2 against the Bills, disappeard for a while, only to reappear against the hated Chargers, while Ford had moments of greatness against San Diego and moments of worry with some missed reads.
Injuries played a role as well.
Moore, Ford and Murphy all missed time with injury and all returned at different times with mixed results. This begs the questions: If all players are healthy, who is the best? Has Moore surpassed Ford or Heyward-Bey? Will "DHB" improve as much this off-season as he did last season? Will Murphy put it all together and become the Raiders' leading receiver once again like he did in 2010?
If you add an emerging Eddie McGee to this mix, you find yourself realizing that the wide receiver position in the east bay may not be settled, but if you'll parden the pun—it's in "good hands!"
Tight End: A season filled with injury and inconsistent play caused the Raiders to jettison the slightly over-paid Kevin Boss. This leaves three as-yet unproven players to take over the starting job.
Brandon Myers has been with the team his entire career, but has been behind Boss and Zach Miller. This prevented him from getting his shot at being "the guy." Second year man David Ausberry was a wide receiver in college, but has shown tremendous play-making ability and Richard Gordon is young and extremely raw.
Can Myers seize his opportunity and rise up to the starting role? Will Ausberry learn how to block well enough to get his explosiveness on the field, or will Gordon surprise the world and become what most expected of him when he was drafted out of Miami? Will McKenzie bring in a rookie to compete for a job?
There are also some decent tight ends projected to go in the later rounds of the draft. George Bryan of North Carolina is a mountain of a man with some solid skills, James Hanna from Oklahoma has riduculous speed, but is projected as a late seventh rounder and Brian Linthicum of Michigan is very balanced but lacks some speed and agility.
This battle may come down to which player develops the best chemistry with Palmer and is able to absorb the new Greg Knapp offense. Raiders fans should take notice in the pre-season to see which of these players emerge as the starter.
Right Tackle: Khalif Barnes has been re-signed to a lower salary, but his starting job on the right side is anything but guaranteed. Second year player Joseph Barksdale is likely to push Barnes for playing time.
Barnes is closing in on the end of his career and Barksdale is an up-and-coming player with something to prove. Coming from college powerhouse Louisiana State, Barksdale played well in spot duty last season at right guard—replacing fellow rookie Stefen Wisniewski when he was forced to move to center to cover for the oft-injured Samson Satele who is no longer with the team.
Barksdale started at right tackle in the S.E.C. beginning in his sophomore year and no player even challenged his job in his three years in the starting line up. Joeseph is a great technician with excellent fundamentals. Barnes better bring his A-game if he wants to keep his job because beating out a young and hungry Barksdale is not going to be easy by any stretch.
The cliche' "winning starts up front" is no joke, so this position battle is critical and could make or break the Raiders' season. Fans should pay close attention.
To Close: Every year teams go through this process, but with all the changes atop the Raiders' food-chain, things are bound to have an element of the unknown for Raider Nation as training camp and the pre-season grow closer and closer. Fans should pay particular attention to these five positions because they will be invaluable to the success of the Raiders in 2012.
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