Oakland Raiders Training Camp: 6 Critical Questions
John Doublin – Jul 24, 2012
The long, boring off-season is almost over! In less than a week, the Oakland Raiders will report to training camp to begin their preparation for the 2012 NFL season. Players will report, coaches will plan and Raider Nation will finally have something to talk about!
There are changes aplenty for the Raiders in this, their 53rd annual football campaign. Aside from usual offseason comings and goings of players, there are new coaches to adjust to and a new camp location for the Silver and Black.
Perhaps the biggest change is the fact that there will be no sightings of a white jogging suit as this marks the first time in over 40 years that Al Davis will not be patrolling the sidelines at practice.
A "New Era" indeed.
Through all of these changes, the players will be competing for their football lives. Some will be just what coaches and fans expected and are not in danger of losing their jobs. Some players will be much better than expected and win themselves a spot on the final 53 man roster, while others will surprise coaches and fans by being much worse than expected and will find themselves looking for work elsewhere.
With all that said, what should Raider Nation be aware of when reading camp reports? The fans have questions and what follows are only five of the most intriguing, in no particular order of importance.
1. Who will start at right tackle? Khalif Barnes started at this position last year and had moments of solid play as well as moments of complete ineptitude. Having been initially acquired to play left tackle, Barnes suffered an injury that cost him that job to Mario Henderson in 2009. An inability to adjust to playing the right side relegated him to the bench in 2010 following the emergence of then rookie, Jared Veldheer.
2012 saw Barnes become the most penalized offensive player the Raiders had. It seemed he couldn't remember the snap count from the huddle to the line and struggled mightily against quality speed rushers.
Enter Joe Barksdale. The three year starter at LSU saw spot duty at left guard when Samson Satele would get nicked up, forcing star rookie Stefen "Wiz 2.0" Wisniewski to move to center. Barksdale played pretty well there, but right tackle is his natural position. Expect him to push Barnes extremely hard for the starting job on the right side of the line.
If you throw rookie Dan Knapp and veterans Kevin Haslam and Ed Wang into the mix, you have yourself a bonafied "position battle" at right tackle.
2. Who will be the fourth and fifth wide receivers? One can assume the top three wide receiver spots are locked down by Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford. Regardless of the order, they are the top three at this point.
The recent trade of 2010 start Louis Murphy has fans thinking that all the hype surrounding rookies Juron Criner and Rod Streater is true. Both have shined in mini-camp and rookie-camp, but that is by no means a guarantee of making the team.
If you consider that Oakland currently has eight wide receivers not named Heyward-Bey, Moore or Ford competing for what is most likely a minimum of two and a maximum of three open spots on the roster, this could be a hard-fought, highly-competitive battle to watch in waning days of July and into August.
Eddie McGee, Travionte Session, Thomas Mayo, Brandon Carswell, Derek Carrier and Duke Calhoun will be giving their all to make life difficult on Criner and Streater.
3. Can Brandon Myers be a starter? Myers enters 2012 as the most experienced, most complete player at the tight end position for the first time in his career. With no Zach Miller and no Kevin Boss to compete with anymore, Myers will start camp as "the guy" at tight end. Can he keep that title?
The player Myers should be most concerned about is David Ausberry. The second-year, former USC wide receiver has bulked up considerably, (to 265 pounds) and has shown the willingness to put in the time and learn the position. He is a much more dangerous receiving threat than Myers, but his blocking skills are nowhere near as good.
Richard Gordon, on the other hand, is a tremendous blocker, but tends to suffer from the "dropsies" on occasion. If one could combine Ausberry's play-making ability with Gordon's blocking skill, Myers would be out of a job for sure. Good thing for Brandon, that can't be done.
In the mix, (but not really) are Boise State rookie Kyle Efaw and four-year veteran Tory Humphrey. Barring some catastrophic injury, these young men will find themselves either on the practice squad or cut from the team.
4. Can Terrell Pryor beat out Matt Leinart for the backup job? It's virtually impossible for either Leinart or Pryor to beat out Carson Palmer for the starting job, which leaves them battling each other for the No. 2 spot. Has training with former Raiders' MVP Rich Gannon taught Pryor enough to move up the depth chart?
Pryor's advantages are all physical: He's younger, more athletic and has a bigger arm than Leinart. Meanwhile, Leinart has the experience and a relationship with both Palmer and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Leinart was Palmers backup at USC and he played for Knapp in Houston last season.
Neither of these men will be cut—both will make the team. The only real question is: Which one will be holding the clipboard and wearing the headset, and which one will be looking over the other's shoulder on the sideline?
This is most likely Leinart's job to lose—or is it Pryor's to seize? Only time will tell, but Raider Nation is hoping they'll never see the backup on the field after the regular season starts.
5. What happens if Rolando McClain is suspended? At the moment, McClain's eligibility is up in the air. The appeal of his assault and menacing charges have not yet been heard by a jury and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has yet hand down a suspension or any other disciplinary action.
Assuming McClain will be unavailable when the season starts, (or is suspended mid-season) the middle linebacker spot will need to be filled. Right now, it appears that third-year ASU Sun Devil Travis Goethel is next in line to assume the "Mike" responsibilities. That is assuming he can remain healthy—a feat he has not yet accomplished.
Below Goethel on the depth chart is undrafted rookie Nathan Stupar. That's it! Depth at middle linebacker is thin, to say the least. Many fans are clamoring for the Raiders to add a veteran free agent like E.J. Henderson, and rightfully so.
If McClain does miss time, another option would be to have Aaron Curry move back inside where he played at Wake Forest and allow impressive rookie Miles Burris to start outside, replacing Curry there. However, that would simply move the depth problems from inside to outside.
It's a big decision for the coaching staff and front office to make and Raider Nation will just have to wait and see how it plays out.
6. How will all the changes affect team chemistry? Mr. Davis is gone, camp is in a new location, a new head coach will expect different things, new position coaches will communicate in different ways, new coordinators will be installing new systems and new general manager Reggie McKenzie will be watching every move the players make.
This can be good and bad, depending upon how the players react to it. On one hand, learning all the new names, plays and practice procedures may leave no time for players to worry about petty disputes with teammates. On the other hand, perhaps there will be no time for players to get to know one another and chemistry won't form.
It will be incumbent on the coaches to see to it that the players are focused on their job and not on what other teammates are saying or doing. It will be the job of the veterans, like Richard Seymour, Michael Huff and Carson Palmer to ensure that players respect each other and to see to it that those critical bonds between teammates are formed.
This could be the single most important distinction between the Raiders winning and losing in 2012. The players must trust and respect one another and have to be willing to play hard for their teammates. Without chemistry, that isn't possible.
To close: These six questions are, by no means, the only questions Raider Nation should be looking to answer in training camp. They are however, some of the most important.
Whatever is decided and however things work out, Raider Nation will be watching closely, as they should be—as the most knowledgeable, most passionate fan base in all of professional sports always is.
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