The news these days for the Raiders has been mostly about who is not here. Namely, all of their big name free agents. But today, there was a momentary rush of excitement when free agent offensive tackle Jared Gaither was seen checking into the team hotel.
The sighting happened around 2:00pm and instantly the media was in a frenzy. Gaither’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, soon tweeted that his client had not signed a contract. But no one was buying it. Then everyone anxiously awaited an official announcement that never came.
The only announcement was that there wasn’t one to be made. Hue Jackson said that Gaither was just stopping by for a visit. He would go on to say that the Raiders are checking Gaither out to see if he is indeed fully recovered from his back surgery. Said Hue Jackson, “There’s a question of health, and we’re going to do everything that we need to do to make sure that we know exactly where he is.”
They aren’t looking to rush and sign Gaither to a big contract (a la Javon Walker) only to find out he will never be fully healthy. They would also prefer not to give Gaither a big contract if they can help it. Having Veldheer at left tackle gives them the luxury not to overpay for Gaither.
If Gaither turns out to be healthy in the eyes of the Raiders, they would have a proven commodity at left tackle. And if Veldheer could successfully make a switch to right tackle, that would be a tremendous relief for a team that has not been solid at the tackle positions for a very, very long time. Their record over that span is evidence of that.
The other position in which the Raiders had gone many years without a solid player is strong side linebacker. When the team traded for Kamerion Wimbley last offseason, he instantly fixed that long standing problem. Now the team must sign him long term, not only to keep him around as a valuable part of this rebuilt defense, but to drastically lower his $11.8 million cap number this season.
Wimbley said on Friday that he and the Raiders are hard at work to get that contract done and we can expect to hear the news that he will be locked in long term by as early as Saturday.
Even if Wimbley signs on Saturday, he along with several other Raider free agents will not be able to practice until August 4. That includes restricted recently re-signed Jarvis Moss and Jon Condo, free agent Michael Bush, exclusive franchise tendered Marcel Reece, and all unrestricted free agents.
Four of those unrestricted free agents signed with other teams Friday. Nnamdi Asomugha and Jonnie Lee Higgins both signed with the Eagles. Robert Gallery signed with the Seahawks and Thomas Howard signed with the Bengals. Gallery and Howard had agreed to terms prior to that, it just became official on Friday.
The most important unrestricted free agent is Zach Miller for whom a new deal has yet to be made official.
The Raiders have been practicing at a breakneck pace in these first two days of practice, partially because there are no more two-a-days and partially because that is just how Hue Jackson wants it. Tom Cable was known for having a more laid back approach to practice.
Raider practices so far have had a lot of enthusiasm and yelling from all the coaches, most notably Jackson, Al Saunders, and Chuck Bresnahan. They may have a patchwork offensive line along with several other positions, but they are getting their work in.
Players who have stood out are Louis Murphy, Stanford Routt, and Chris Johnson.
Murphy has been the most consistent catching the ball thus far in camp. He was the lone bright spot among a Raider receiving corps that had a case of the dropsies today — and that is with ‘Drops Hella-Balls’ still watching from the sideline.
Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson stood out for different reasons. Johnson looked solid in his new/old starting role. Routt was getting burnt both days and Murphy was the culprit often times. Today Routt was called for pass interference on Murphy.
Rookie round seven pick, David Ausberry, worked at tight end where he is expected to line up despite being listed as a wide receiver. He played wide receiver his first three seasons at USC before switching to tight end as a senior. He too dropped a lot of passes today along with fellow rookie tight end Richard Gordon. But Gordon is considered a blocking tight end. Ausberry must catch the ball well to make this team. That is why he is here. I maintain that he will see the practice squad this season as a developmental player.
The offensive line will not start to take shape until August 4 for sure because many of last year’s offensive linemen are free agents. OT Mario Henderson, OT Langston Walker, OT Khalif Barnes, and C Samson Satele are not here and it remains to be seen which of them will be back, if any. Then Bruce Campbell has been watching from the sidelines as he didn’t pass his physical due to injury. He wore an ice pack on his knee after practice.
The absences have allowed a lot of rookies to get good work in, work that could land a few of them a job. For instance, undrafted free agent Ben Lamaak played at left tackle and right guard at different times in practice.
Speaking of undrafted free agents, the Raiders added one more on Friday, offensive tackle Cody Habben out of the University of Washington. He was brought in late if for no other reason than to have another body on the offensive line until the team can either re-sign or replace their free agents.
Padded practice starts tomorrow so the hits will really start happening. Also with all the players who have been cut in recent days, expect a busy day in free agency.