Despite the fact that the Raiders are far from having a full house at camp, things seem to be shaping up. The primary areas in question have been the offensive line and the secondary. And after three practices, we are getting a much better idea of who the coaches like in those areas.
On the offensive line, the first team looks like this: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Daniel Loper, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Cooper Carlisle, RT Joseph Barksdale.
Veldheer and Carlisle are returning starters and will remain as such until further notice.
Many, including me, thought the team might be moving on from Carlisle at right guard, but early indications suggest quite the opposite. Until another lineman can step up and take the job, he will remain as such. The main thing now is getting his cap number down from $2.5 million.
Veldheer was the starter by midseason last year and looks to be holding it down now as well. The team looked into the possibility of signing free agent Jared Gaither but it fell through because he is not completely healthy and failed his physical. So it is still Veldheer’s job.
Loper was the expected starter to replace the departed Robert Gallery at left guard. He filled in admirably for Gallery last season and received a decent extension because of it.
Stefen Wisniewski was also pegged as the starter long ago. The moment he was drafted, Hue Jackson made no bones about Wiz kid being “the next great Raider center.”
Joseph Barksdale is playing right tackle mainly by default. That is not a knock on Barksdale, it is simply the truth because the only other right tackles in practice are undrafted free agents. Khalif Barnes re-signed but he can’t practice until August 4 like the rest of the newly re-signed players.
The undrafted free agent rookies have been getting a lot of work while there are so few offensive linemen. Aaron Pelc had a frustrating day. He was taken down by Kamerion Wimbley on one play and then a bit later got in a scuffle with Tommy Kelly.
Pelc wasn’t alone in his struggles though. Veldheer was beaten by Matt Shaughnessy several times and on one play Wisniewski was twice pushed well into the Raider backfield by John Henderson. Those kinds of plays are learning opportunities, though, so they can end up being a good thing.
The other area that seems to be shaping up is the secondary.
With Nnamdi’s departure, we already know that Chris Johnson will be the starter opposite Stanford Routt. What we didn’t know is that he would step up so quickly. For the third straight day, he was the best corner on the field. If he keeps this up, Raider fans will forget about Nnamdi pretty quickly.
The safety position continues to be manned by Mike Mitchell at strong safety and Tyvon Branch at free safety, though Stevie Brown continues to make plays and eventually it could be difficult to keep him out of the lineup.
Another thing to consider is that almost no interest has been shown in Michael Huff as a free agent. This could signal his return to the Raiders as his best option. He could come back as a starter or be relegated to backup depending on the play of Branch and Brown. It looks like despite the nice contract that Hiram Eugene received, he is no more likely to start than he was before signing.
Now that the players are in pads, we will get a better indication of who among the Raiders’ young corners will shake out as the nickel. It is nearly impossible to say who will win the job this early on. The contenders are last year’s rookies Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden and new rookies Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa.
Chekwa in particular went off the field in practice today with what looked like a serious injury to his shoulder. Hue Jackson said it wasn’t serious but we will take a wait and see approach and let you know how he is looking tomorrow or even if he is practicing. It would be a shame if he has any serious damage this early on.
Others who looked good today were WR Chaz Schilens, RB Darren McFadden and LB Rolando McClain. Schilens played the way we know he is capable but rarely see because he is so often injured. McClain is becoming a more vocal leader and is much more comfortable calling plays for the defense. Darren McFadden always looks good in practice. Hue Jackson was very happy with what he saw from him and was very vocal about it.