-One of the biggest differences due to the changes in regime this year versus the last 50 years is the amount of information allowed to media. Gone is the “penalty box” in which media must stay during practices. Media is now allowed to range up and down the field. This allows different perspectives from varied vantage points, which is all the better for the fans.
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, the top dog around Alameda these days (at least in football matters) is also much more open to talking to media than was Mr. Davis. McKenzie took some time after practice Thursday to discuss his thoughts on the team and it’s future. There is a good article on that round table discussion here.
-OTAs and minicamp have largely been dominated by the offense but Thursday’s practice was not. Interceptions are still proving to be elusive but at least the defense was making plays and stopping the offense.
S Curtis Taylor mistimed a jump and DVD dropped passes that would have resulted in an interceptions of Leinart. Nathan Stupar did intercept Leinart. Conroy Black and Miles Burris both dropped would be interceptions of Pryor passes.
there were also some good pass defections and solid coverage. Underwood had a good pass deflected on Pryor and Shawntae Spencer had a solid deflection on a Palmer pass.
Finally, much maligned MLB Rolando McClain had a good day in coverage, causing 2 or 3 incomplete passes by being in proper position to make passes difficult.
-It wasn’t all defense, though, and the offense had their moments as well. Camp standouts Rod Streater and Juron Criner continued to make plays. Streater beat S Michael Huff for a nice TD in which he shielded the ball from Huff to make the reception. He also had a good reception in which he showed good awareness near the sideline and toe-tapped for a nice completion.
Criner came down with a great TD from Pryor where he was able to go up for the pass over DVD who was in position. He also had a nice sideline grab early in practice.
-TE continues to be a good battle as there is no clear cut favorite and many of the players continue to make plays. David Ausberry had a really amazing over the shoulder, one handed TD reception a day after Richard Gordon made some big plays in camp. Gordon was running first team on Thursday while Brandon Myers sat out practice.
-Rod Streater has had good camp but hasn’t made as many of the amazing receptions that fellow rookie Juron Criner has in OTAs and camp. So, it was somewhat of a surprise that, when starter Denarius Moore came down with a hamstring injuy, that Streater moved into the starting lineup over Juron Criner.
After considering, it seems like it may simply be a matter of which receiver position the rookies are likely to back-up. Criner, like Darrius Heyward-Bey is more of an X receiver – he’s a big bodied, physical receiver who will line up on the line of scrimmage and expect that the defensive back opposite him will try to jam him at the line. If Heyward-Bey had been the injured receiver, I’m guessing that Criner would have been the player tabbed to play in his stead.
Streater appears to be more groomed for the backup Z receiver or flanker role that Moore plays. The Z receiver is off the line of scrimmage and therefore is likely to face press coverage by the corner opposite him. Streater is a big body himself but has shown good explosive ability and can get lateral as well, which is important for the flanker position.
If anything, Streater’s playing with the first team is more an indictment of Jacoby Ford than Criner. Ford has played outside in previous seasons but Streater’s playing with the first team indicates that the team likely prefers Ford in a slot role. Honestly, Ford is likely a better fit in the slot position than he is an outside receiver, anyway, where he can use his explosion like Wes Welker does with the Patriots and his size is less an issue.
-The offensive line has been the same throughout camp: LT Jared Veldheer, LG Cooper Carlisle, C Alex Parsons, RG Mike Brisiel and RT Khalif Barnes. Parsons is simply holding the Center position for Stefon Wizniewski who is injured until training camp. However, all 4 of the others have been starters in the league. Does that mean that these players are locked in as the starters come training camp? Not according to Reggie McKenzie. McKenzie weighed in on whether the players who were starting in camp would be the week 1 starters saying, “There is going to be some competition, people are going to get pushed, but to stay that people who started at this minicamp are going to be the starters Week 1, I couldn’t tell you that.
“Hopefully, the competition raises the level of the current starter and if not then the player pushing them wins the job,” he added. “To me, it’s all about playing the best man. I don’t want to predict, but I do like some of the backup guys pushing these guys.”
-Who might these backups be? Joseph Barksdale could really push Khalif Barnes at RT. Rookie Tony Bergstrom may push veteran Cooper Carlisle at LG but that’s less likely given Carlisle’s experience with the zone blocking system.
FB Owen Schmitt may be pushing Marcel Reece as he was with the first team offense on Thursday but it also may be a motivational ploy because Reece held out of OTAs until the minicamp. Reece is much more explosive and it certainly seems more likely that he will be the Raiders starting FB.
Otherwise, starting positions seem mostly set. QB depth is set. McFadden will be the starting running back, barring injury. The wide receiver corps has some shaking out, still, but it will consist of DHB, Moore, Ford, Criner and, in all likelyhood, Streater with one more player joining them. Moore and DHB seem likely to start, at least at the beginning of the season, barring injury. Tight end is still open competition but Palmer weighed in on Thursday saying he believes that Brandon Myers is likely to be the starter.
On the defensive side, there may be some competition at linebacker, but the first team has looked solid and the second team has a number of rookies who may hit a wall when more of the playbook is thrown at them in training camp. Ronald Bartell has looked good in camp and has a lot of experience, he seems likely to be one of the CBs with the other starting spot probably open for competition. The defensive line will rotate a lot but the starters will be Seymour, Kelly, Shaughnessy and Houston, it seems. Starting safeties will be Huff and Branch unless there’s a major upset.
-One final note: The Raiders running back corps looks very dynamic. When healthy, McFadden is one of the best backs in the league. 2nd year runner Taiwan Jones looks like the fastest player on a team full of fast players and can take the ball to the end zone everytime he sees open field. Mike Goodson has shown explosion to the hole, is a good zone blocking fit and has good speed. Each runner has their questions but they are a dynamic group. The last time Greg Knapp was offensive coordinator he had Justin Fargas as one of his best runners. Fargas was a good guy and a competitor but he doesn’t have the same level of skill as any of these rushers currently on the roster. It’s exciting to think what the Raiders will be able to do with the ground game this season.
For more Raiders news and analysis, follow me on Twitter @AsherMathews
(photo by Levi Damien)