Some thoughts about what to make of the first day of Raiders 2013 training camp.
-Starting Battles: A lot of training camp is about who is standing out but it’s obviously too quick to say much for the first day. However, if this year’s coaching staff is similar to last year’s, a lot can be gleaned from who starts practices. Last year’s coaching staff hardly changed the starting lineup from the beginning to the end of camp. Here’s a look at a few of the positions.
QB: Matt Flynn got the first team snaps and, by all accounts, aquitted himself well. He threw mostly short and medium balls with some deeper crossing routes and showed good timing with the top four receivers – Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Jacoby Ford and Juron Criner.
While Flynn didn’t have a spectacular throwing day, he was very solid, having only one incompletion on 7 on 7 drills. He was much more accurate than his competitors.
Terrelle Pryor was, as is typical for him, streaky – with some great throws but also some bad throws including one that bounced well before the intended receiver and another that was intercepted.
Rookie Tyler Wilson, who many think may make a push for the starting spot, had a very bad 7 on 7 drill, having three of his passes intercepted in four throws. The fourth was also close to being intercepted but was instead knocked away.
Practices like this only solidify Flynn's hold on the starting spot as the other two will need to clearly out-shine Flynn to unseat him as the starter. Neither did so on day one of camp.
LB: With last year’s starting WLB, Miles Burris, still sidelined after having offseason knee surgery, there are four linebackers competing for the three starting spots in the Raiders base 4-3 alignment. The MLB position has the least competition, with former Bears linebacker Nick Roach having no real push.
Sio Moore, who played some WLB in minicamps earlier this year, was put at the SLB position, a position that I feel is a better fit for him. He has the size and speed to be able to stay with linebackers and the strength to be able to anchor the strong side of the formation on run plays.
The starting snaps on the weak side were split – former Browns LB Kaluka Maiva opened camp as the starting WLB, but gave way to veteran Kevin Burnett while the first team was still out. Those two may rotate in throughout the season, with Burnett being a bit more stout against the run but Maiava likely playing on passing downs, at the least.
LG: One of the more interesting competitions is at LG where second-year players Tony Bergstrom and Lucas Nix are battling for the starting position. They switched off taking first-team reps throughout the off-season but Nix got the starting nod on Friday’s opening camp. Is this a sign he has the leg up moving forward? We will see, but I can’t but think it’s a good sign for Nix and a bad one for Bergstrom.
-Injuries: One of the hardest balances for every team to strike is how to prepare its players while avoiding injury. The Raiders have taken a conservative approach to this, keeping players that are borderline out of the action so as to let them recover.
First-round selection DJ Hayden was on the field after having a NFI injury designation for less than a day but he wore a red jersey signifying he was not supposed to be contacted by other players in drills. The team is trying to be cautious with the rookie because he has not played football since suffering an injury in practice that disconnected an artery around his heart.
While Hayden practiced in a reduced role, some players were not able to get onto the field. That also included second-round pick Menelik Watson, who was given a NFI designation that may be for not being in proper shape.
Also with an injury, DT Pat Sims was riding an exercise bicycle for the first camp session and he was put on a PUP list at the end of the day. His injury is unknown at this time although head coach Dennis Allen said the injury occurred recently and that he didn’t know when either Sims or Watson would be able to practice.
-New Faces: The team has had a large amount of turnover last season and this year’s squad looks to be much different as well.
The linebacker corps is completely made over this year, with all 3 starting spots likely going to new faces. The defensive tackle position has been turned-over, too. The QB position has only Terrelle Pryor as a returning player and there are many more examples.
The Raiders recent mantra has been to have as much competition at every position as they can get so that the best players will rise up and take the starting roles. The Raiders are not as deep as they’d like at any position, but they are continually trying to build depth.
To that end, the Raiders worked out and then signed OG/C Andre Gurode yesterday. Gurode, who has a history of knee issues that has not allowed him to play much in recent years, is a former 5-time Pro Bowler with the Dallas Cowboys and has a lot of experience at Center, also being able to play at either guard position.
I do not believe that Gurode is likely to earn a starting role but I do think that he will make the final squad, if he can make it through training camp with his health. Gorude is an ideal backup in that he’s versatile, has starting experience and can perform at a high level as long as he’s not hurt and he’s much likely to be healthy as a backup, not taking the every-Sunday beating.