The Raiders, along with most every other team in the NFL, started their organized team activities (OTAs) for 2013 today.
The team can boast better attendance at their OTAs than most, if not all, other teams as every player that could attend, did, on their 90-strong roster.
That’s not to say that every player practiced – one notable exception was newly signed WR/KR Joshua Cribbs, who is still healing from an injury he sustained in 2012. There were also two players – UDFA QB Kyle Patron and RB Deonte Williams – who weren’t allowed to come by NFL rules because their schools have yet to graduate.
Still, outside of those three, every player was out practicing today, a big accomplishment for coach Dennis Allen and his staff. One likely reason is because this year’s team, more so than any other year I can remember, has a lot of competition at a great many positions.
Here are some of the position battles to look forward to in the OTAs, mini-camps and training camps to come:
QB: Matt Flynn vs Terrelle Pryor vs Tyler Wilson – We’ll start with the biggest competition at the most important position on the field, starting QB. Most think that Matt Flynn will win this position but it’s anything but a lock. Pryor and Wilson also have their share of supporters.
Flynn is a physically limited veteran who knows how to prepare like a pro and understands the NFL game better than the other two. Pryor is the most physically gifted of the three but he shows inconsistent mechanics and his passes are erratic because of it. Wilson is a mix of the two, more physically gifted than Flynn and more fundamentally sound than Pryor but with less experience than both.
I also expect Flynn to win this and I expect that Pryor will be named backup QB to start the season, at least.
Slot WR: Jacoby Ford vs Joshua Cribbs vs Conner Vernon – The two vets, Ford and Cribbs, have the edge, here, as both have shown they can be productive and explosive on the field. In order to make the team, however, Ford has to show that he can remain healthy and Cribbs must regain his health from an injury in 2012.
Vernon, a multiple ACC record-breaking receiver from Duke, looked the most likely of the UDFA signings to make it to the final roster until the Raiders signed Cribbs.
It’s unlikely the Raiders keep all 3 of these guys, so it will be an interesting battle. Ford is probably the most explosive receiver of them, Cribbs and Ford are both great in the return game. Vernon isn’t nearly as fast as either of the others but he has great hands and showed a propensity for getting yards after the catch (YAC) in college.
My prediction is that Ford and Cribbs make the final squad with Vernon being a late cut and possible practice squad signing.
Right Tackle: Khalif Barnes vs Menelik Watson – The Raiders drafted imposing tackle Menelik Watson in the second round and usually second round players are guys you want to be able to plug into your starting lineup right away. However, on the first day of OTAs, the Raiders put last year’s starter, Khalif Barnes, in the first team reps.
This may be symbolic – that Watson must earn the starting spot over the seasoned vet – or it may simply mean that the Raiders don’t think that Watson – who is very athletic but very raw and new to the sport – is ready to start until he improves his technique.
It should be an intriguing battle and it could go either way but my prediction is that Barnes wins the start, for week one, at least.
Left Guard: Tony Bergstrom vs Lucas Nix vs ? – Bergstrom was the team’s starting LG for first-team reps today, which portends that he has the edge as of now to earn the starting spot. Bergstrom was drafted as a zone blocking RT out of Utah but the team hopes he can stand out as a guard in a man scheme in 2013.
Nix was an undrafted free agent that caught the coaching staff’s eye and made the camp as a backup in 2012. He could push for a starting spot in 2013 if he continues to grow.
The smart money here is Bergstrom, who was Reggie McKenzie’s first pick as a GM.
Punter: Marquette King vs Chris Kluwe – King, another UDFA find in 2012, was stashed by the team on their IR list, basically for the sole purpose of competing in 2013. Kluwe, a recent cut of the Minnesota Vikings, is a long-time productive veteran who was cut after the Vikes drafted his replacement in the fourth round of the draft.
King is inconsistent but he has a great leg and his kicks are difficult to field. Kluwe understands the nuances of the position but he doesn’t have the same physical abilities he did in his youth.
Punter may be the position that teams will look for consistency over a home-run talent to hone. Most coaches prefer their punters to hit it the same way and the same place every time so that the team can plan around where the ball will be. Kluwe is the likely pick, here, because his consistency will make him more desirable to Special Teams coach Bobby April.
More players may be added soon and the battles will continue well into the regular season as the Raiders attempt to dramatically improve over their four-win 2012 season. Check back in at TFDS as we follow the battles to bring you the news and analysis throughout the season.