Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Most Intriguing Training Camp Battles

The NFL’s offseason is almost over. Several free agents have changed teams, and the draft choices have settled in with the respective teams, learning their role on the team.

This is the time of the year that NFL teams put in a tremendous amount of work, focusing on installing their system, coaching philosophies, developing chemistry, and coming together as a team.

The Oakland Raiders will yield several improvements due to this being the second year in the system for the majority of the team.

A solid move by head coach Lane Kiffin was to send the message to everyone on the team that you need to always work hard and practice at game speed. The message that there are no scholarship players so to speak. He made sure that everyone knew that they were all competing for a position.

Every team in the league is working on improving, and the Raiders are no different.

You can’t get away from the basics of the game, which are a strong defensive and offensive line, blocking, tackling, and hitting. These fundamentals never go out of style and are the main areas of improvement.

We’re three weeks away from the start of training camp, and this article will focus on some of the most intriguing positional training-camp battles.

The majority of the major media, when speaking of the Oakland Raiders, has inundated us fans with the same tired drag about how bad the offensive line is, which isn’t exactly true.

Every Raiders fan thought that the draft would yield at least one offensive lineman, and since that didn’t happen, the media went into their “what are the Raiders doing" mode.

The offensive line was able to turn the corner, make several strides, and become one of the bright spots on the team last season. Bringing in offensive line coach Tom Cable, essentially at the 2007 scouting combine, was a huge hire for Kiffin and the Raiders.

They have an excellent working relationship. He previously worked on the same staff as offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.

He is perfect for the two back, run-oriented offense the Kiffin ran. He installed his version of the zone-blocking scheme, which made the offensive line very productive.

This move allowed the Raiders to average 130.4 yards rushing per game, which was sixth in the NFL. The Raiders also were beneficiaries of a 31-sack improvement from the last season.

Robert Gallery and Cooper Carlisle had excellent seasons at the guard positions. You need athletic guards in the zone-blocking scheme and both played well.

Robert Gallery showed a tremendous amount of promise inside, and he is on his way to shedding the title of bust as the No. 2 overall selection in the 2004 draft. The starting guard tandem allowed two combined sacks for a loss of six yards.

Everyone is competing for a spot on the roster and for the starting job. Things can always change during a competition due to the uncertainty of who will win the matchup. Going into training camp, these are the most intriguing training-camp battles, in my opinion.

Offensive Tackle

As it stands right now, the left tackle spot is Kwame Harris' position to lose. In a roundabout way, the '49ers and Raiders exchanged left tackles. The right tackle spot appears to remain in Cornell Green’s hands.

The team wants Mario Henderson to win the job, but he needs to make a dramatic turnaround. The intriguing factor will be finding out if Paul McQuistan can win the right tackle spot. LT Kwame Harris' backup appears to be Seth Wand. If Brown falters, Wand could end up starting.

Wand excels at run blocking, and he has experience starting at LT from his time with the Texans. Mark Wilson and Jonathan Palmer will also compete for playing time.


As it stands right now, 11th-year veteran John Wade was signed this offseason to be the starting center after Jeremy Newberry headed to San Diego.

He is aggressive, has long arms, and is competitive, and he plays with good instincts and can play all three line positions.

The intrigue would depend on how much Chris Morris has developed and the outcome of the battle between Wade, Morris, and Grove.


As it stands right now, Justin Griffith is the starter. He is an effective blocker, a deadly cut-blocker, and an accomplished receiver. He is considered small for a FB, weighing in at 230 lbs.

The battle at this position comes with the development of Oren O’Neal, who will continue to garner playing time. As a sixth-round draft pick in 2007, many didn’t expect him to even make the team.

The 245-pound athlete did just that, and he showed that he is an accomplished lead blocker.

Wide Receiver

This position wasn’t as productive as it shouldn’t been in 2007, mostly caused by the multiple starting quarterbacks. That won’t be the case this year, as JaMarcus Russell will be the starter from day one.

Following the team's last Organized Team Activity, Javon Walker, Ronald Curry, and Drew Carter were one, two, and three on the depth chart.

The intrigue comes from the other wide receivers that have the opportunity to earn a roster spot: Todd Watkins, Chaz Schilens, Johnnie Lee Higgins, and Arman Shields.

More than likely, two of these three will earn roster spots, unless the Raiders carry six receivers. Shields has been out injured and missed a lot of practice time. Hopefully he will be healthy at the start of training camp.

Higgins has been inconsistent; having good days and bad days, and Schilens has a good size/speed combination and has shown good hands, which has earned him a slight edge over Shields.

Hopefully, Javon Walker has recovered from the robbery attempt that resulted in a fractured orbital bone and broken jaw, otherwise some changes might have to be made.

Other receivers might find an opportunity to earn a roster spot. This will be one of the best training-camp battles to watch.

Defensive End

As it stands right now, Derrick Burgess and Jay Richardson appear to be the starters. As far as Derrick Burgess goes, he is entrenched as the starter at left end. The battle will be the competition for the spot at right end.

Jay Richardson’s name is penciled in as the starter, but that could change. The Raiders brought in veterans Kalimba Edwards and Greg Spires.

Richardson did a good job as a base end against the run, but he didn’t get after the passer with any frequency. He has been working hard at improving on that area this offseason.

The Raiders are the fourth team for Greg Spires, who was drafted by the Patriots in the third round of the 1998 draft. He plays smart and understands blocking angles. He does a very good job of not letting blockers get into his body.

He has a variety of pass-rush moves and does a good job of setting up blockers. His instincts, intelligence, and aggressiveness make him a good fit for the Raiders.

He started on the left side for the Bucs from 2002-2007. He has played on top tier defenses from 2002-2005.

The 10-year veteran has chalked up 39.5 career sacks and has forced 11 fumbles.

Kalimba Edwards is a seventh-year player that has shown promise but has yet to put it all together. He will function as a situational or third-down pass rusher until he proves himself otherwise.

He is what you would call a low risk but potentially high-reward guy to add to the DE rotation. The Raiders are very high on Trevor Scott, a 2008 sixth-round pick. He has the edge speed the Raiders have been looking for.

Strong-Side Linebacker

As it stands right now, Robert Thomas is the starter and has beaten out Sam Williams the last couple of years. Sam Williams has been solid on special teams but has never developed into the playmaker the team expected.

He is a gifted athlete with an excellent combination of size and speed, but he has yet to develop as a football player.

Thomas has been adequate at the position and has played well in goal-line situations, but it is time for a change.

The intrigue here depends on if MLB Ed Hartwell has recovered from the injuries that have slowed him since he left Baltimore. If Hartwell is healthy, and can man the MLB spot, that would shift Kirk Morrison to be a bigger playmaker on the strong side.


Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall are the clear-cut starters, forming one of the league's best cornerback tandems. Stanford Routt is the nickel corner, but the fight will come into play for the fourth and fifth corners adding depth at the position.

This battle will be between Chris Johnson, John Bowie, and Darrick Brown. Chris Johnson earned playing time last year, and the coaches love his speed and special-teams play.

John Bowie is the player drafted with the pick for Randy Moss; he was active just once last year. Darrick Brown is a 6’3” 200 lb. undrafted free agent. He is extremely athletic and not afraid to support the run.

He was an All-District running back in high school, rushing for 2,200 yards in his career. He is the athletic type of player that many coaches want to develop for the secondary.

More than likely, two will earn roster spots, and the other is a candidate for the practice squad or one of the first-team cuts.


As it stands right now, Gibril Wilson and Michael Huff are the starters. The intrigue here will be at the reserve safety positions or depth at the positions. This battle will be between Tyvon Branch and Hiram Eugene.

Tyvon Branch was a corner in college that was converted into a strong safety. He has the look of a fast and aggressive sure-tackling safety that will make an impact this year, both on special teams and early as a kick returner, and even in kick coverage, and in the secondary later in the year. Hiram Eugene played in five games last year.

I would like to see the undrafted free agents OG Brandon Rodd, DE Greyson Gunheim, LB Malik Jackson, WR/TE Marcel Reece, and DT/DE Tranell Morant compete and make a strong push for a spot on the roster.

No comments: