Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oakland Raiders 2009 Training Camp Battles

There will be several positional battles in the Oakland worth watching. It is way too early to start making predictions as to what will happen without attaching the phrase “until proven otherwise” to it.

It appears that the Raiders will have a nice mix of youth and veterans and almost every spot. The first mini-camp of the year gave us all a glimpse of the new players. The main thing it did was give the coaching staff a chance to play with their new toys.

You can’t come away from it with any definitive answers, it is premature to do so but with that being said some people did. Look forward to one of the most competitive training camps you’ve seen as the team works toward respectability. Coach Tom Cable is prepared to right the ship and lead the team in the right direction.

Here are some of the highly anticipated training camp battles to look forward to:

LT Mario Henderson vs. Kalif Barnes
Mario Henderson played well in the opportunities that he had last year. In my opinion he should’ve started the remainder of the season after the week 2 game in Kansas City. He had a prominent role in all of the Raiders five wins last season. He earned the right to be the starter of the left side. Barnes was brought in to challenge him, he will have the opportunity to compete for the starting job but it is Henderson’s job and it will be up to him to remain the starter or lose it to Barnes. There is also a good chance that the loser starts on the right side.

RT Cornell Green vs. Erik Pears, Kalif Barnes and James Marten
Cornell Green was the starter on the right side last season but did not play well and didn’t cause anyone to forget about Lincoln Kennedy. He was the starter on the right side in the team’s recent mini-camp but it isn’t a mystery to say that the Raiders really want someone to take that position from him. You’ll see a tremendous amount of competition at the position Kalif Barnes, Erik Pears and James Marten.

WR Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Johnnie Lee Higgins, Louis Murphy, Todd Watkins, Sammie Parker, Arman Shields
Al Davis wanted more targets with Raider speed for JaMarcus Russell to throw to. Al has his track team and a talented group of young receivers. The team has a total of 11 receivers on the roster right now. Obviously several won’t make the roster but more than likely five or six will the number of receivers carried on the roster. I’ll use a wait and see approach with this statement but I don’t think that Javon Walker will be on the active roster. He appears to be ready to go on I.R. Look for a talented young group of wide outs that will be able to make plays all over the field. You’ll see a few of the other receiver’s factor into the return game.

SLB Ricky Brown vs. Frantz Joseph, David Nixon
This position and the DT position are the two most neglected positions on the team and have been for a while. The team has started Robert Thomas, Ricky Brown and Sam Williams at the position. Robert Thomas is no longer on the team, Ricky Brown has returned from injury and Sam Williams was re-signed.
The team needs to have a lot of competition at the position between Ricky Brown, Frantz Joseph and David Nixon. The team should come out of training camp two or three deep at the position.

MLB Kirk Morrison vs. Frantz Joseph
Kirk Morrison has the starter in the middle for a few years now. He has been the team’s leading tackler for years. However, too many of his tackles have been after the runner has gained substantial yardage. This isn’t a knock on him or his play nor is it a demotion and speaks more of the problems the team has had at the DT position.

Frantz Joseph is a talented player and if he can show in training camp that he can play in the middle it would be better for the team to move Kirk Morrison to the SLB position. He played the SLB when he came to the Raiders. One of the reasons he was drafted was his versatility and showing he can play all three linebacker positions. This would allow the team to have three solid young linebackers on the field at the same time.

Frantz Joseph is a very versatile 6’2” 243 lb. linebacker that can play all three of the positions. He has what is known as natural violence which is trademark for a solid linebacker, he has takes on blocks very well and shows a lot a desire, effort, instincts and playmaking ability he has the ability to change the culture of a defense.

LDE Jay Richardson vs. Derrick Gray, Matt Shaughnessy, Stryker Sulak and Desmond Bryant
The team added depth at the position selecting three players at the position in the draft and one as an un-drafted free agent. All of the players mentioned won’t make the roster but this group will have brought healthy competition to the position. Jay Richardson is in his third year but hasn’t seized the position. Derrick Gray was an un-drafted player that came off of the practice squad last year. It appears that players were brought in to compete with and will have the opportunity to beat out Jay Richardson. Expect the team to come out of training camp two or three players deep at the position while the remainder will have a chance to make the team on special teams.

RDE Derrick Burgess vs. Trevor Scott, Greyson Gunheim, Slade Norris
Derrick Burgess is the starter and he is in a contract year so I fully expect him to have a good year but it all depends on him remaining healthy and injury free. Perhaps the team can use him more on passing downs as oppose to running plays to keep him healthy. Trevor Scott had a great first year and made an impact as a sixth round draft choice with five sacks. Greyson Gunheim came off of the practice squad to contribute and show the coaching staff what he could do. The unknown factor right now is Slade Norris he played both Defensive End and Linebacker in college right now he is being penciled in as a developmental pass rusher. Expect the team to come out of training camp three or four deep at the position.

TE Zack Miller vs. Tony Stewart, Darrel Strong, Branden Myers, Chris O’Neill and John Paul Foschi
Zack Miller is the unquestioned starter the reason this position is put down as a position that will have a training camp battle is due to the fact that Zack Miller is recovering from sports hernia surgery. He is scheduled to be ready for training camp but it also appears that the Raiders will run more two tight-end sets which will help improve the running game and provide more pass protection while allowing Zack Miller to be more involved in the passing game.

Brandon Myers was drafted for his size & blocking ability. Chris O’Neill is a talented player that is an excellent receiver and a decent blocker. The Raiders brought back veteran John Paul Foschi who was with the team from 2004-2006, he played fullback, tight end and on special teams. He is an excellent blocker and a good receiver over the middle and on the seam routes.

The article isn’t going to predict the Raiders regular season record either. The goal of this article is to point out a few of the training camp battles that will go down in Oakland, Ca.

I want to be realistic and with that concept in mind first things first I want to see the Oakland Raiders play better, be more consistent, show improvement and be far more competitive. These are all attainable goals for the team.

Al Davis wanted his track team at the wide receiver position and he has it. As a matter of fact the team’s got the height, weight, speed combination that they’re at every position with the exception of the offensive line & defensive tackle position where you need more power than speed.

Speed does you no good in the middle. Speaking of the middle the Raiders didn’t draft any defensive tackles which I didn’t agree with but it wasn’t my decision to make. This means that the team will count on the current players at the position and these guys have to get the job done or this will be the main need area in the 2010 draft.

New Defensive Coordinator John Marshall will not talk to the media but word has gotten out through Head Coach Tom Cable that the team will address their issues against the run with scheme and technique as well as that the team wants to be more aggressive on defense.

That could mean several things, however, try this on for size the Raiders playing multiple fronts. The Raiders are focusing alot on fundamentals, making sure players are in the right position. They're also adding a lot of pressure packages but focusing on the fundamentals, teaching them and coaching them is a welcome sign.

Keeping the 4-3 as their base defensive look but also showing a 3-4 look. I know some might scoff when that statement is read but a good way to mask the issues at DT is playing with less of them.

To be successful in the 3-4 you need a NT who is big enough to demand a double-team block as well as one willing to sacrifice himself and his body for the good of the team. I don’t feel that the team has that right now but the hope is that Terdell Sands can be a stop gap toward say a Terrance Cody next year.

The next step would be having the necessary linebackers to pull it off. This is all speculation but imagine this if you will: LDE Desmond Bryant, NT Terdell Sands, RDE Tommy Kelly, LOLB Thomas Howard, LILB Kirk Morrison, RILB Frantz Joseph, ROLB David Nixon, LCB Nnamdi Asomugha, RCB Chris Johnson, FS Hiram Eugene, and SS Mike Mitchell.

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