The Oakland Raiders are about to begin their 2012 Training Camp in beautiful Napa Valley. This is the time to build the foundation for the upcoming season and these are six major points of interests for the coaching staff and the Raider Nation.
1. How is the chemistry between Carson Palmer and his Wide Receiver group?
After the departure of Louis Murphy, there are apparently only four WR spots considered as “locks” for the 53 man roster: Darrius Heyward- Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Juron Criner. Fighting for the one or two places left are Rod Streater, Duke Calhoun and Eddie McGee, with the other names seen as long shots. After being thrown to the wolves last year, Carson Palmer will be a different QB this season, now with a full off-season with the Raiders under his belt. But how will that impact the receiving core? If we add all the ages and league years of the names above, the average Raider receiver is 23.7 years old and has only 1.7 years of NFL experience. In order to get back to his high stat levels from 2005 to 2007, Palmer needs to be in sync with his targets, surpassing their inexperience and youth. The Camp practices should tell us if the veteran and the youngsters are on the same page.
2. Who is the main backup Running Back?
Darren McFadden clearly is the feature back for the Raiders. He’s a beast and could be considered the best RB in the NFL if healthy. But that’s a big ”if”, since “DMC” has never been able to play a full season, and was out for nine games last year. So the primary backup RB for the Raiders is an important position not only for change-of-pace purposes, but also because that player probably will be called to start a game (or games), even though we pray that it won’t be necessary. That battle right now is between Taiwan Jones and Mike Goodson. Jones displays blazing speed and quickness but is still a raw runner. Goodson is more polished and does a better job spotting holes in the defense, but isn’t as explosive as Jones. It’s now up to them to prove who is more suitable to back McFadden up.
3. How will the Tight End mix unfold?
In past years, the Raiders always had a clear number one TE. That’s not the case this season. David Ausberry, Brandon Myers and Richard Gordon are in a fair battle to take that number one depth chart spot. Ausberry, a converted WR, is the more athletic and mobile of the group, which makes him the better receiver; Gordon is the more physically strong and imposing, which could make him a better blocker; Myers, although used more as a blocker in his career so far, can do both jobs decently and is the most complete of the trio. Each of them brings a different skill set to the table, and there’s a chance the Raiders may never really choose a number one guy at all, playing with packages. But one way or another, one guy eventually will get more playing time than the rest and now is the time to determine which of them will be that one.
4. Can the youngsters push the vets in the Offensive Line?
If the Raiders had a game tomorrow, the OL would be already set with LT Jared Veldheer, LG Cooper Carlisle, C Stefen Wisniewski, RG Mike Briesel and RT Khalif Barnes. Although Veldheer, Wisniewski and Briesel can consider themselves starters tomorrow or when the season actually starts, that’s not the case with Carlisle and Barnes. Behind them, there are a couple of very recent Raider 3rd round selections that are looking to take over their jobs sooner rather than later. Tony Bergstrom, a rookie guard from Utah, and Joseph Barksdale, in his second pro year out of LSU, are still developing players, but both have the potential to be starters in the NFL. And if they prove in this Training Camp that they can be the number one guys at their positions already this season, Carlisle (34 years old), Barnes (30) and their veteran contracts should consider themselves in real jeopardy.
5. Can the youngsters push the vets in the Defensive Backfield?
In the defensive backfield, there are also a couple of veterans who should be looking in their rear-view mirrors. Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer are the starting cornerback duo right now, but Chimdi Chekwa and Demarcus Van Dyke are looking to change that scenario soon. Both products of the 2011 Raider Draft Class, Chekwa and Van Dyke came to Camp last year showing good potential, but quite unready for the next level. Although they saw some good playing time as rookies, Chekwa and DVD should be looking to perform even better now with a full season behind them and a full off-season in progress.
6. How will Rolando McClain look?
Rolando McClain should realize this could very well be a make-or-break year for him. After two very disappointing seasons, especially a messy 2011 which included an arrest a few days before a game against the Dolphins, McClain doesn’t have much more room for mistakes. His performance on the field didn’t look good either: McClain looked out of shape and flat-flooted basically in every contest, being a liability in pass coverage and getting neutralized with blocks more times than a starting NFL linebacker should. This is definitely not how the Raiders envisioned the former Alabama standout and number eight overall pick in his third pro year. McClain must improve vastly physically and mentally in order to fulfill the expectations created over him. 2012 must be a new beginning for Rolando, and it all starts in Training Camp.
What do you think, Raider Nation? What will be the answers to those questions?