On July 26th, a few days before the Oakland Raiders arrived in Napa, we proposed six questions that would be answered by the end of Training Camp. Now that the pre-season is over and we’re getting closer and closer to the 2012 regular season debut for the Silver & Black, it’s time to see how those situations developed.
1. How is the chemistry between Carson Palmer and his Wide Receiver group?
Palmer didn’t have a good pre-season but chemistry with his receivers wasn’t the issue. Darrius Heyward-Bey is the team’s number one wide out and had his best moments of his solid 2011 season late in the year, playing with Palmer. In his final 5 games, he caught 29 passes for 456 yards and 3 TDs. If he had had that pace for the whole season, he would’ve went for 92 catches, 1459 yards and 9 TDs. He was the favorite Palmer WR in training camp, and the second most targeted WR in the pre-season, with 8 balls thrown his way, 4 of which were caught for 76 yards. Denarius Moore was the other wide out which had pretty good moments with Palmer last year, so even though he played almost nothing in Training Camp due to a hamstring injury, his connection with Palmer is already in good terms. Since Palmer took the reins as the starter against Denver in week 9, Moore had a catch in each game (averaging 3.2 per game), including his 123 yards/2 TDs performance versus San Diego. Jacoby Ford had no issues connecting with Palmer in that week 9 game against Denver, when he went for 5 catches, 105 yards and 1 TD, but got injured on the following game, only returning on week 17. So it was important to see if he was indeed in the same page with Palmer and even though he only played for a full game on the pre-season debut (spraining an ankle in week 2 that sidelined him for the rest of the games), he had 5 passes thrown his way. But Palmer’s favorite target in all pre-season games was Rod Streater. The rookie had a team-high 17 targets from Palmer, being constantly involved in the offense. It was crucial that during Training Camp one of the younger WRs (like Streater, Juron Criner or Eddie McGee) could step up to the task and develop a solid connection with Carson, and that’s exactly what Rod Streater did. All the top four WRs seem to be on the same page with Palmer and chemistry shall not be an issue for the upcoming season.
2. Who is the main backup Running Back?
With his 50 yards on 10 rushes against the Lions, Taiwan Jones got himself ahead in that position battle with Mike Goodson. He displayed his elite speed and quickness, also showcasing good playmaking ability. Goodson, in other hand, didn’t look as good, specially against the Cardinals where he had 2 fumbles. He finished the pre-season with just 2.3 yards per carry. Both looked good in the Training Camp practices, but Jones was clearly better in the pre-season games. Both seem to be pretty good fits in the zone-blocking scheme, but Jones looks to be the best option right now to backup Darren McFadden.
3. How will the Tight End mix unfold?
As I mentioned in the Pre-Season Offensive Grades, this was expected to be a heated battle between 3 players who are pretty evenly matched, although having different skill sets. But what happened was a rather disappointing contest, which Brandon Myers won with relative ease in basically just one game, his 5 receptions, 41 yards performance against the Lions in week 3. Even though he was sidelined for some time with a shoulder injury, Myers showed that his more balanced style, possessing over average blocking and receiving skills, is more suited to be the starting TE right now. David Ausberry couldn’t make himself a factor in the passing game which was disappoiting since that’s what he best brings to the table. And Richard Gordon did his usual blocking plays, not enough to claim the top depth chart spot.
4. Can the youngsters push the vets in the Offensive Line?
The first team OL had a good pre-season and training camp and they are still set with Jared Veldheer, Cooper Carlisle, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel and Khalif Barnes. Tony Bergstrom and Joseph Barksdale held their own and did a good job playing with the second team, but didn’t stand out so they could put Carlisle or Barnes’ jobs in danger.In fact, Barksdale moved around between RT and LT, giving the notion that the coaching staff was not looking at him as potential starter for long and decided it would be better to give him experience playing at both sides.
5. Can the youngsters push the vets in the Defensive Backfield?
It wasn’t even close. Not only Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer are safely set as the starting CBs, Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa are not even in the active roster anymore. Chekwa failed to impress throughout training camp, but had some good moments in pre-season, enough to get him a spot in the 2012 practice squad. Van Dyke was having a pretty solid camp, and it was already being talked that he could indeed end up being a starter for the regular season. But he couldn’t carry those practice performances to the games, still displaying some mistakes he used to make as a rookie. But his cut came as a surprise to almost anyone familiar with the situation, as the Raiders decided to part ways with DVD to bring in veteran CB Joselio Hanson. Hanson is best suited to play against the slot receiver, so there’s no reason to believe he could push one of the 2 starters to play against flankers. So, heading into the regular season, Bartell and Spencer are the sure starters.
6. How will Rolando McClain look?
McClain is not where the Raiders need him to be yet. He still commits the same mistakes that he did last year, specially giving up easy catches and being caught chasing an opposing player from behind. But he had some good moments in Camp and in the pre-season, so there’s still hope. He needs make these positive plays more often and be more consistent in games. He certainly improved from last year, but that doesn’t mean much since he had a pretty weak overall performance in 2011. At least he looks to be heading into the right direction and he must continue to do it in order to not only keep his job, but also become the player that the world thought he would be when he came to the NFL.