With training camp already a week in, the Oakland Raiders are starting to take shape for 2014. With a massive overhaul of the roster this offseason, there are plenty of new faces competing for playing time. Unlike OTAs, players can get physical in training camp with the pads on, and that can lead to players standing out even further, or regressing completely. Here are some of the winners so far.
Chimdi Chekwa, TJ Carrie, and Keith McGill: With DJ Hayden out indefinitely with an ankle injury, Chekwa has been running as the first team outside corner in nickel packages. Chekwa didn’t play well last season in 170 defensive snaps, but he is one of the most experienced corners in Jason Tarver’s system.
Carrie has been reportedly making plays and impressing the coaches on a daily basis. He has been torched on a few plays in camp, but he is at least solidifying his roster spot by playing well defensively and showing his worth in the return game. McGill started camp on the PUP list, and was just recently activated. He and Carrie have been practically pilot fish on Charles Woodson, bombarding the veteran defensive back and taking notes on how to play corner in the NFL. With the seven time All-Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year teaching them, the rookie corners have a easy shot to develop quicker than many of their fellow rookies.
All three of these corners have an easier road to a roster spot with Hayden out. While Chekwa is the clear beneficiary of it, both McGill and Carrie are one injury closer to meaningful playing time as rookies.
Derek Carr: While Matt Schaub is the unquestioned starter so far, it won’t be long before Derek Carr starts seriously contending for starts. Carr has superior athletic ability and has been shining when plays break down.
While offensive coordinator Greg Olsen has commended each of the quarterbacks, Schaub has already made some bad plays that are eerily similar to his 2013 form, including a day where he threw two wobbly ducks to Charles Woodson, who ran each back for TDs. With a great arm, athleticism, and an underrated receiving corps, Dennis Allen might want to pull the trigger on Carr sooner than the organization planned.
Maurice Jones Drew: While many wanted to write off the former rushing champ, Jones-Drew has reignited something since returning to California. He no longer possesses elite long speed, but so far in camp he has shown superior between-the-tackles running skills to incumbent starter Darren McFadden. It is looking likely that the team uses a committee approach between the two, but MJD is likely to lead the team in carries, with McFadden being used as a change of pace option.
Given McFadden’s injury history and Jones-Drew’s running ability, fans should not be surprised if MJD is starting week 1.
Greg Little: Yes, Greg Little is a winner here so far. The former Cleveland Brown, known for his multitude of drops has impressed all the coaches so far in camp. Since joining the Silver and Black, Little has rarely put the ball on the ground and has been running circles around the cornerbacks. Little has never lacked for ability, standing at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and running a 4.5 forty-yard dash. If he can finally catch the ball with ease, he could turn into a powerful weapon in the Raiders unsettled receiver corps. Greg Olsen even listed Little as one of their top playmakers so far in camp.
James Jones is obviously the number one, but Andre Holmes and Rod Streater still remain. Little has some serious competition to get snaps, but in a limited role, could provide a spark to an underrated passing attack.
David Ausberry and Mychal Rivera: While the wide receiver situation is still being fleshed out, the Raiders do have two talented tight ends that can make plays. After spending 2013 on injured reserve, Ausberry is back with a vengeance. His speed has become a valuable asset for Schaub, who is used to working with good tight ends from Houston. He frequently gets open deep and could become a dangerous weapon up the seam.
While Ausberry has reclaimed the starting job, the Raiders aren’t going to shove promising second year player Rivera into the storage closet. He has shown some of the biggest improvement of any player in camp so far, and Olsen knows better than to keep him sidelined.
“He looks more athletic, he’s stronger, more confident,” Olson said to reporters on Saturday.
Likely, the team will want to use more two tight end sets this season to get their playmaking tight ends on the field.