In their past, the Oakland Raiders always seemed to feature offenses with dangerous tight ends.
Billy Cannon, Raymond Chester, Dave Casper, Todd Christensen and even Zach Miller in recent years were players that opposing defenses had to account for.
Going into this season, however, there’s no one who appears primed to become an NFL playmaker at the position.
With the release of last season’s starter, Kevin Boss, the Raiders have a trio of players competing to fill the spot: Brandon Myers, David Ausberry and Richard Gordon.
After the conclusion of the team’s recent minicamp, quarterback Carson Palmer told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vittorio Tafur that he believes Myers – the most experienced player of the group – will emerge as the starter.
Last season, Myers caught just 16 balls in 16 games, for 151 yards (9.4 yard average) and no TDs. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound fourth-year pro from Iowa has just 32 catches in three seasons and has yet to score a touchdown.
Ausberry and Gordon, both rookies last season, combined for just three catches last season. Also in camp are undrafted rookie Kyle Efaw of Boise State and free agent Tory Humphrey, who had 13 career NFL receptions.
New coach Dennis Allen told reporters that he’s been impressed by the group. Yet, from the outside, it appears someone will have to make big strides in training camp and the preseason to prove himself as a consistent threat in 2012.
Also, it will be important some one steps up because under new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, Oakland’s offense may be more tight end-oriented. Last season, under head coach Hue Jackson, use of tight ends seemed to be an afterthought.
“Last year, the tight ends were kind of nonexistent, to be honest with you,” Myers told Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee. “This year, we’ve got multiple guys in there rotating in and out, and there is the opportunity for the tight ends to catch some balls. It’s just up to us to make the plays and get the coaches and the quarterbacks to trust us.”
The past two seasons, Knapp has been the quarterbacks coach for the Houston Texans, who featured multiple two tight-end sets in their offensive system.
The Raiders’ new West Coast offense appears to have added that tendency.
“We’ve all got a chance to make an impact on the team, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Ausberry told the Bee.
Added Myers: “We all bring different things to the table. It’s up to the coaches to mix and match and put guys in position to make plays and get the mismatches.”
Myers is considered the most all-around talent of the top three, with Gordon perhaps the best blocker and Ausberry – a former wide receiver – a more talented pass-catcher.
Allen, of course, is optimistic someone will emerge.
In this Raiders transition period – with a new head coach, GM and turned-over roster – optimism is the order of the day.
“The one thing I’d say about the tight ends is, what was perceived to be an area of weakness coming in, I’ve seen some significant improvement,” Allen said after minicamp. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they do in training camp.”