Mychal Rivera had a nice rookie year in 2013.
The tight end from Tennessee played much more consistently over the second half of the season and ended his first year with 38 catches, including four for touchdowns.
As Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com noted in February, “Rivera should be the Raiders’ starting tight end in 2014,” especially with an offseason to work on his blocking techniques.
But after the first week of training camp, it’s apparent that David Ausberry – after missing all of 2013 – could be the Game 1 starter or at least share snaps with Rivera.
Ausberry, originally a wide receiver at USC who became a tight end, was taken by the Raiders in the seventh round of the 2011 draft. He’s a 6-foot-4, 258-pound target who’s been buried on the depth chart while being considered more of a receiver than blocker.
He went into last year’s training camp as the leader to claim the position with the departure of 2012 starter Brandon Myers, but was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
Now, he’s back on the field and looking better than he ever has, consistently making plays. In one practice earlier this week, Ausberry ran a deep route down the middle of the field, then caught a perfect pass from quarterback Matt Schaub in the end zone.
Camp observers have reported Ausberry to be in great shape and doing everything right – including blocking.
Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, in fact, said Ausberry, “Should be fine blocking-wise. He’s gotten a lot better the last few years.”
Ausberry agrees, saying the off year gave him a chance to improve.
“I had a chance to sit down and really study,” Ausberry told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Blocking is all technique, footwork and not giving away your keys to your defender. I am just getting used to wearing pads again, but I am getting back in the groove. I still have a lot to improve.”
If Ausberry continues to show improvement over the course of camp, the Raiders should go into the 2014 regular season with a pair of tight ends capable of making plays. Rivera as a rookie showed nice hands and an ability to catch the ball in traffic; Ausberry could be a big aid to the running game with improved blocking skills.
As head coach Dennis Allen said this spring, Ausberry has great tools: speed, size and hands. He just hasn’t had much opportunity to play a starring role. In 28 games, he’s been targeted just 14 times, with nine catches for 92 yards.
“He was a guy that we had high hopes for last year and unfortunately got hurt in that first preseason game,” Allen told the media. “He’s a guy that again he’s got talent, he’s got ability especially as a receiving threat, so he’s a nice piece to the puzzle.”