David Ausberry (No. 86) scored a TD in the exhibition season as a rookie in 2011, but is still looking for his first regular-season NFL touchdown. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
David Ausberry looks the part. The former USC standout is 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds and has the size, speed (a 4.48 40-yard dash time) and strength that fit the tight end mold.
And, he has the background, coming from one of the nation’s top college programs, where he caught 64 passes.
But since being taken by the Raiders in the seventh round of the 2011 draft, Ausberry hasn’t been on the receiving end of very many pass plays. In 2011, when Kevin Boss was the team’s starter and Brandon Myers his backup, Ausberry had just two catches for 14 yards. Last year, when Ausberry backed up Myers, he had seven receptions for 92 yards.
Now, with Myers gone, Ausberry is in a battle for the starting job with co-2011 draft choice Richard Gordon (sixth round, out of Miami) and two sixth-round picks from April’s draft, Nick Kasa (Colorado) and Mychal Rivera (Tennessee).
Undrafted rookie free agent Brian Leonhardt of Division II Bemidji State in Minnesota (6-foot-5, 255 pounds) also has reportedly shown good hands in early training camp practices and could find a spot on the roster. Over his past two college seasons, when he earned All-America honors, Leonhardt had 60 catches for 826 yards.
The five-way fight for playing time at tight end makes the position one of the most competitive in training camp, so their exhibition performances will be crucial. But so far, it appears Ausberry is leading the pack.
Just this week, Sports Illustrated’s longtime writer Peter King, while spending some time at the Raiders’ training camp in Napa, was impressed by Ausberry, calling him the “most impressive unknown player I saw.”
“Ausberry … had the best single move – a nifty catch, juke and run – in the first week of my tour (of NFL camps),” wrote King.
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen isn’t going to rush any decision. He told Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, who covers the AFC West, that he’ll let the competition determine the depth chart. And, after just barely a week of training camp, there are several weeks of evaluation ahead.
“The good thing is we don’t have to make a decision right now,” Allen told Williamson. “We have time.”
Williamson believes Ausberry is the early leader, however.
“While there is a long way to go in this case, I think Ausberry has a chance to emerge,” he wrote. “He is highly athletic and has great size. If he can find consistency, Ausberry can become a solid player.”
Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group said Allen is looking for someone to emerge from the group as “the guy,” just as Myers did last season. Of the two returners, Ausberry always has been considered the better receiver, with Gordon perceived the beter blocker. McDonald notes that of the two sixth-round picks from this year, Rivera appears to be the better receiver in camp so far, “capable of contributing as a receiver and being used creatively in the slot.”
Raiders fans will get the chance to see who emerges, beginning with the team’s first exhibition game Friday, Aug. 9, against the visiting Cowboys.