Raiders rookie tight end Nick Kasa hauls in a touchdown pass vs. the Bears this summer. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The long summer training camp and exhibition season were supposed to settle the question of who will be the Raiders’ go-to tight end this summer, but with just days remaining before Sunday’s opener in Indianapolis the position is still a mystery.
David Ausberry, the front-runner to replace the departed Brandon Myers, has a shoulder injury and is questionable to play against the Colts. Veteran Richard Gordon was released this past weekend. Two drafted rookies, Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera, made the roster. And free-agent veteran Jeron Mastrud, signed in May, performed well enough to earn a spot on the roster.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson had indicated Ausberry was on track to be the Raiders’ starter, but Ausberry has been out since the second preseason game. While healthy, he had three catches for 43 yards and a 14.3-yard average per reception.
In the preseason, Kasa had three catches for 46 yards (15.3 average) and a TD, Rivera had three for 40 (13.3) and Mastrud had three for 17 (5.7).
Because of his experience, it’s expected that Mastrud will start against the Colts and could hold down the position until Ausberry returns. The Raiders would like to keep Kasa and Rivera – both sixth-round picks in April – to see how they develop.
So how good is Mastrud?
At 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, he’s big and strong enough to provide the blocking power the Raiders need, but the former undrafted free agent from Kansas State has bounced from the Tampa Bay Bucs to the New England Patriots to the Miami Dolphins since 2010.
As a backup with the Dolphins, most often in double tight-end sets the past three seasons, he’s played 36 games but had just one catch, for 8 yards in 2011.
This summer, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen said he likes what Mastrud brings with his experience and his blocking ability. When it came down to making cuts, it was essentially Mastrud vs. Gordon – also a strong blocker – and Mastrud won.
“I think he brings us a pretty good presence as an in-line blocker,” Allen said of Mastrud. “That’s one of the thing we want to look at with him.”
Mastrud wants to be more than a blocker, however.
“I take pride in (blocking) because it’s something a tight end has to do, I feel like it can’t be just receiving or just blocking,” Mastrud told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group. “We all need to be multiple as a group because that’s what makes your offense versatile. Guys that can do a lot of things, it would be hard to stop.”
At Kansas State, Mastrud was outstanding, starting 48 of 49 games and catching 106 passes, a record for tight ends at the school. So, he can catch the ball.
On Sunday, it appears he’ll finally get the chance to show that versatility when quarterback Terrelle Pryor guides the Raiders offense against the Colts.