With a new coaching staff and plenty of new faces all over the roster, the Oakland Raiders figure to have a very interesting training camp.
When the full team begins practice for the first time on July 31, there will be competition at several positions. But these six will likely be the most interesting:
Tight end: Holdover Mychal Rivera has proven he can be a fine receiver. In 2014, he had 58 catches, including four for touchdowns. He also developed a good chemistry with quarterback Derek Carr. But he’ll be challenged by rookie Clive Walford out of Miami, a bigger, stronger and faster athlete who already has impressed teammates and coaches. Many NFL analysts believe Walford will win the starting job in training camp or early in the regular season.
Cornerback: The Raiders decided not to go after a high-priced veteran free agent this offseason, believing they have enough young talent that will get better with competition and experience. DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie go into training camp as the best bets, but some believe Keith McGill could outfight Hayden. Also, Neiko Thorpe, Dexter McDonald and James Dockery will have a chance to win jobs.
Right tackle: Menelik Watson or Austin Howard? The veteran Howard, who played right guard in 2014, has been moved outside to challenge Watson, the second-round pick of 2013. The best scenario might be for Watson to play up to his potential, stay healthy and beat out Howard, who could then be used as a primary backup at two spots. But Howard has much more experience.
Backup quarterback: Former Viking Christian Ponder has been anointed the top backup to Carr, based on his status as a former top draft pick, his years as a starter in Minnesota and his youth. Yet Matt McGloin has a history of outshining more acclaimed players. Look for McGloin to again have a solid training camp and some preseason-game highlights to put the pressure on the coaching staff.
Right guard: Last year, the Raiders offensive line did a better-than-expected job of protecting Carr, but wasn’t effective as a run-blocking unit. So, Oakland has moved Howard from this slot and inserted free-agent pickup J’Marcus Webb to battle veteran swingman Khalif Barnes and rookie Jon Feliciano for the starting job. Webb, a huge, physical blocker likely has the edge over Barnes, after a good spring. But Barnes has gotten better with age.
Wide receiver: Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree and Rod Streater are locks. They’ll be the top three for Game 1. But the battle for two or three additional spots should be fierce between Andre Holmes, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brice Butler, Kris Durham and a pair of rookies, Josh Harper and Austin Willis.