The Oakland Raiders are just several days away from opening their training camp for the 2013 NFL season. They report to training camp in just four day on July 24th. Then they have their opening meetings the next day. Their first on-field practices come on July 26th in preparation for their preseason opener coming against the Dallas Cowboys at home.
With the preseason opener just three weeks, let us take a look at the five things to look for during training camp and the preseason.
1. Who comes out on top in the battle for the starting quarterback battle?:
The most important position battle for the Oakland Raiders is for the starting quarterback position. It is the position that will have the most impact over the Raiders’ success this season and it is the closest position battle right now.
The top two competitors for the starting the position are journeyman backup Matt Flynn and rookie Tyler Wilson. A dark horse for the battle would be third-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Flynn is presumed to be given the first shot at winning the position.
Flynn is entering his sixth year in the NFL. He spent the first four seasons of his career backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Flynn then left for Seattle last offseason, but was beating out for the starting position by superstar rookie Russell Wilson.
Flynn has seen sporadic action during his career, appearing in 37 games and starting two. He has compiled 87 completions on 141 attempts for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. Flynn has looked strong in his limited starting experience, as he has thrown for 771 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions in those two games.
Flynn is limited his quarterback abilities. He does not possess a lot of arm strength and is very limited on his deep throws. He also does not have a lot of experience, as he was forced to sit by the All-Pro Rodgers. His success as a starter could be attributed to teams not having a lot of film to game plan around.
His main competitor is going to be the fourth round draft pick Wilson. Wilson was an impressive passer for the University of Arkansas in SEC. After sitting for a couple years behind Ryan Mallet, Wilson was the Razorbacks’ starting quarterback for the last two seasons. He threw for 7,765 yards for 52 touchdowns and 26 interceptions. He had a career completion percentage of 62.6 percent during his collegiate career.
Wilson was considered to be a potential top-10 pick in the 2013 NFL draft following his junior season. He had a rough season, as he struggled with injuries and the loss of his head coach and his top receivers. Wilson has plenty of arm strength to make throws all over the field and pairs it with solid to great accuracy. He is a great leader and often stands in the pocket to make throws in the face of pressure. He can often try and force throws into coverage. His mechanics can break down on occasion and lead to him relying solely on arm strength instead of footwork.
This battle is going to be highly interesting. Flynn is going to get the first shot at winning the starting job with his limited experience in NFL and the potential he has flashed. Wilson has a very high ceiling and has the potential to end up being on of the top quarterbacks from this draft class. Wilson might not win the position outright early in the season, but by the season’s end he will be the starter.
2. How does the offensive line handle the transition to the power running scheme?:
Last season, the Raiders offensive line struggled making the transition to the zone-blocking scheme. The Raiders’ offensive strength was their running game, as they ran for over 2,000 yards as a team in 2010 and 2011. In 2012, the running attack to a huge step back, as they only gained 1,420 yards on the ground. A lot of that is the team was not built for the zone-blocking scheme and the team failed to adapt the personnel to the scheme.
This season, the Raiders bring in new offensive coordinator Greg Olson from Tampa Bay. With the coaching change comes a scheme change, as well. The Raiders will make the change to a power run blocking scheme. This would seem benefit the Raiders’ offensive line, who prefer to attack and move downhill instead of moving in space. The Raiders offensive averages over 300 pounds and should be able to create push at the point of attack.
A stronger rushing attack is key, as it would take the pressure off of their young quarterbacks. It would also allow the team to create more offensive possession time, which will help the defense out by reducing the amount of time they are on the field. It will also help the team convert more in redzone, as they only had four rushing touchdowns as a team last season. The only question is how long will it take the line to adapt to the new scheme.
3. How quickly can the defense gel with seven new starters?:
The Raiders’ defense has seen a lot of turnover this offseason. They return four starters from the previous season, which include Lamarr Houston, Andre Carter, Miles Burris, and Tyvon Branch. They will have seven new starters and chemistry will be an issue early on.
The team will have two new starters at defensive tackle, linebacker, and corner back. They will also have a new starter at the free safety position, as Branch moves over to the strong safety slot. General Manager Reggie McKenzie has attempted to fill those position with cheaper free agent signings. These free agents are seen as stop-gap type of players that could provide adequate to solid production in the interim and then provide depth in the future.
The best free agent signing came in the secondary with corner backs Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and safeties Charles Woodson and Usama Young. They also added talented rookie D.J. Hayden with their first round pick. The secondary is the strongest it has been in several years and should improve upon their bottom half of the NFL passing defense.
The defense is more talented as a whole, but how quickly they will build chemistry will be seen. It would not be surprising to see the defense struggle early in the preseason and the first few weeks of the season. By then end of the year, they should rank much better than the previous season.
4. What impact does Charles Woodson have on the defense?:
The Raiders finally brought home former team captain Charles Woodson this offseason. Woodson joins the Raiders in transition time for both parties, as Woodson begins the final stretch of his career and the Raiders are in the middle of a rebuild. The Raiders are looking for Woodson to make an impact on the team in multiple ways.
The Raiders are hoping that Woodson has some gas left in the tank and can provide the defense with some of his play-making ability. Woodson missed most of last year with a collar bone injury, but his previous four seasons were highly productive. He had 25 interceptions, 65 pass deflections, nine sacks, and 11 forced fumbles in those four seasons.
It is tough to tell what to expect from Woodson, as he has been productive recently, but he is getting older and has last a step recently. It would be smart to expect a decent amount of production, but probably not as productive as those previous season.
The area where Woodson will have the biggest impact is in his ability to be a leader for young defensive unit. Woodson is a sure-fire future Hall of Fame inductee and his experience is valuable, especially to the young members of the Raiders’ revamped secondary. He will be like a player-coach for a lot of these players, as they can learn from him about technical skills and get insight on the mental side of the game. The younger players on the defensive side of the ball should see their development improved with his presence.
5. Which rookies are able to step to the forefront and challenge for an impact role?:
The Raiders are a much younger team overall from the last few seasons and that they are in a rebuild is going to increase the importance of the rookies making an impact. The Raiders are hoping that several of their young players can step up and secure a starting spot this season.
The obvious player would be first round pick D.J. Hayden. The Raiders want Hayden to be able to able to win one of the top three corner back spots. If Hayden is able to excel it would allow them to use him or Porter in the slot, which will give them three solid options at the corner back position.
The other player they need to step up and make an impact is Sio Moore. Moore was brought in to help out their anemic pass rush. Moore was terror for quarterbacks in the Big East and the Raiders are hoping that Moore can step up to at least secure the spot of their top situational pass rusher.
The other spot is at the tight spot is at the tight end position. The Raiders do not have a lot of depth at the position after losing Brandon Myers to free agency. Mychal Rivera is the best bet to step in as a rookie. Rivera is the most talented pass catcher of the young tight ends and could be used in a variety of ways. He seems to be the most likely player to step up into Myers’s role.
The Raiders have several young players that have the ability to step in right away and make an immediate impact. These will be the players to watch during preseason to see what type of situations they are being put into.