With training camp more than a week in, it’s beginning to become more clear who is the most prepared for this important upcoming season for the Oakland Raiders. This season is an important one because of the amount of experience the Raiders have acquired this offseason. This makes it the season to prove that with the correct experience and talent, the Raiders can be a tough team to beat. They also have to prove that all of those mistakes and penalties can be corrected even though they have become somewhat of a pattern over the last ten seasons.
First let’s start positive and talk about the winners of Raiders training camp to date.
Marcel Reece is one of those winners with out of a doubt. He came into this preseason camp 15 pounds lighter then he was during the season last year. Even though Reece is a fullback it has proven beneficial with his ability to get out of the backfield in the pass game. Reece has been majorly helpful to the Raiders’ red zone offense as receiver out of the backfield and now with a little extra burst that may be even more the case.
When asked if he thought this might negatively affect him when blocking and running for short first downs, he responded with a smile and explained how even if he is 15 pounds lighter he will still play like the big boy he is.
If anything, the loss of weight will help him in all aspects. It’s not like he lost 50 pounds. He will still have the same blocking technique and downhill-running style as always. Plus, the Raiders have a little extra help in that department with Maurice Jones-Drew.
On the other side of the ball, cornerback Neiko Thorpe has been standing out in the cornerback competitions. Head coach Dennis Allen said, “He’s a big, long corner that can run with the best of them”. He also has been mentioned as one of the better Raiders in corner coverage so far. If he can continue what he has done in the last week he may be seeing much more playing time this season.
Also on the defensive side of the ball, Pat Sims has impressed coaches in the last week of padded practice. Last season Sims struggled with staying in shape and a result of that was many hamstring issues that plagued Sims last preseason. This season it has been the opposite. Sims has been outstanding in the run down and his gain of quickness due to being in better shape has allowed him to become a better pass rusher. Hopefully he will be helping Lamarr Woodley and Justin Tuck all season bring down QBs multiple times a game.
Now to the negative side of camp with the losers of preseason camp so far.
Tight end David Ausberry is coming off a season ending shoulder injury last season. Coming into camp, Ausberry was expected to steel the tight end spot light from Rivera, but that couldn’t be further then the current case. Instead, last year’s starting tight end, Mychal Rivera, has completely out shined Ausberry in every aspect of the tight end position. Instead of Ausberry improving heavily after his injury, it has been Rivera that is impressing coaches with his improvement as a blocker and moving around the slot.
Running back Kory Sheetz has also been a bit of a disappointment so far during this preseason. It has to be hard for him to do any sort of impressing behind Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew, but according to Coach Allen, Sheetz needed to improve on his pass blocking techniques and he is still struggling with it this preseason. Allen did say when it came to running the ball Sheetz has great instincts and burst of speed, but his blocking needs major work.
Lastly, Austin Howard has been mentioned when talking about not being where he needs to be technique-wise on the offensive line. He still has been running with the first team offensive line this preseason, but coach Allen did mention him as someone who needs technique help when protecting the quarterback without his arms coming outside of his body. Once his arms leave the border of his own body when blocking it is more likely he will get called for holding. This could be a huge issue for the Raiders penalty wise, which I have mentioned before as one of the biggest problems for the Raiders to become a playoff caliber team.
If any of these preseason losers can get back on the right direction it is most definitely Howard. I could be writing about him as a winner in a couple of weeks if he just fixes a couple small blocking issues.