With the Raiders training camp in Napa now open and progressing with the "learning phase" of camp, before the pads go on Monday and the "full contact phase" begins, we can already see that Coach Cable has set up some very interesting position battles in camp.
Competition in July and August is always multifaceted, as either to push the incumbent starter or to really assess who is the the better player to fill an open spot by proving themselves the best before the real games begin. As all of the NFL training camps promote competition for those reasons, the Raiders have positional competition at some expected places and some that are unexpected.
While theoretically every roster spot is up for grabs, we know that baring injury, Nnamdi, Lechler, Janikowski, Gallery and Zach Miller are locks to start at their positions. The rest of the roster remains an open competition, though areas like wide receiver and running back will always remain fluid due to situational demands, the focus of this story are the position battles that I think are the most intriguing:
- Michael Huff vs. Hiram Eugene: The battle at free safety between the incumbent starter Eugene and the recently-in-the-dog-house-trying-to-avoid-the-bust-label Huff. Eugene is a serviceable safety, not great, but enough until someone else better comes along. Huff, who was benched last year, and has come nowhere near to playing up to expectations, has been fully endorsed by none other than Nnamdi Asomugha, who has gone on the record as saying that Huff will have a breakout year. A statement like that from Nnamdi should not be taken lightly. So far in the three years that Huff has been on the team, he has displayed an incredible ability to take terrible angles and not know how to tackle. Much has been stated about Rob Ryan's misuse of Huff and his lack of teaching skills, so now that we have a teacher in the position of defensive coordinator, we will soon see if Huff really has the stuff.
- Stanford Routt vs. Chris Johnson: The two corners are vying for the starting position opposite Nnamdi. This is a surprise as CJ was given a 4 year contract extension in the offseason and was assumed to have the starting position locked down. Not so, according to Cable who has stated that there is a "pretty good battle going on there". Routt, who is now coming into his fifth year with the Raiders after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2005, has the Raiders speed and has improved with his instincts each year. He has been used primarily as a nickle back, but now is being given the opportunity to start. CJ, kind of came out of nowhere and made the best of his opportunity when taking over for the failed DeAngelo Hall. Johnson has great speed and instincts as well, so the winner at this position will be well deserved and the "loser" will be the nickle corner. But the real winner will be the Raiders defense as they will employ three corners that will very difficult to pass on.
- Ricky Brown vs. Kirk Morrison: The position battle at the MIKE position now has some intriguing qualities. The Raiders have either grown tired of the inconsistent play of Morrison in the middle or they are preparing for his potential departure at the end of the season. Brown, who is a high energy player and has bulked up to 240lbs for the competition is being given every opportunity to unseat Morrison by Cable. Many have thought that Morrison has been miscast at the MIKE and would be better suited to play at SAM. Whether or not this is being considered by Cable, Marshall and Haluchak is to still be determined, but to be sure, the linebacking play last year was completely underwhelming and the Raiders are finally putting the attention to this position that is required and not accepting the status quo.
- Trevor Scott vs. Jay Richardson: Two years ago Trevor Scott was playing tight end for the University of Buffalo and now he has a chance to compete for a starting position on the defensive line. Scott who came on strong last season displaying great speed and ability to get to the quarterback has taken this opportunity very seriously. He has bulked up and dedicated himself through study and learning technique to improve his game and in particular has made a concerted effort to improve his play against the run to be able to be an every down defensive end. On the other hand, Richardson, the incumbent, despite his perfect size for the position has displayed none of those characteristics that Scott is possessing. Hopefully this competition will motivate Richardson and upgrade his play, otherwise Richardson may find that he won't even make the team as rookie Matt Shaughnessy mat well surpass him.
- Jeff Garcia vs. JaMarcus Russell: This is a competition that just won't go away, despite the "almost" full assurance from Cable that the starting job is Russell's. The Raiders may have signed Russell to be a veteran backup/mentor to Russell, but Garcia will have none of that. He fully considers himself to be a starting quarterback and is determined to not only battle Russell for the position, but to actually be the starter on opening night.This is the beginning of Russell's third year but this is the first time that Russell is actually being challenged for the starting position. For this season, only good things for the Raiders and their fans can come from this competition, as either Russell will be pushed to reach his potential or Garcia will be the signal caller. The Raiders plans for the quarterback position for 2010 and beyond will be determined in a large part from this competition.
Well, there it is folks, those are the intriguing camp battles that I see so far early into camp. More will probably materialize as camp progresses into the preseason, but as of now, these are some good ones to follow. What are the interesting camp battles to you and what results are you looking for from camp competition?