Oakland Raiders tight ends David Ausberry, Kyle Efaw, and Richard Gordon at OTA's 2012 (photo by Levi Damien)
There has been some focus this offseason on the tight end position for the Raiders. The team cut Kevin Boss this offseason just about six months after he had replaced Zach Miller, who left as a free agent. Now the position is in flux and it is somewhat of an open competition at this point. Not only that but the team appears to have some big plans for the position this season.
When watching the offense today, it became clear that there is an emphasis on the use of tight ends in the offense. They often line up in two tight end sets and are targeted nearly as often as the wide receivers.
It also appears that Al Saunders' focus this season is on the tight ends. He is often seen running downfield when a tight end makes a nice play or makes a mistake.
All the tight ends are excited about their new focus in the offense. Brandon Myers is running with the first team, Ausberry with the second team, and Gordon with the third team. Rookie Kyle Efaw and recent free agent signee Tory Humphrey mix in on two tight end sets.
With so many tight ends and none standing out, the perception is that they have no one good enough to be the guy. Dennis Allen likes the group he has out there:
"The one thing I'd say about the tight ends is what was perceived to be an area of weakness coming in I've seen some significant improvement and I'm looking forward to see what they do in training camp."
"People might think that because we don't have the big name at tight end," said Myers. "But we've got guys capable of competing and making plays and we're going to be fine. Everybody's pushing each other. Once the season starts, the best guys will be on the field, helping the team contribute to a win."
"The competition is there all over the field but within the tight ends," said Ausberry. "There's a lot of two tight end sets so we're in the majority of the time. We all got a chance to make an impact on the team and that's what we're trying to do."
With the way things are looking, there will be room for more than one "best guy" on the field simultaneously. As was noticed in practice and Ausberry confirmed, there will be a lot of two tight end sets. All the tight ends are excited to be a bigger part of the offense.
"It's different compared to last year," said Myers. "We were kind of nonexistent last year. You know, if you look at the track record with Houston and previous places, coach has been, tight ends are a focal point of the zone schemes on the outside off the naked and stuff like that. It's on us to make plays and for them to trust us when it is third down to make the plays."
"Yeah, it's a different offense," said David Ausberry. "Gregg Knapp does a great job of rotating a lot of tight ends and using a lot of tight ends in play action and the run game and things like that. I think it's pretty good that we're able to get in the mix and be mismatches on the field so it's going pretty well... We're capable of doing a lot of things just because we're athletic tight ends and that's gonna give us a lot of chances to make plays in the open field and it's gonna help."
With Myers and Ausberry leading the way, Richard Gordon is fighting to be the third guy in the rotation. Today in particular it was Gordon's turn to show his skills as a receiver. He looked great through the first part of practice and showed hands he had not shown much of before while with the Raiders. Although later in practice he had a couple of miscues and drops which showed he still has a lot of work to do.
"Right now it's a competition," said Gordon. "Everybody doing something different, like mostly I do the blocking, Ausberry's doing most of the catching, Brandon doing both. So it's more everybody trying to get a feel of what they're going to be doing this season."
Dennis Allen said the team will keep either three or four tight ends on the roster this season. He says it is an open competition right now. With that being the case, Efaw and Humphrey are scrapping to either push someone out of that returning three or prove they are worthy of the team carrying a fourth tight end.
The only way I could see the Raiders keeping four tight ends is if Gordon were to double as a fullback again. Otherwise two of these guys will the odd men out. Efaw is the only one eligible for the practice squad among them.
It will be a heated competition and if the Raiders hope they have a group in which they have to make a difficult cut as opposed to settling for just good enough.