The Raiders released their first depth chart of 2014 on Monday. And it featured a surprising name among the starters at wide receiver - Andre Holmes.
Back in June, during the team's minicamps, I checked in with Holmes to see how things were going heading into his second season in Oakland. He spoke of setting a foundation in his first season with the team that he can build upon in his second year - something he is clearly doing.
The former undrafted free agent receiver had barely seen an NFL field in two seasons in Dallas. He came into camp last year battling for a roster spot and by midseason, he was a starter.
Now, for the first time in his career, he heads into the season as an expected starter. It's entirely unfamiliar territory for him.
"Yeah, definitely, because before I was trying to make a team," said Holmes. "And still I'm trying to make a team but it's in a way a little bit different because now it seems as though coaches kind of know what kind of strengths I have and what I can do where before it may have not been like that. So, now I'm put in the position to try and make those plays that I'm good at doing."
Those plays he is good at are those which allow him to use his big 6-4, 210-pound frame to overpower and leap over defensive backs. His kind of skills are a quarterback's best friend because he doesn't even need to be open to get a pass, and can make a play where it may seem like there isn't one.
"He's a guy with that size and his ability to go up and get the ball that even if a guy's covering him man to man, you just give him a chance," said Matt Schaub. "He's gonna make you look good. You don't shy away from bump and run, you just put it up in the air where only he can get it with his vertical."
Dennis Allen said the depth chart will change prior to the season but that the way it is now is indicative of how he sees the players at this point. And on that depth chart, Holmes is listed ahead of the likes of James Jones and Denarius Moore.
The reason behind that, as Allen puts it is the same thing that makes Holmes an attractive option for Schaub.
"I think the nature of the NFL now and kind of the trend is these bigger, physical receivers, and he certainly fits that mold. A lot of times he's going up against corners that don't meet his physical stature, so it gives him an advantage in that way and he's done a nice job of understanding the type of receiver he is. Sometimes you get these big receivers but they don't play big, but Andre's one of those guys that not only does he have that physical stature but he plays to that stature."
Both Allen and Schaub talk about Holmes as being a big part of the Raiders' passing game this season. It is no secret the Raiders need a number one receiver. They signed James Jones this off-season and there has been a great deal of chemistry between the two, but Jones is best as a slot receiver. Holmes is a true long-striding, deep ball boundary target. He has been recognized as such and the Raiders see that kind of potential in him.
"It's a good feeling but I still look to improve in many areas, so I can't be complacent. People could get complacent being in that position but I really know that I have a lot to work on and that's what I'm trying to do right now in this camp."
"It doesn't really change anything. I know that we're all gonna play. Really all that matters is that we all go out there and put our best efforts out there and get a win and show that we can move the ball and we can score some points. That's the bottom line."
Holmes has said he put a renewed focus on two things - being more physical at the line and improving his intermediate routes. Based on what I have seen from him in camp, both areas have indeed improved. He breaks any and all jam attempts at the line in drills and has an incredible catching radius on short and intermediate routes.
"I really emphasized this off-season trying to get more physical, especially off the line," Holmes added. "Not necessarily using as much quickness off the line but trying to use my strengths in that I have long arms and that I'm at times stronger than the other DB."
Fans will get to see Holmes roll out his new skillset as the Raiders open against the Vikings this Friday. According to the depth chart, he will be with the first group on the field, though the first team typically doesn't play a whole lost in the first preseason game. Even if it's a couple series, Matt Schaub will want to get started on the right foot and that means finding Holmes and trusting he will make a play on the ball and make Schaub look good.
"It's exciting," said Schaub of Holmes. "I'm looking forward to getting to suit up against another team with him on my side. Just watching him work and go about his business on a daily basis. His size and his speed for a big guy, very long, long strider, has a big burst up the field, can separate and then go up and get the football. That's exactly what you want from a receiver and I'm excited to get out there and see what he can do in game action. He's gonna be a big threat for us."