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Raiders heated tight end battle ends with injury

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The battle at tight end for the Raiders has ended with Gabe Holmes headed to injured reserve.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the more interesting position battles heading into this season was the one at tight end between Mychal Rivera and Gabe Holmes. That battle has now officially ended as Holmes has injured his ankle and will be headed for injured reserve.

The injury occurred in Friday's preseason match-up with the Arizona Cardinals. Holmes was taken from the field on a cart, and MRI results revealed the injury was significant.

Holmes's placement on injured reserve was confirmed by Jack Del Rio following Monday's training camp practice.

"Gabe had a pretty significant high ankle sprain," said Del Rio. "I think there was a break of one of the small bones in there as well. I would anticipate he'll end up going on IR."

It's not the way you hope these kinds of battles end. The Raiders were hoping it would be the best of the two that would earn the third tight end job behind starters Clive Walford and Lee Smith. Rivera is a former starter and Holmes was an undrafted free agent in 2015 who the team kept around on the practice squad and called up to the active roster late last season.

"We have a good group," said Jack Del Rio midway through camp. "Gabe Holmes, a young guy we invested time in last year, is also in the mix."

"He's a big, athletic guy, continues to develop. I see a guy that's eager to grow, he's working hard at it. He's got soft hands, he's a big body guy, he's a smooth route runner. We think he has an upside, but it's about him and the work he puts in here and how far can he come and how fast can he get there."

The faith the Raiders had placed in Holmes had him feeling pretty good about his place in the competition. I spoke with Holmes in the days leading up to the game in Arizona and he felt good about the work he had put in since he arrived in Oakland last year.

"Just focusing in every day, understanding what I have to get done, understanding each day that I have to get better at something," Holmes said. "And that's what I've been doing.

"Last year I didn't play at all so I came in each day with a goal. And the next day another goal, and the next day another goal, and I just kind of build off of those. I feel like I had a pretty good practice squad last year. Just getting better and that's what I want to show in this year's camp. Just getting better, showing I can take more responsibility. Just going out there the same in camp, each day getting better."

The one area both he and Rivera needed to work on was blocking.

"That's probably the biggest thing [young tight ends] have to learn, different combination blocks, pass blocking responsibilities," said Del Rio. "Things like that, where as in college a lot of the tight ends are used almost as a fourth wide receiver and they're spread out and they're running routes. In the NFL you're going to be asked to block and do some things. He's done well with that role. He's learning that and making big progress."

Rivera was playing well as a receiving target this offseason and in camp. He is a former starter on this team and handled third tight end duties last year. There was a possibility that if Gabe Holmes performed well enough to earn a roster spot, the team would look to move Rivera in a trade. That is quite unlikely to happen now.

The other tight ends on the roster are undrafted rookie Ryan O'Malley and converted linebacker Colton Underwood. Neither look to be threats to take Rivera's job.