Three and Out: Pryor's risky move; Raiders finally heading home
Dennis Allen entered his second training camp as Raiders head coach hell-bent on changing the culture of a team in transition.
He wanted to heighten the competitiveness and physicality of this overhauled roster through tough, demanding practices. In doing so, Allen believed he could build a foundation for the future and win a few games in the process.
Despite a rash of injuries that kept many players out extended time and hindered his ability to evaluate the entire roster, Allen believes he got that job done. His players agree.
[RELATED: Team leaves Napa healthy as ever]
“We’re a much better team than we were a few weeks ago,” quarterback Matt Flynn said. “You can see improvement in everything we do. Considering how many new players we have, this was a very productive camp.”
It was also an eventful one. Here’s a recap of all that went on during the Raiders time in Napa:
What’s in a number? Jersey numbers don’t typically dominate discussion in an NFL camp, but the Raiders bookended this camp with number drama.
Cornerback Tracy Porter reported to camp on July 25 to find his No. 24 had been taken away and given to veteran Charles Woodson.
There was no bartering or money exchanged. The team just gave Woodson the jersey number he had during his first Raiders tenure. Porter expressed displeasure with the team’s tactics on Twitter, creating minor drama covered on a national level.
Then Pryor switched from No. 6 to the infamous No. 2 on the final day of camp, recalling the disastrous tenure of former draft bust JaMarcus Russell. The quarterback taken No. 1 overall didn’t wear the number well and no one has played in it since, but Pryor was insistent on playing with the number he used in high school and college.
[RELATED: Pryor tempts fate, takes Russell's No. 2]
Offensive player of camp: Brice Butler. The rookie receiver started training camp mired on the third team. Roughly a month later, he’s running with the No. 1s. His ascent was assured by smooth route running and ability to make the big catch.
While he didn’t have the awesome camp Rod Streater had last season, Butler has made his way into the rotation with solid play. He leads the team with five preseason receptions for 108 yards and a signature touchdown catch.
He secured a 30-yard TD by his fingertips in the exhibition opener that is the play of the preseason thus far and showcases how good the seventh-round pick can be.
Defensive player of camp: Usama Young. The veteran signed with the Raiders this season expecting to be the starting free safety. Then, in rolls Charles Woodson. The Raiders icon immediately assumed Young’s starting spot – and deservedly so – but it didn’t knock Young off his game.
He’s proven adept playing strong safety and free safety, with play worthy of a starting spot on many other teams. He’s provided depth and energy and isn’t afraid to make the big hit. He practices hard every day and has fared well in games. His presence assures the secondary will be a strong unit, even if injury strikes.
Most frustrating player in camp: Denarius Moore. The third-year receiver has all the physical tools to be a star in this league, but his lack of consistency is maddening. He burst onto the scene with an outstanding rookie camp that seemed a prelude to an excellent career. Now, it’s stuck in neutral. Moore still makes great plays, but he makes an equal number of inexcusable mistakes. Allen wants a No. 1 receiver to emerge, and Moore seems an excellent candidate to fill that void. Thus far, it hasn’t happened.
[REWIND: More inconsistency from Moore]
Pryor in the pistol: Terrelle Pryor’s throwing mechanics and decision-making are vastly improved after an offseason’s hard work, which prompted offensive coordinator Greg Olson to create a special package for the young quarterback.
The pistol formation and the read-option are heavy components of a package still being installed for use during the regular season, a major development for a fan base clamoring to see Pryor in action.
Worst development: Left tackle Jared Veldheer was lost for at least half the season with a partially torn triceps muscle that had to be surgically repaired.
Veldheer was a stabilizing force up front and arguably the Raiders best player. His loss sent the offensive line into disarray and forced the coaching staff to adjust the scheme somewhat. It stretched what little depth the offensive line had, made it harder to operate a new power-blocking scheme based on gap creation and control, and left Flynn vulnerable on the blind side.
The team could start shaky veteran Alex Barron, look to untested rookie and career right tackle Menelik Watson or find an outsider to play left tackle. Those options aren’t ideal. Neither is the prospect of playing without Veldheer.
[RELATED: Watson returns to practice just in time]
D.J.’s red jersey: First-round pick D.J. Hayden was only cleared for full contact on Friday. He spent most of training camp in a red non-contact jersey while recovering from offseason surgery stemming from a ruptured blood vessel that nearly killed him roughly nine months ago at a college practice.
Hayden’s health has been a major topic of this training camp, and it’s kept him out of the preseason thus far. That will change soon, when he makes his Raiders debut against the Chicago Bears and takes/gives his first big hit in quite some time.
One no good, very bad day: The Raiders’ Aug. 7 practice started with great promise. Defensive tackle Pat Sims and offensive lineman Menelik Watson – expected to be major contributors -- practiced for the first time after injury kept them out of training camp.
Then, 30 minutes in, Watson suffered a setback and left the field. Sims pulled up lame a few minutes later. Oft-injured receiver Jacoby Ford went down shortly after. In the span of a hour, the Raiders lost three key components to nagging ailments that kept them out extended periods and exemplified the injury issues that plagued this camp.
Play to file away: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor rolled out of the pocket on Aug. 3, but defensive pressure followed. He eluded it once more, found his footing and threw a laser 60 yards through the air that found Brice Butler barely open in the end zone. Pryor’s pass was only available to Butler, just over his outside shoulder and away from tight coverage.
It proved how good Pryor can be when he combines athleticism, smarts and patience with a rocket arm. Those moments, however, were too few for him to truly compete for a starting spot.
Position battles: There should have been a few more. Tony Bergstrom vs. Lucas Nix at left guard. Menelik Watson vs. Khalif Barnes at right tackle. D.J. Hayden vs. Tracy Porter at cornerback.
Injuries to one combatant negated those position battles and essentially crowned the healthy. That was a disappointment to the Raiders coaching staff, which hoped to foster greater competition for starting spots and within position groups.
And, let’s be honest. The quarterback competition was one in name only. It was always Flynn’s job to lose.
The punting competition is an exception to the rule. Marquette King and Chris Kluwe are in a dead heat thus far. King has shown greater consistency, although his detail work (especially getting punts away quickly) remains suspect. Kluwe excels in that area, although he doesn’t have King’s hang time. It’ll be interesting to see which punter Allen picks.
[REWIND: King closer to punting crown]
The competition to start at tight end is uninspired. Allen said a front-runner hasn’t emerged, and that’s because none of them have been particularly good. David Ausberry was the leader of this pack despite blocking inconsistencies, but he’s out through the preseason with a shoulder injury. Jeron Mastrud emerged late as a solid blocker and rookie Mychal Rivera is a receiving threat, though he’s undersized.
Earning a roster spot: Fullback Jamize Olawale has proven valuable as a blocker and a special teams player. While Marcel Reece will take most every snap when a fullback’s on the field, the second-year pro looks like a solid backup.
Mastrud wasn’t an early contender to make this regular-season roster, but his ability as an in-line blocker has appreciated his stock.
Draft class grade: Incomplete. Too many members of the 2013 draft class were injured to get a good grasp on the group. Hayden wasn’t cleared for contact until recently, Watson finished just one practice and sixth-round pick Latavius Murray missed most of camp with an ankle injury that had to be surgically repaired.
Sio Moore, however, has been a bright spot. The strongside linebacker has shown real versatility and is being groomed to start there during the regular season. He’s a sure tackler, a decent run stopper and is evolving as a pass rusher. Expectations are high, and Moore has lived up to them thus far.
Butler, tight end Mychal Rivera and defensive end David Bass showed potential, but quarterback Tyler Wilson’s lack of progress was a real disappointment when compared to the expectations placed on him.
Wilson hasn’t had many practice reps over the last few weeks after struggling with the mental aspect of the game. Once considered a dark-horse contender to start as a rookie, Wilson has dropped to No. 4 on the depth chart. His confidence has taken a hit, and there is concern that he won’t make the team.
Stacy McGee took significant reps at defensive tackle with mixed results. Tight end Nick Kasa must play better to make the team or the practice squad. Right now, he’s buried on the depth chart.
Unknown rookies make a mark: There have been some pleasant surprises among the undrafted horde.
-- Quarterback Matt McGloin was an afterthought, a surefire cut when training camp started. He emerged as a real contender for a roster spot and has moved past Wilson on the depth chart. The Penn State alum has shown confidence during practice and real moxie in a quarter’s work Aug. 9 against Dallas.
-- Defensive back Chance Casey has been a surprise playmaker in practice and in games because he’s always around the ball. That’s a good mark of any cornerback, and it may earn him a spot on the practice squad assuming someone doesn’t sign him off waivers.
-- Receiver Greg Jenkins has a shot to make the 53-man roster as a kick returner. He had a 51-yard return in the exhibition opener, showcasing the speed required to excel in that spot. He’s played well at times offensively in practice, but his current value lies on special teams.
-- Ryan Robinson is a bit undersized for a defensive end, but he finds ways to get to the quarterback. Depending on his special teams play, Robinson could end up swiping a final spot on the 53-man roster or landing on the practice squad.
-- Defensive tackle Kurt Taufa’asau has taken more snaps than expected due to injuries at defensive tackle, but he’s used them well. He’s a big, physical run stopper in the middle who can play at the NFL level.
One and only scuffle: Don’t tackle running back Darren McFadden. Not around right tackle Khalif Barnes, anyway. McFadden ran right early in the first practice in pads, and a pair of defensive linemen got carried away and brought the star running back to the ground. Barnes didn’t take kindly to it and grappled a defender to the ground in the only fight of camp.
Quote of camp: “I like being the underdog. We have expectations here, and I believe we’ll reach them.” – Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie
McKenzie made this proclamation on the first day of camp, illustrating the dichotomy between outside expectations and internal belief. The Raiders are confident they’ll be better than most expect, certainly better than last season’s dismal 4-12 record.
McKenzie has no interest in battling public perception, only disproving it. He wouldn’t equate a win total with success, choosing instead to give his team the eye ball test at year’s end. McKenzie wants progress, not perfection. This quote suggests that he believes he’ll get it.
Coming up: The Raiders play their third exhibition on Friday against Chicago before resuming a game-week schedule at their Alameda headquarters next week. They’ll cut this 90-man training camp roster down to 75 on Aug. 27, play Seattle in the last exhibition and set the final 53 on Aug. 31.