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NAPA – The Raiders enter their second straight training camp without an established tight end.
Brandon Myers bailed them out last season with strong camp that preluded a career year. He became a reliable outlet in the passing game and, despite major run-blocking issues, became an major player at a crucial spot.
Myers moved on the New York Giants this offseason, pushing the Raiders back to square one.
Just as it seemed last year, the cupboard is pretty bare. Odd are it won't be stocked from the outside, meaning the future starter is already here.
David Ausberry and Richard Gordon, who have 10 career receptions between them, are the senior members of this inexperienced bunch. The Raiders see potential in rookies Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera, who are still learning how to play professional football.
There is no frontrunner set to claim the starting spot. Head coach Dennis Allen needs one will emerge, because he doesn’t want a platoon at that position.
“We’re looking for somebody to step up,” Allen said. “That’s what training camp is all about. We want somebody to say, ‘I’m the man and this is my job.’
“We’re going to let the competition dictate that. We’re going to give everybody the opportunity, at least early in camp, to prove that they’re worthy of being the guy. Those guys are working hard, they’ve done some nice things and made some nice plays.”
The Raiders expect a lot from their tight ends. They’re a heavy component of the running game, especially on early downs. They have to be an outlet on third down, and a safety net when the pocket collapses.
Ausberry is the most intriguing prospect. The converted wide receiver has bulked up to 261 pounds without losing the agility required of a pass catcher. His blocking, however, remains a work in progress.
“It’s much better than when I started playing tight end,” Ausberry said. “There is still room for improvement, but it feels like the transition is finally over. It’s a whole different world in the trenches, but I’m used to it now. My blocking is better, and that’s come with experience and a whole lot of reps.”
Allen needs more reps to evaluate this unheralded group, where each player has an opportunity to earn playing time.
“We know it’s an open competition and I’m sure it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, but you can’t focus on that,” Ausberry said. The key is being prepared and being ready when you’re number’s called. Hopefully, in time, they call your number more and more often.”