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Raiders burning questions heading into preseason

Since before camp began, there have been several questions surrounding this Raiders team. After camp began, those questions began to mount. The team lost several key players this offseason. They have yet to fill each role completely and also have several other positions that were in need of an upgrade that are unchanged. Here I will give my take on a few of the more burning questions I have been getting lately.

How does Darrius Heyward-Bey look this year?

DHB missed the first week or so of camp with an undisclosed injury. He missed a good portion of camp last year with what Tom Cable referred to as “fatigue.” He has only practiced at 100% a couple times thus far. His play in practice has been pretty much the same as it has in years past as well. He has a lot of speed, there has never been any doubt of that. But he continues to catch the ball in his chest as opposed to his hands. Until he can catch the ball in his hands more consistently, there is no reason to think that he will improve his numbers. But make no mistake, he will make this team. Even with his $8.5 million contract.

Who will be playing at nickel corner for the Raiders?

The Raiders have only run with three corners in their second team sessions. This makes it near impossible to gauge who will be running nickel corner. I have been saying that I think Demarcus Van Dyke could be the guy. There are three factors that lead me to say this.

First off he has been playing pretty well in camp thus far. Other corners such as Walter McFadden and Jeremy Ware have been unimpressive. Fellow rookie Chimdi Chekwa has been out with an undisclosed injury.

Second off, he played a lot of nickel corner at Miami. This was not because he wasn’t good enough to play the boundaries but more because the other corners couldn’t play the inside.

Third off, he was the highest drafted corner of the group. DVD was taken in the third round while Chimdi Chekwa is a fourth round pick, Walter McFadden is a fifth round pick, and Jeremy Ware is a seventh round pick. If Al Davis drafts you higher, you have a greater likelihood of playing. He likes to see his product on the field.

That said, Huff has practiced a bit at nickel corner and Tyvon Branch has stepped in and played corner at times too. So, again, I have my theories but not a lot of proof to back it up.

Who starts at receiver and who makes the team?

Barring injury, the starting receivers should be Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy, and Jacoby Ford. Rounding out the top five are Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. If they keep six receivers, it will be between newly signed Chad Jackson and Derek Hagan for the final spot. Nick Miller has had a terrible camp and I would be surprised if he beats out Hagan or Jackson for that sixth spot.

Who has stood out on the defense?

Matt Shaughnessy. He looks tremendous. He dominates the Raider tackles regardless of which side he lines up. I expect big things from him this season. He didn’t start until midseason last year and despite his limited duty early on, he still finished with seven sacks. He was a headache for opposing quarterbacks and will build on that this season. I have no doubt about that.

Who looks like the Raiders’ rookie of the year?

Denarius Moore. He has been the talk of camp. He makes eye-popping catches every practice. If he can get the playing time, he could be this year’s Jacoby Ford or Louis Murphy. Another mid-round stud receiver for the Raiders.

Which of the UDFA’s has stood out?

Sterling Moore has made some nice plays from the corner position. The Oakland product has certainly outshined the likes of Jeremy Ware. I expect when the final roster comes out, Moore will be on it and Ware will not.

Who has surprised?

Chris Johnson is the best corner on the field. He will be taking over the spot vacated by Nnamdi Asomugha. That is a tall order but CJ has taken the challenge. He took the same challenge when he had his first start two seasons ago, replacing DeAngelo Hall. We all discovered the Raiders’ best kept secret back then and he seems determined to remind us.

Any idea if the Raiders will bring in Kirk Morrison, Lofa Tatupu, or Kelvin Hayden?

The Raiders would probably welcome Morrison back with open arms, but he is used to being a starting middle linebacker and he won’t find that in Oakland. He will hold out to see if an opportunity to start in the middle becomes available with another team before he considers re-joining the Raiders as either an outside linebacker or backup middle linebacker.

The Raiders worked out Tatupu and didn’t like what they saw for one reason or another. Tatupu is another middle linebacker by trade. He too would have to agree to taking a backseat to Rolando McClain if he joined the Raiders. He doesn’t quite have the speed the Raiders look for in a weakside linebacker and that could very well be the reason he wasn’t signed.

Hayden is a bit of a mystery. I have only heard rumors of the Raiders having marginal interest. With their uncertain corner rotation, I would think they might consider bringing him into the fold. There is not much more I can say about him until we hear more.

How do the tackle positions look?

Both Jared Velheer at left tackle and Khalif Barnes at right tackle have had their struggles keeping the likes of Matt Shaughnessy and Kamerion Wimbley out of the backfield. Veldheer holds his own more often while Barnes looks like a turnstile. Barnes is not the answer at right tackle and the team should seriously consider bringing Langston Walker back. They brought in free agent tackle Jared Gaither and found that he was not recovered from the back injury that had him out all of last season. If he had joined the team, it would have moved Veldheer to right tackle. This week the team even attempted to bring back Mario Henderson. They agreed to the terms of the deal but Henderson was out of shape and overweight causing him to fail his physical. Now the team will just have to hope rookie Joseph Barksdale makes a quick transition to the pros and can take over at right tackle.

How serious is Darren McFadden’s injury?

Not as serious as it sounds. When people say “fractured orbital bone” it sounds bad. You don’t normally see football players with such an injury. It is usually reserved for fighters who get punched in the eye. Or tight ends who cross Bill Romanowski. Such an injury can be extremely serious and in most cases the prognosis is a long recovery. But in this case it is rather minor. You can’t tell he is even injured by looking at him and if this were the regular season, he would probably only miss one or two games. Hue Jackson will likely keep him out the preseason but only because he can. McFadden will be more than ready by the opening game in Denver.

How many of the injuries are serious?

There have only been a couple of serious injuries in camp this year so far: Jacoby Ford’s broken hand and undrafted free agent receiver Derrick Jones’ torn Achilles tendon. Derrick Jones was placed on the reserve/injured list and will be out at least this season. The Ford broken hand is expected to heal by the time the Raiders open the regular season. All other players not practicing are sitting out from minor “nicks” and should return at some point in the preseason.

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