Every year and in every city the preseason is when the fans watch to see if they have the next impact rookie.
This year’s top crop includes Rolando McClain, Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer, Jacoby Ford, Bruce Campbell and Walter McFadden.
What is often lost in the rush to evaluate the rookies is just how much a second year player can improve and make an impact for a team. One recent example is Tyvon Branch.
Branch, as a Sophmore, lead all safties in tackles. He figures to be an impact player for the Raiders in 2010 and beyond.
The 2010 sophmore crop includes: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Mike Mitchell, Louis Murphy, Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant and Marcel Reece. These sophmores will all see significant playing time in 2010.
The offseason has been filled with reports on Heyward-Bey’s improvement. He’s looked like the best player on the field at times and his route running is much better. All the reports a vast departure his the drop-filled 2009.
Mike Mitchell’s rookie campaign was hindered by a hamstring that kept him out of camp and into the regular season. In limited duty late in the year he had success, but questions remain about his coverage skills.
Will Murphy be able to build on a successful 2009. You would think the addition of Jason Campbell would enable Murphy to take a leap forward, but unless Chaz Schilens remains on the sideline, Murphy could be forced to in the slot. Murphy will have to compete for reps with a more crowded core of young receivers.
Matt Shaughnessy has been so impressive the Raiders cut Greg Ellis and moved Richard Seymour to defensive tackle. Equally strong against the run and pass, Shaughnessy’s progression will go a long way towards determining the success of the Raiders defensive line in 2010.
Desmond Bryant is all of the sudden fourth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. This isn’t a terrible problem to have. Bryant still needs to become more consistent, but he can be a valuable member of the defensive line with limited snaps. Giving the aging Henderson, Kelly and Seymour a breather will be his primary role, but that’s not to minimize it. The Raiders will expect minimal drop-off in play when they call on Bryant’s number.
While many fans will keep a close eye on the rookies, perhaps it is the sophmores that are hungry and primed to make an impact in 2010.
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Fifth in a series analyzing players that need to step up their game in 2010 for the Raiders to be a playoff team.
Keeping Everyone Fresh
Desmond Bryant is the 290 pound defensive tackle who played 28% of the snaps in 2009. He is a Harvard graduate.
By comparison, Tommy Kelly played 69% of the snaps, Gerard Warren played 70% of the snaps and Richard Seymour played 23% of the snaps at defensive tackle.
This offseason, Warren was released, Seymour was given the exclusive franchise tag, Lamarr Houston was drafted, and John Henderson was signed. Kelly is still playing on his huge contract and Bryant was penciled in as the team’s new starting defensive tackle with Seymour slated to start at end. In a surprise move, it was announced Houston would play end as well.
As it turns out, Houston would play end because Seymour will play more inside. At least this has been the case in training camp to this point.
Where does that leave Bryant?
Bryant has gone from the potential starter opposite Kelly early in the offseason to the fourth or even fifth option. Seymour, Henderson and Houston will likely steal his snaps. There just isn’t enough to go around.
The coaches have done a good job of talking up Bryant, but it hasn’t been showing. His role is dwindling and he hasn’t made enough camp plays to be noticed.
It is still early, but Bryant needs to step up his game to even have a role in 2010 and beyond.
Unlike the previous players in this series, Bryant’s role isn’t clearly important to the Raiders making the playoffs in 2010. If Bryant was cut or didn’t see the field, few would likely point to him as the reason why the Raiders were or were not successful.
Perhaps Bryant’s importance is best pushed out one year. This will be the final year Tommy Kelly will receive a large sum of guaranteed money, which means the Raiders aren’t likely going to keep Kelly without a restructured contract in 2011. Seymour and Henderson are playing on one year contacts.
Bryant needs to prove to the Raiders he is ready for a starting role in 2011, if he doesn’t the Raiders will likely look elsewhere.
The Raider Nation must wait until Monday to begin assessing the team behind the leadership of new starter Jason Campbell. Thanks to Tom Cable’s ‘learning intensive’ practices, the Raiders will not put on pads until Monday.
Enjoy the weekend for what it is, a non-contact, buzz generating walk-through. Sad to say, the Raiders have deprived the fans the opportunity to assess their favorite team for the first four days of camp.
Hopefully Cable is right and the learning intensive practices make for fewer mistakes and fewer soft tissue injuries for the rest of camp.
Monday is when the assessment can truly begin and questions can be answered.
1) Can the linebackers cover? – This can be gauged without pads, but a hit and tackle from the linebackers will change the way the backs and receivers run through the middle.
2) Can Mario Henderson be an above average left tackle? – We need Lamarr Houston and Matt Shaughnessy pushing him around with pads.
3) How many scraps will Lamarr Houston get into? – One already and he doesn’t have pads on yet.
4) Who wins the starting running back job? – Can Bush show burst and run aggressively? Will McFadden secure the ball?
5) Is Darrius Heyward-Bey really improved? – All signs point to yes, but we don’t really know until Nnamdi can play him with pads.
6) Can Chaz Schilens stay healthy? – Already a spectator. What happens when the team starts hitting.
7) Do the Raiders have enough depth in the secondary? – Routt becoming a drama queen and rookies are the other primary backups.
8) Is the offensive line strong enough to protect the QB? – Khalif Barnes? Langston Walker? Samson Satele? Mario Henderson? Far from an all-pro offensive line.
*If there is any silver lining to learning intensive practices, it is that I am going camping this weekend. I’ll be checking in as cell service permits on Twitter and the blog should any significant news break.