Training camp notebook: 2015 Raiders offense
Oakland’s offense should trending upward this year, possibly in line with divisional standards in the West, which would be a monster improvement.
It’s only been a week or so of camp, so don’t hold me to that expectation. But it’s certainly possible. Here’s some of the reasons why, along with some other bits.
Talented receiving corps
Michael Crabtree looks more like the player he was in 2012 before he blew up his Achilles. The burst, the craftiness, the hands. It’s all there.
I got the chance to check on on him last season in Santa Clara, and he didn’t look the way he does now. I realize some of the frustration he showed last season was probably based on a year of play that doesn’t match his ability when healthy.
Amari Cooper has some room to grow, but already looks like an above-average starter. These dudes are solid, and could help to make for one of the better receiver tandems in the division, maybe in the league at some point.
Holmes is a pure deep threat with no other ability. Whether it’s the lack of mental quickness or something else, he can’t hone on passes shorter than 15 yards. What good is that to a team?
Butler, meanwhile, has flashed serious improvement with his footwork, though he too has shown momentary mental lapses.
The team kept Holmes on a restricted free agent tender that didn’t carry draft implications, and still, not one other team tried to snatch him. That says something.
The 27-year-old has done nothing in his career that gives him a slight edge. And while some will focus on the fact that Holmes is the remaining team leader in receptions, the actual team leader was released. And remains unsigned.
That says even more.
Butler is faster, more agile, and has shown that he is more able in every part of the field, able to catch more, and is much younger at 25 years old.
Holmes was also the worst receiver on Oakland’s roster in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, and Butler was the best. We could be looking at the end of the road for Holmes.
Offensive line looking centered
That’s impressive, especially since defensive linemen usually have the edge this time of year.
“Oh man, I love Rodney. Every time I see him, I tell him I just want to hug him. I do. I love that guy. He makes my job a lot easier. Without getting too into why, he just does. He is a great veteran presence. He is the same guy every single day.”
Left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Gabe Jackson, Hudson, Webb, and right tackle Austin Howard project as the starters up front currently, but Menelik Watson is still working at pushing Howard at right tackle.
Oakland’s line could be solid, if not above-average this season. And if they can run the ball well this year, fughetaboutit.
Nobody stands out at running back
Remember when Dennis Allen and Tony Sparano would say that Latavius Murray never stood out at camp, or at practice? Nothing has changed.
Problem this year is that Roy Helu Jr., who was supposed to push Murray, and Michael Dyer, who has flashed but on a limited basis, are both banged up and not practicing.
Jack Del Rio refuses to get into specifics about the injuries, so establishing any sort of timetable for either is next to impossible. But If they come back and look good, Murray might not be the unquestioned starter a lot of people envisioned him being.
That’s not to say that the human bowling ball who can strike at ridiculous straight line speed won’t be. Especially since it’s just practice. There are no real tackles to break right now.
It’s important to remember, though, while Murray finished the season with 5.2 yards per attempt, his 82 rush attempts provide a very limited sample.
Remove Murray’s 90-yard scamper to open week 10 against the Chiefs, and the average drops to 4 yards per carry.
Of Murray’s 82 attempts, 37 were for two yards or less, and eight went for negative yardage. Having Hudson should help, but the usage of Helu could be extremely high if Murray stumbles early on.
Tight ends flexing
Oakland brought in a woolly mammoth in Lee Smith this offseason, an above-average run blocker with understated ability as a receiver. Third-round draft pick Clive Walford has been injured, and incumbent starter Mychal Rivera has been making the most of it.
But despite the mix of size, strength and speed, what stands out most is how the Raiders have been lining up at certain points.
Rivera, Walford and Smith can all catch, and the latter two can also block pretty well.
Which is why the Raiders have been putting three tight ends out on the field at the same time in practice — the potential allows for a premium number of run blockers, with Rivera flexed out wide, and receiving options at the same time.
I wrote about unique formations and a knack for using tight ends to the advantage of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave early in the year, and it’s showing up at camp.
The Raiders might pioneer something here, or more poignantly, bring back some of the old school uses for tight ends.
Until Walford gets healthy, though, it will be hard to tell just how much time any of them will see.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.