Sixth in a series of concerns regarding the makeup of the 2008 Raiders with the reporting date approaching on July 24 at the Napa Marriott:
Lane Kiffin would never admit it, but the Raiders’ startling lineup will be set when the team reports to the Napa Marriott on July 23.
The only gray areas for the silver and black are at right tackle, where Mario Henderson hopes to unseat Cornell Green, and center, where a three-way battle between John Wade, Chris Morris and Jake Grove will be one of the most interesting competitions during training camp.
Kiffin has warned against reading too much into minicamp lineups, but the largest share of first-team reps during media availability periods has gone to Morris, the third-year player out of Michigan State.
Wade worked with the first team during one of the organized team activities, while Grove, who was thought to be the center of the future when he was drafted after Robert Gallery in 2004, has been rehabbing a knee injury and could be getting his last chance to claim the position assuming he is healthy enough to play when camp opens.
Morris is the least powerful and talented of the three players but may be the best at executing the cut blocking that the zone blocking concept requires. It is not unusual for zone blocking teams to utilize smallish centers who can move, guys who wouldn’t have a chance to even make a roster on power blocking teams. Denver did this for years with Tom Nalen.
Wade, 33, would be another temporary fix along the lines of Jeremy Newberry, although a more durable one.
In five seasons with Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, Wade has started 106 out of 126 games played. He is a smart, capable veteran who Kiffin said would be similar to Newberry in terms of being a leader to a relatively young line.
Although Newberry wanted to return, and Tom Cable wanted him to return, chances are Al Davis made the right call on this one. It was remarkable to see Newberry hold up as well as he did, and it’s difficult to imagine it happening again. He is probably better off as a backup at this stage of his career, which is what he will be in San Diego.
Grove came out of Virginia Tech with the reputation of having a nasty streak, and was in fact a bigger star at defensive tackle than as an offensive lineman as a high schooler in Virginia.
But all that attitude hasn’t been enough to move defensive linemen consistently at the NFL level. As a result, Grove has worked on building up his upper body while rehabbing his knee. It remains to be seen whether the added bulk will hurt Grove in terms of executing the footwork the blocking scheme requires.
Kiffin went out of his way to talk up Grove as an important part of the center competition. Short of that, if he is healthy enough, Grove would be the most likely of the three players to bring something back in the form of a training camp trade.