By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009 at 11:16 am in Oakland Raiders.
Third in a series of posts analyzing Raiders’ position groups with players scheduled to report to Napa in six days.
Projected starter: Zach Miller. Backups: Brandon Myers, Darrell Strong, John Paul Foschi, Tony Stewart.
No mysteries here. Miller had sports hernia surgery in the offseason and appears to have recovered nicely and should be full-go. With 56 receptions for 778 yards and a respectable 13.9 yards per catch average, Miller became the first Raiders tight end since Ethan Horton in 1991 to catch 50 or more passes in a season.
Coach Tom Cable believes Miller’s stats can be better with the right tight end to “marry up” (Cable’s words, not mine) with him. Hence the selection of Brandon Myers out of Iowa, who in theory can be the block-and-release player in two tight-end sets while Miller does what he does best _ find open areas in the middle of the field.
It could also help Miller be more of a threat in the red zone, where the one receiver JaMarcus Russell truly trusts drops off in terms of production. Of Miller’s 100 receptions in two years, only four have been four touchdowns _ just one last season.
Strong’s strong training camp showing won him a spot on the practice squad and a late promotion to the 53-man roster. Foschi can play either fullback or tight end but will be hardpressed to make the final 53.
The key battle: Myers vs. Stewart. Myers is already under contract, according to his agent (no confirmation from the Raiders, of course), and when contact drills begin will be able to show off the blocking skills which make him a good match for Miller in two tight-end sets. Stewart is a steady veteran, the team’s player rep, and in Miller’s absence showed a good pair of hands during the mandatory minicamp and OTAs. The Raiders would love to see Myers assert himself as the second tight end, but Stewart won’t be moved easily.
What I think: With the wide receiver position sorting itself out, Miller will remain Russell’s most reliable receiver as well as a strong secondary option. When Miller signed his contract, the Raiders were a running joke among agents and front-office types because they paid him about a million more than they needed to, considering what players were paid in front of him and behind him in the draft order. Maybe they did, but turns out it was money well spent.
What could go wrong: Injuries, of course. There isn’t a tight end on the roster with Miller’s knack for getting open over the middle or with his potential to be a big part of the offense.
The Robbins interview
Caught Barret Robbins’ interview with Andrea Kremer on Real Sports Tuesday night, and it was very similar to the interview Kremer landed for ESPN the last time the former center was in recovery.
Robbins has stood up and taken responsibility before, only to slip right back into the cycle of manic depression and substance abuse that nearly killed him. You pull for him because when of right mind he seems to have a good heart. But the only proof will be when days and years pass, with Robbins staying the course and regaining a relationship with his family.