Remember wide receiver Juron Criner? Anyone? Yes, that Juron Criner, the one who burst on the scene two years ago and flashed during offseason workouts as if he was going to be the next Cris Carter.
Somewhere along the way to stardom, Criner crashed back to reality, was seldom used his rookie season and almost vanished last season.
He got passed by undrafted free agent Rod Streater, unheralded Andre Holmes and seventh-round draft pick Brice Butler.
Fast forward to today, and Criner looked like the Criner who caught anything he got his hands on for several practices his rookie season.
On Monday, Criner made a handful of eye-opening catches despite tight coverage, including a few in which he left his feet. Far and away, Criner looked like the best receiver on the field.
Before we get carried away again, it’s important to remember that Criner failed to duplicate his jaw-dropping feats in training camp his rookie season.
Still, Criner is a sight to see when he is at his best. Perhaps that’s what coach Dennis Allen was trying to bring out in Criner last season when he suggested that Criner needed to work harder and be more consistent in practice.
It’s also possible that Criner didn’t fully get the message until last season slipped away and now he is worried about his career slipping away.
— Last year’s offensive line, when everyone was healthy, featured: Jared Veldheer, Khalif Barnes, Stefen Wisniewski, Mike Brisiel and Tony Pashos.
Veldheer signed with the Arizona Cardinals in free agency. The Raiders cut Brisiel and opted against re-sighing Pashos.
In their place, the Raiders signed Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe from the free agent market. Now that the dust has settled, here’s how the starting line projects, from left to right: Penn, Barnes, Wisniewski, Howard and Menelik Watson.
— Derek Carr made several nice throws into tight windowns in red-zone drills Monday. Befitting a rookie, Carr also misfired on a couple of passes, including one in which his pass sailed directly off the hands of cornerback Taiwan Jones in the back of the end zone.
All in all, it’s difficult to assess quarterback play when there isn’t contact and defenders aren’t there to wave their arms, bat down passes and make life more difficult in the pocket.
Therefore, you look for accuracy, arm strength, tightness of spiral, footwork, decision-making, among other things, when breaking down quarterbacks at this time of the season.
To that end, Carr, projected starter Matt Schaub and last season’s part-time starter Matt McGloin fared well today. If you’ll recall, it was about this time last season when Matt Flynn, Terrelle Pryor and the other quarterbacks struggled mightily.
General manager Reggie McKenzie dismissed the criticism, which, as it turned out, was spot on and a harbinger for the regular season.
— Allen remains steadfast in his approach that he is going to put the best players on the field when the regular season starts. Hence, every position is up for grabs right now.
Second-year linebacker Sio Moore, therefore, is being looked at potentially as a starter at the weak-side position, with Khalil Mack sliding into Moore’s strong-side spot.
“I did this in college,” Moore said, when asked about the potential switch. “Moving from (strong side) to (weak side), that’s nothing abnormal. I just try to use my versatility and continue to show my coaches and my teammates that I can do anything on the field and I want to continue to work at it, no matter what position.”
What happens to Kevin Burnett in this scenario remains to be seen. He could become a backup, the Raiders could go to a 3-4 base defense or the Raiders could trade Burnett.
“When we get into games, the more things guys can do, the more we’re able to adjust,” Allen said in touting Moore’s versatility. “He has the skill set to play that position, and we’ll continue to work with him through the rest of OTAs and training camp. We’re going to put the best three guys on the field, and whoever those guys are will be on the field and play.”
Burnett wasn’t at last week’s OTA that the media were permitted to watch. He was here today but an ankle injury kept him out of practice. He was not available to the media.