The Oakland Raiders have plenty of roster moves they need to make before the start of the season.
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Apparently trading for Matt Leinart isn’t one of them. The Raiders denied a report from ESPN on Wednesday that said the team has had discussions about trading with Arizona for Leinart.
”The Raiders have never discussed trading for Leinart,” the team said in a statement. ”The Raiders are very happy about their quarterback situation.”
Oakland acquired Jason Campbell in an offseason trade with Washington and is pleased with what he’s brought as the starter. Campbell led Oakland to touchdowns on the opening drives of the last two exhibition games. He sustained a stinger and an injured right wrist last week against San Francisco but is expected to be ready for the season opener Sept. 12 in Tennessee.
Bruce Gradkowski and Kyle Boller are slated to be the backups as quarterback appears to be one position that is set heading into the final exhibition game against Seattle on Thursday night.
Oakland must reduce its roster from 75 to 53 by Saturday, giving some of the fringe players one last chance to make a good enough impression to make the team.
”I think you have to show up. They’re on the bubble for a reason because they have not shown up to this point,” coach Tom Cable said. ”You have to make an exclamation point on Thursday night.”
The biggest questions left to be answered for the Raiders are the starters at center, fullback and cornerback; the backup running backs and receivers; the primary kick and punt returners; and which linebackers and defensive backs make the roster as backups and special teams players.
Cable said recently this will be the toughest cut-down decision in his four years with the organization because of the improved depth.
”There’s definitely going to be some eye-openers,” safety Michael Huff said. ”But that’s what goes with being a good organization, being a team that has quality depth and great players. There’s always going to be competition, and there’s going to be players that could start for other teams but because we have so much depth here, they won’t be able to play here.”
Among the players who have started in past years for Oakland but aren’t guaranteed roster spots this season are safety Hiram Eugene and linebackers Thomas Howard, Ricky Brown and Sam Williams.
All three linebackers started games last year when Cable said that unit was one of the biggest weaknesses on the defense.
Williams has done well on special teams this summer, and Brown provides versatility with the ability to play middle or outside linebacker. Howard was once viewed as a building block on the defense starting 62 of 64 games in his first four seasons.
He intercepted six passes in 2007, returning two for touchdowns, but is fighting for a backup spot this season with players such as Williams, Brown and Quentin Groves.
”It’s just a blessing to be out here and playing this game we all love,” Howard said. ”People forget that it’s an opportunity, and that’s how I am looking at it – as an opportunity to go out and play.”
Cable hasn’t named starters at center, where Samson Satele appears to have the edge over rookie Jared Veldheer, and cornerback, where Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt are fighting for a starting job opposite Nnamdi Asomugha.
Marcel Reece has done his best to seize the fullback job that entered camp as an open competition. Luke Lawton will miss the first two games with a suspension and undrafted rookie Manase Tonga is the only other fullback on the roster.
Reece has four catches for 87 yards, bringing an added element with his ability to make plays in the passing game.
”He just continues to get better,” Cable said. ”That’s the thing that he’s shown us is that, from one week to the next he’s going out and improving on whatever his negatives were from the week before. It’s starting to show up more and more that this guy, you can coach him, he’ll take it and he’ll go get it again. I certainly think that he’s really showing himself the right way.”
With Michael Bush’s status for the opener in doubt because of a broken left thumb, the Raiders might end up keeping both Michael Bennett and Rock Cartwright as backup running backs to Darren McFadden.
The Raiders will also have some difficult decisions to make at receiver and defensive back. Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Chaz Schilens appear set as the top three receivers, with players like Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jacoby Ford, Yamon Figurs, Nick Miller and Todd Watkins fighting for the other spots.
With all those players other than Watkins competing for the return jobs as well, special teams could play a big role in who makes the team.
At defensive back, three drafted rookies are in the running for roster spots in fifth-round cornerback Walter McFadden, seventh-round cornerback Jeremy Ware and seventh-round safety Stevie Brown.