In the parity driven NFL, special teams is anything but a stepchild.
If the Oakland Raiders are to return to the Super Bowl for the second time in as many seasons, this area will have to improve after a checkered 2002 season. The Raiders had some good moments but also some shaky ones on special teams last season.
"If I had my choice, I could put together a hell of a special-teams squad," Raiders special teams coach Bob Casullo said. "But the choice is not mine, the choice is who shakes out on the depth chart as position players. From the final 53 guys on the team, that's how you get your special-teams units. Now, am I excited about these guys? Absolutely. Do they have a chance? Absolutely. Will they make us better? Absolutely. But the bottom line is, when August comes and the final cut, let's see who's with us on the team."
Casullo also addressed the NFL's combined ranking of special teams, a compilation of 20 categories in a formula that makes the Einstein's Theory of Relativity look simple. The Raiders were 26th.
Phillip Buchanon gives Oakland an electrifying punt returner if he is healthy.
Ronney Jenkins improves the kickoff return unit but will face competition from rookies such as Justin Fargas, Doug Gabriel and Ryan Hoag along with free agent Scottie Montgomery and holdover Marcus Knight. Jenkins, however, appears to be the lead horse.
Conventional wisdom suggests the Raiders kickoff return game suffered when Terry Kirby suffered a broken bone in his leg. That notion, however, is not entirely true. Knight averaged 24.3 yards on 29 returns while Kirby, who was released, averaged 22.4 yards on 19 returns.
"If you look at what Marcus Knight did for us, he did a tremendous job," Casullo said. "His average of 24.3 put him in the top 10 in the league. But what we've got now is tremendous competition. It's going to be a fun preseason. We are going to have an honest chance to have the man that wins the job in preseason be a hell of a returner."