When it comes to position battles on the Oakland Raiders, this is not the area to look with the exception of returners. Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler, kicker Sebastian Janikowski and longsnapper Adam Treu are not only firmly entrenched at their positions but have very few peers at their position.
Lechler, who is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Janikowski give the Raiders a vast edge over most, if not all, opponents because they are so reliable and can do things their peers cannot match with any degree of regularity.
Longsnappers seldom, if ever, get any notoriety but very few are superior to Treu's consistency.
The coverage units were marginally better under first-year special teams coach Joe Avezzano than the disastrous unit that was under Bob Casullo in 2003. The coverage units should get better after having a year to digest Avezzano's system. The inopportune penalties were reduced last season but the coverage units still gave up a few too many big plays. Oakland defense against the punt return rated 29th with an 11.8 yard average while it ranked 28th against kickoffs in averaging 23.5 yards per return.
There figures to be ample competition for punt and kickoff return jobs in camp. Oakland trading Phillip Buchanon was an addition by subtraction on two fronts – cornerback and punt returner – for the big plays he gave up and failed to make respectively. Buchanon's decision making, to put it mildly, left a lot to be desired. Doug Gabriel, Carlos Francis, Fabian Washington, Stanford Routt and perhaps Ronald Curry will get a shot.
Gabriel, Francis and Justin Fargas will vie for the kickoff return job. Francis and Fargas have great speed but Gabriel is the most experienced and reliable choice.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org