Five to watch

As the Raiders wrap up their final week of OTAs before the start of training camp next month, SBI's Michael Wagaman takes a look at five players who haven't got a lot of attention this offseason but could wind up filling pivotal roles on Oakland's roster.

QB Marques Tuiasosopo: The addition of Tui in the offseason didn't initially register as that big of a deal but the journeyman quarterback has done well so far in his return to Oakland and has impressed the coaching staff with how quickly he's picked up the offense.

While he's still third on the unofficial depth chart, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise if Tuiasosopo is able to unseat Andrew Walter as the backup to starter JaMarcus Russell. Though you have to take offseason workouts and practices with a grain of salt, Tuiasosopo has easily been the more impressive of the two and seems to be a better fit in Lane Kiffin's offense than the taller, slower Walter.

Oakland's quarterbacks have been spending a significant amount of time in practice this offseason working on rolling out of the pocket and throwing on the run, primarily because of legitimate concerns about the team's pass blocking.

Tuiasosopo made a living in college by beating teams with his arm and his legs but hasn't been able to recapture that glory in the NFL. He might never, but given that few quarterbacks in the pros make it through a full season without missing a game, it's fair to say Tui is likely going to get another shot at some point this year.

"He's done a great job, especially in moving the ball around and getting it to the right people," Kiffin said Wednesday. "It feels like he's been here for a long time. After (Thursday's) practice we're going to sit down and look at everything and see if there are some different spots in other areas. We may move some people around. We're happy with their progress right now and we're not trying to figure out the depth chart right now. We're just letting them play ball."

T Mario Henderson: Let's face it, neither left tackle Kwame Harris or RT Cornell Green is going to be taking a trip to Pro Bowl any time soon and the Raiders can't afford to let Russell take a beating during his first go-round as Oakland's full-time starting QB.

Henderson has been a bit of a mystery since the Raiders drafted him in the third round last year. He was lost and confused for much of his rookie season when it appeared he had trouble digesting the offense and adapting to Tom Cable's zone blocking schemes, and he hasn't done much to distinguish himself in the offseason.

An injury to either Harris or Green could push Henderson into the limelight.

LB Rickey Brown: Primarily a special teams player who has filled in occasionally on defense from time to time, Brown is one of those types of players coaches love, a player whose motor never seems to stop and who squeezes the most out of what he has.

The problem for Brown is that he's been playing behind middle linebacker Kirk Morrison, one of the league's top young players at his position. Brown has done well on special teams but has stood out during OTAs as well.

There's no way Brown beats out Morrison for the starting job in the middle but it'd be worth considering moving him to the strong side, where Robert Thomas and Sam Williams have been decent but not much beyond that.

FB Justin Griffith: There was some speculation that Griffith might be on his way out after Oren O'Neal's solid rookie season but O'Neal's recent knee injury has slowed that process. Even if O'Neal was healthy the Raiders would be wise to lean on Griffith.

He is as good a fullback as you'll find in the NFL, strong, intelligent and a great blocker. He's got decent enough hands coming out of the backfield but with running backs like Darren McFadden and Michael Bush on the roster there isn't likely to be many plays calling for throws to the fullback.

Nevertheless, Griffith is one of the few leaders Oakland can actually point to on the offense. Russell is only in his second year, McFadden will be a rookie and the receiving corps is extremely young with few exceptions.

Russell and McFadden both will benefit by having a bodyguard like Griffith around.

WR Johnnie Lee Higgins: Heads into training camp as the leading candidate to be the Raiders' punt returner, a job in which he showed unlimited potential in the preseason but fizzled during the regular season as a rookie in 2007.

Where Oakland really needs Higgins to make his mark, though, is at receiver. He's the one legitimate speed threat Oakland has amongst its wide receivers, and given the uncertainty over the Jevon Walker and Ronald Curry situations, Higgins could easily wind up playing significant minutes on offense.

The Raiders have 12 wide receivers on their current roster, only three of which have played more than two seasons in the NFL. Higgins, whose had problems hanging onto the ball as a third receiver last year, needs to prove in training camp he's capable of being at least in the top five if he's going to have a chance to stick.


SB Report Top Stories