NFL Nation: Shane Lechler

HOUSTON -- At a team luncheon when he was with the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans punter Shane Lechler got to see behind the mask.

The gorilla mask, to be exact.

Lechler
"That guy is a doctor in San Jose," Lechler said, of one the many members of the famed Black Hole that makes up the Raiders' home crowd. At games, he wears a gorilla mask. They sometimes let him know what their game-day costume is.

"Or they'll give you a business card that actually has it on there," Lechler said, laughing. "That's what's kind of eerie. Their own business card."

The costumes are part of what make Oakland's home field a big advantage for the Raiders. The Texans haven't been there since 2010. Houston also played in Oakland in 2008 during left tackle Duane Brown's rookie season, when a man in silver and black face paint heckled Brown all game.

"He was letting me have it for the full 60 minutes," Brown said.

Brown actually responded.

"I didn't know any better," Brown said. "The second time I went out there, I didn't pay any attention to it."

Lechler, who is in his second season with the Texans, is trying to treat his return to Oakland without much fanfare. It helps that there's been so much turnover there as Lechler barely recognizes most of the team, as well as the organization that drafted him in the fifth round in 2000.

"I know Antonio (Smith) because I was here with him," Lechler said. "...I'm ready to kind of get in, hopefully get a win and get it over with."

His fondest memories came from the 2002 season when Oakland played in Super Bowl XXXVII.

"I got to play with the league MVP at quarterback," Lechler said. "We had one of those teams that it was just a lot of fun. I'm not sure we were the most talented team every Sunday, but we got the job done every Sunday."

There will be one weird element for Lechler -- he's never been in the visitor's locker room in Oakland.

"I means a lot going back -- the organization definitely means a lot to me," Lechler said. "But hopefully I can stay here in Houston for as long as I was there."

Texans Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans' training camp.


  • On the field it was DeAndre Hopkins day at Texans' training camp this morning. Every time I looked up, Hopkins was making another leaping catch. One particularly impressive one came during a red-zone drill in which quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found Hopkins in the end zone. Hopkins caught the ball with cornerback Brandon Harris draped on him, then held onto it as Harris tried to wrestle it out of Hopkins' gigantic hands as the two of them fell to the ground.
  • And by the way, that red-zone drill was great to watch. Actual hitting! In training camp! "That's how it's supposed to be every day," Kareem Jackson said. "We're supposed to be out here competing as a team. The more we can go full speed and live and compete against each other in game-type situations, it'll only make us better when game time comes."
  • The winner for most entertaining moment of practice goes to an interception by D.J. Swearinger (swag with three g's). He picked off Fitzpatrick during a drill where a line of offensive players stood just behind watching. Swearinger went forward full speed, moved aside the onlookers in his way and ran toward the end zone, high-stepping into it once he got there. By the time he got back to the drill, the offense was already well on its way to its next play.
  • The winner for biggest cheer of the day goes to a Shane Lechler punt that Jadeveon Clowney blocked.
  • Backup quarterback Case Keenum has had good moments during camp, but one thing that's obvious is his first instinct is still to run out of trouble. That's something the Texans' current staff and previous staff tried to fix in his game.
  • Sunday morning's practice will be open to the media but closed to the public. The Texans will start at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up around 11 a.m. They'll do their usual afternoon walk-through, too, and that will be closed to fans and media.
Texans punter/holder Shane Lechler has been doing his job a long time and lately he's seen more change than he'd like in the NFL.

Lechler
One such change will get a test run in the preseason this year -- moving the extra point back to increase the degree of difficulty.

"I’m not a big fan of messing with tradition at all," Lechler said earlier this week during Matt Schaub's charity golf tournament. "It will be interesting to see how it works. It’s one of those things, I think in my opinion, I think it’s gonna have to be supported by all the teams to make this change. Messing with tradition is just tough for me, I think."

The idea behind this change is that the extra point is not a particularly important play because it's too easy for kickers. And while Lechler doesn't agree with that, he does admit the change would add intrigue.

"I mean, it’s still gotta be a great snap, a hold and a kick," Lechler said. "It’s still all three things and I think, yeah, everybody, it seems to be a given every time you kick it, but all of a sudden there’s three or four a year that don’t make it and that’s a big difference in a ball game. Now, if you move it back, yeah, would it bring more interest in the two-point conversion? Of course. If you just go 50 percent you cover up for missed PATs. I think there would probably be more interest in it, but I just don’t like changing the game. I think we’re doing way too much of that right now."

Jason Witten ready to take Ironman lead

December, 21, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- For the past seven years, every time he has played the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has known he would see linebacker London Fletcher.

Sunday is likely to be the last time, with Fletcher saying he is 99.9 percent sure he will retire after the season.

Fletcher
Witten
With Fletcher’s retirement, Witten would take over the NFL’s ironman streak of consecutive games played for position players. Fletcher will play in his 255th straight game Sunday, and make his 214th straight start.

Witten will play in his 170th straight game on Sunday. Houston punter Shane Lechler has played in 188 straight games.

“Anything like that labels you as just getting up there,” said Witten, who is 31. “It is hard to play consistently and at a high level like he has every week, week in and week out. I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, and that’s a big part of it. Obviously, London -- that’s just unbelievable at that position to do it as long as he’s done it.”

Witten missed one game as a rookie in 2003 with a broken jaw.

Over the years, Witten has developed a healthy respect for Fletcher.

“London’s a great competitor,” Witten said. “He kind of defeats all the football odds. He’s not big. He’s not overly fast. But he’s just a great football player and he’s done it for a long, long time. I heard about his starts streak. It’s hard to play that many games, and that’s all you need to know about a guy like that is every Sunday he comes and he brings it. Just a true pro. Great player, and obviously a great career. I’ve enjoyed going against him the last seven or eight years, and just a great competitor.”

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 10

November, 11, 2013
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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A look at four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

[+] EnlargeBen Tate
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesBen Tate will aim to boost the Browns' offense with his physical running style.
Andre Johnson wasn't giving up those touchdowns: Texans receiver Andre Johnson was a big part of what kept Houston in the game. He caught a first-quarter touchdown and a fourth-quarter touchdown, barely getting his feet in. He admitted after the game that Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson had good coverage on him, but added that wasn't going to get in the way of his own determination to come down with the ball.

Should the Texans have stayed on the ground more? Ben Tate, now the Texans' starting running back with Arian Foster headed to injured reserve, thought the Texans should have run the ball more in the second half. "I felt like it was working," he said. "I don’t understand why we went away from it. Besides that, I really don’t know. We just can’t play one half of football every week. If we were playing one half of football, we’d be doing great right now, but there’s two halves." The Texans ran the ball 14 times in the first half and seven times in the second half. Tate said that while he wasn't 100 percent (still recovering from broken ribs) he felt he was effective and could have carried more.

The feat of the foot: A few weeks ago when I approached punter Shane Lechler to tell him how close he was to 50,000 career punting yards, long snapper Jon Weeks jokingly indicated fatigue at hearing about how good Lechler is. The punter lightly indicated it had more to do with being old. He doesn't care much about punting yards as a statistic, but on Sunday he went over the 50,000-yard mark. Only five other punters have reached that landmark, according to ESPN Stats and Information. More than anything it indicates longevity. Lechler, who is in his 14th season, said he wants to punt for 20 years.

Critical Arizona score: The Cardinals took a three-point lead into the fourth quarter, but it turned into 10 when Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer found Andre Roberts 5 yards beyond his defensive back, Brice McCain. "All out blitz," McCain said. "My eyes were bad. Double move. He beat me." Wade Phillips said it was probably his fault for blitzing then, "but it was a little more desperation at that time, although we came back and still had a chance."

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 3

September, 23, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the Texans' 30-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

[+] EnlargeTandon Doss
AP Photo/Gail BurtonTandon Doss dealt the Texans a critical blow with an 82-yard punt return for a TD just before halftime on Sunday.
That pivotal punt return: Though Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith's 37-yard interception return for a touchdown gave the Ravens their first lead of the game, Tandon Doss' punt return for a touchdown with 45 seconds left in the first half might have been more deflating for the Texans. Doss returned the punt 82 yards, after catching the punt long before any Texans player was near him. Three Texans -- Shiloh Keo, Bryan Braman and D.J. Swearinger -- had positioning to tackle him, but Doss sliced through all of them. "We had three guys free around him," Texans special teams coach Joe Marciano told Mark Berman of Fox 26. "He made them all miss. To me it's inexcusable." There was some good from the Texans' special teams in Baltimore. Shane Lechler's start was just as strong as his previous games have been, pinning the Ravens at their own 7-yard line and their own 1-yard line early. Kicker Randy Bullock also made all three of his field goal attempts. But the bad seemed to be a continuation of last season. From ESPN Stats & Information: "Entering Sunday [and before Doss’ touchdown], the Texans' special teams unit has cost Houston 52.4 expected points since the start of 2012, more than 10 expected points worse than any other team."

Divergent snap counts: The Texans kept Ed Reed on a snap count, but he still played most of the game. Reed played in 73 percent of the Texans' defensive snaps. Seven players played in every single snap on their side of the ball: the five offensive linemen, rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins and safety Danieal Manning.

Flipping roles: The Ravens' five longest plays were all longer than any one of Houston's. Four of them came in the third quarter during the Texans' only defensive dip of the game. All of the Ravens' 10 longest offensive plays came after the first quarter and seven of them after halftime, which you'd expect. Meanwhile, only four of the Texans' 10 longest offensive plays came after halftime.

Penalties a killer: They came at damaging times, but the sheer number of penalties the Texans had Sunday in Baltimore was staggering: 14 penalties for 113 yards. Coach Gary Kubiak said the lack of discipline disappointed him more than anything else. Defensive end Antonio Smith said those penalties came from pressing too much, wanting too badly to make a play. That was a theme Reed touched on, as well. Reed said it was important for the Texans to remember to just do their jobs, rather than thinking about making a play. Whatever the reason, Ravens penalties helped the Texans early and their own crushed them late. The six defensive penalties in the second half helped move the Ravens down the field. It was the biggest issue on a Texans defense that otherwise had a strong day, allowing just 236 yards.

Locker Room Buzz: Houston Texans

September, 10, 2013
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Observed in the locker room after the Texans beat the Chargers 31-28:

Lechler
New feeling for a vet: Off in an auxiliary locker room for visitors that included specialists and some undrafted rookies, punter Shane Lechler mused about what a cool feeling this was for him. "I was thinking after we won, how long it’s been since I’ve been 1-0," the former Raider said. "It’s been a while. That was fun. Just to see the fight and the grit and grind of this team and witness it firsthand. To witness it firsthand was quite an experience."

Succinct description by Tate: "We played like crap," backup running back Ben Tate said. "It’s the NFL. You can’t play like crap." Tate refused to offer an explanation for their play. "That’s all excuses, we just played bad." What changed? "We played good the second half. That’s what good teams do."

What to do with the game ball: Texans coach Gary Kubiak said he gave the game ball to kicker Randy Bullock, who made the game-winning field goal. Bullock said he wasn't quite sure how to pack it, or if it would fit in his bag.

Patient rookie: Rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins waited for a crowd of reporters who blocked his locker. Hopkins used his phone to take a picture of Andre Johnson, beside him, who was the focus of the media crowd.
I commended the Oakland Raiders for bringing in veteran punter Chris Kluwe to training camp.

And I commend the Raiders for naming Marquette King their punter heading into the season. Kluwe tweeted Sunday that King won the job and he is being cut.

I think it is the right call and I give King a lot of credit for putting the Raiders in the position of being comfortable with him moving forward. Longtime star Shane Lechler left the team in free agency to go to Houston. King was with the team last year, on injured reserve. King showed a strong leg in the 2012 preseason, but he was green.

Kluwe, who spent eight years in Minnesota, was brought in to give Oakland insurance in case King didn’t show the necessary consistency. However, King had a strong preseason and improved his consistency. He answered the bell. Going with the youngster with potential is the way to go for a team that is rebuilding.

I still expect King will have the occasional growing pains as most young punters have. But it will be worth it in the long haul.

Observation deck: Texans-Saints

August, 25, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Sunday afternoon was the first view most people had of the Houston Texans' shiny new punter Shane Lechler.

Until Sunday, Lechler was sidelined as he recovered from a hamstring injury in his plant leg. He knew there would be a lot of eyes on him, wondering how he'd fare in his first game in Houston, the first of his career not as an Oakland Raider. And so, something happened to the 14-year veteran that hasn't happened to him in a while:

He got nervous for a preseason game.

"I got out there and went through the basics mentally," Lechler said. "You're like, make sure you catch the snap. There's a lot of people looking at you (to) see how you handle your first ball. That ball actually carried a little farther than I wanted it to. Luckily it checked up perfectly. I was nervous and anxious and excited at the same time."

Lechler punted twice, netting 52 yards per punt. One of those was downed at the 2-yard line, giving the Texans field position that led to their first touchdown. The New Orleans Saints never got past their own 6-yard line and went three-and-out on their next drive.

What started to become very clear in the Texans' third preseason game was that their specialists have really improved.

Second-year kicker Randy Bullock, who spent last season on injured reserve, notched touchbacks on all three of his first-half kickoffs. He also made field goals of 21 and 55 yards. It impressed Lechler, who spent most of his career with one of the best kickers of all time in Sebastian Janikowski.

"I think when you talk about Janikowski, that's probably one of the best that's ever done it, in my opinion," Lechler said. "I think at Randy's stage of his career he's probably a little bit more accurate than Janikowski was as a rookie."

Other observations from the Texans' third preseason game:
  • I haven't talked enough about undrafted rookie outside linebacker Willie Jefferson. That will change this week. Jefferson signed with a team that drafted two players at his position (Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams) but quickly surpassed both of them. After Sunday's game, safety Danieal Manning said the most impressive thing about Jefferson is how well he is able to incorporate what he learns in the classroom to the field. "He put pressure on them ever since he got in -- he's definitely holding up," Manning said. "I'm glad he's a part of this team." An important thing to remember about Jefferson is that this is only his third year playing defense. His ceiling is higher than some of the other rookies.
  • T.J. Yates' numbers this week looked similar to his numbers last week. He completed seven of nine passes, though one of his incompletions was a drop. He had the best passer rating of the three quarterbacks at 137.5 and also threw the fewest passes of the three. I'd bet you see more of Case Keenum next week against Dallas, where Kubiak will have to make a final decision on how many quarterbacks to keep. The Texans carried two on the active roster most of last season and had Keenum on the practice squad. But Keenum is making it very hard for Kubiak to cut him.
  • Fullback Greg Jones showed why the Texans signed him on Ben Tate's one-yard touchdown run. "Me and Greg are always talking," Tate said. "He wants to know how I'm thinking, and I'm asking him what he is thinking. ... I was with him on the touchdown run. I was right there with him."
  • The Texans' defense contained the Saints offense until New Orleans got its screen game going. "You know, they resorted to going to screens and stuff like that," Texans defensive end Jared Crick said. "I think that was probably due to the pressure we were putting on." Whatever the cause, it worked. On the Saints' first touchdown drive, Drew Brees threw screen passes to Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. Ingram took his catch 29 yards. Thomas nearly got tackled by Texans linebacker Joe Mays, but he escaped Mays' grasp first, then Texans safety Shiloh Keo inadvertently blocked Mays on his second effort to get to Thomas. That resulted in a 51-yard touchdown.
  • Speaking of Crick, he might have made a case for himself to start in place of Antonio Smith in the Texans' regular season opener. Crick had the Texans' only sack of the game, ending a Saints drive, and tied for the team lead with four total tackles.
  • Saints rookie Kenny Stills got the best of the Texans' starting cornerbacks on the same drive. Once with a one-handed catch on the sideline with Kareem Jackson on him. Another time, he got away from Johnathan Joseph for a 14-yard touchdown catch from Saints backup Luke McCown. "It was just a double-move, work on it all the time," Stills said. "Got the corner kinda sitting on the outside and was able to get inside and the ball was there."
There is competition all over the field in Oakland, and the race to replace star Shane Lechler is one of the more intriguing battles.

It appears the race between veteran Chris Kluwe and youngster Marquette King will be one of the competitions that last through the preseason. Lechler signed with Houston and Oakland brought Kluwe in. Kluwe was widely considered the favorite because of his experience. King is strong-legged, but has lacked consistency.

However, King fared better in the preseason opener and has showed increased consistency. That could bode well for him.

“I’ve seen improvement,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen said of King on Monday. “I’ve seen his consistency get better and I think that’s a good battle. I think that’s a good competition between him and Kluwe. Marquette, he’s a guy that’s working extremely hard and he’s gotten better. The consistency with him as far as the punts, as far as the get-off times -- the little details are the things that we’re still hoping to see him continue to improve. I think the last week or so, I’ve seen a lot of improvement out of him, so I think it’s a nice competition we have going there.”

If King outplays and out-practices Kluwe, he will win this job because of his potential. But if he can’t convince the team that he is ready, Kluwe could get the edge based on the importance of experience at the position.

In other Oakland notes:

Allen said the team is targeting Friday as the date rookie D.J. Hayden will be cleared for contact and the goal remains that he will play in the third preseason game, against Chicago on Aug. 23. Hayden has been working in non-contact drills as he comes back from a life-threatening injury to his heart he suffered last November.

Andre Gurode continues to play at guard because of an injury to Mike Brisiel. Brisiel could have trouble getting his job back.

Observation deck: Texans-Vikings

August, 9, 2013
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When Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates threw up what seemed to be a jump ball, the ensuing play revealed exactly why the Texans loved DeAndre Hopkins in this year's draft.

Well covered by Minnesota defensive back Bobby Felder, Hopkins leaped, secured the ball, then came down with his first NFL touchdown.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak often says that Hopkins is at his best on contested catches. It's something he thrives on during practices when the Texans' starting cornerbacks don't give him much room.

Even better for the Texans was that the touchdown play came very shortly after an uncharacteristic drop by Hopkins. He wasn't happy with himself for that play, but didn't let it linger long.

A few more observations from Friday night's game:
  1. I wrote earlier today that quarterback Case Keenum struggled in Wednesday's practice and my feeling was the backup quarterback job was Yates' to lose. That wasn't a feeling based on just that practice, of course. While I still think Yates is ahead, Keenum had a really nice game in Minnesota. On Twitter, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle suggested Keenum should be first off the bench next week against Miami. It's a good point. Keenum looked good, but he did it against worse players than Yates did. Flipping the two to see how Keenum does against second-string defenders could allow a more accurate assessment. Against the Vikings, Keenum completed 13 of 18 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown. Yates completed 13 of 21 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown.
  2. Earl Mitchell will take over as the Texans' starting nose tackle this season, and if tonight was any indication, the Texans are getting a serious upgrade at the position. Mitchell, another player in a contract year, led the team with four tackles in the first quarter, three of them for loss and one of which was a sack. He was constantly in the backfield early in the game.
  3. The Texans' punting and kicking on Friday was greatly improved, even though Andrew Shapiro, not Shane Lechler, did the punting. Shapiro's second punt was downed inside the 10-yard line. Coverage, however, struggled at the start of the game when Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff 50 yards.
  4. The Texans don't do live tackling in practice, and at times it showed. A short pass by Vikings backup Matt Cassel turned into a 61-yard touchdown catch by Zach Line when three different Texans defensive backs missed tackles.
  5. Minnesota's first series ended with Houston safety Shiloh Keo intercepting a Christian Ponder pass. Keo has had a good training camp, but the players who made that interception happen were two linebackers fighting for a starting role: Joe Mays and Darryl Sharpton. Sharpton broke through to pressure Ponder as he released the ball, and Mays disrupted receiver Jerome Simpson's route. The pass bounced off Simpson and into Keo's arms.
  6. Running back Cierre Wood helped himself. The undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame came into Friday night's game second to Dennis Johnson in the battle to be the Texans' third running back. Wood had 10 carries for 59 yards, including a 20-yard run. Johnson had seven carries for 11 yards, though he had four carries for 14 yards in the first quarter.
  7. Oh, and the Texans won 27-13. Don't care? Good. You shouldn't.
NAPA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders are basically starting over.

In the second year of the Reggie McKenzie-Dennis Allen era, the team has hit the reset button. The Raiders kept several high-dollar players at start of the post-Al Davis era in 2012 and saw their decade-long malaise continue. Oakland, which has not been to the playoffs since 2002, lost eight of its final nine games last season and finished 4-12.

McKenzie flushed several players in an attempt to get control -- finally -- of a salary cap that got away from the previous regime. The result is that Oakland, which will be in fine salary-cap shape next year, has questions throughout the roster heading into this season.

Yet, Oakland isn’t ready to give up on another season, waiting for better fiscal times. Oakland is beginning the rebuilding process with several players handpicked by McKenzie and Allen.

The theme of these newcomers is the same: “They love football,” Allen said.

Almost every time I’ve heard Allen talk in 2013, he has mentioned the will and desire of his team. Allen doesn’t dwell on the past, but it is clear he didn’t believe some of the players on his first Oakland roster would totally sell out for the game.

McKenzie said it was crucial to get high-character players in the building.

“This is the only way we are going to get this thing going,” McKenzie said. “We need to get guys who want it. I think this team, as a whole, wants it. You need talent but you need high-desire players. Sometimes, that is more important than talent. Now, we have talent, but the key is to find guys who have both. We think we have the kind of guys who can be here when we turn this thing around.”

It is doubtful Oakland will be a factor in the AFC West this season, but it’s all about the building process. Having players whom McKenzie and Allen believe in is a start.

“We have to build a swagger,” Allen said. “This team has to have a vision and a belief that this is going to be a good football team.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. The quarterbacks: Like most positions in Oakland, there is flux at the most important position on the field. The Raiders became a mystery at quarterback when Carson Palmer declined a pay cut. With a sudden hole, McKenzie turned to Matt Flynn in a trade with Seattle. Flynn was with McKenzie in Green Bay. He has two NFL starts under his belt, and he is 28. He has been the most consistent of the Oakland quarterbacks this summer, but he is far from dynamic.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Matt Flynn
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsMatt Flynn, who has started two games in a five-year career, has been the most consistent quarterback for the Raiders this summer.
The Raiders hope he can be a solid game manager and a short-term answer. He must show that in camp. The Raiders also have Terrelle Pryor and rookies Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson. I get the sense that the Raiders have higher, long-term hopes for Wilson, although he has struggled some in camp. If Pryor can find some consistency and Flynn falters, he or McGloin could get a chance. But the same goes for Wilson, a rookie, if there are no better options later in the season. For the immediate future, the Raiders hope Flynn can show he can be an effective starter.

2. Will McFadden have an impact? Running back Darren McFadden has long been Oakland’s best player. The Raiders need him to regain form to ensure this offense can be competitive. If McFadden and the running game don’t take off, there will be immense pressure on Flynn.

McFadden is looking for a bounce-back season. Oakland scrapped the zone-blocking scheme and will employ a power-blocking attack under new offensive coordinator Greg Olson. McFadden has had success in the latter scheme but must remain healthy regardless of scheme. He has missed at least three games in all five of his NFL seasons. If McFadden, who is in his contract year, can play at a high level again, Oakland’s offense will have a fighting chance. This training camp is about getting him prepared to do so.

3. Where’s the pass rush? Defensively, camp is about trying to find a pass rush. Oakland had little pass rush last season, and the team did little to improve in that area in the offseason. The team’s best pass-rushers are veteran Andre Carter and Lamarr Houston. But they are far from elite. Oakland has to find some pass-rushers to emerge in camp, and it also needs improved play in the secondary to help with the pass rush.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM: The back seven on defense appears to be improved. Oakland may have as many as nine new starters on defense and six in the back seven. Oakland feels better about its overall depth at linebacker and in the secondary.

In fact, I get the sense that the team’s brass is most excited about the linebackers and defensive backs.

The exact linebacker rotation is not clear, but the team is really high on middle linebacker Nick Roach and rookie outside linebacker Sio Moore. Roach has been a leader and has shown high intelligence. Oakland thinks Roach will set the tone for an improved defense. Moore, a third-round pick from Connecticut, has the look of a player who can make an instant impact.

Last season, Oakland’s secondary was one of the worst in the NFL. That doesn’t appear to be the case now.

The cornerbacks are much improved with veterans Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter and rookie D.J. Hayden. The addition of safety Charles Woodson gives Oakland hope on the field and in the locker room.

REASON FOR PESSISISM: The roster is not deep, and there are holes and questions all over.

There are some talented players, and some of these young players will emerge. But getting them ready in this camp is daunting.

The key in the NFL is depth. Injuries can occur at an alarming rate. The teams that survive are the teams with the deepest rosters. Oakland doesn’t seem to have a deep roster. McKenzie acknowledges this.

[+] EnlargeOakland's D.J. Hayden
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsFirst-round pick D.J. Hayden has the want-to attitude his coaches are looking for.
“I can’t afford to get too many injuries,” McKenzie said. “We have to stay healthy. If we do, I think we can be OK. Guys will emerge as camp goes on.”

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Raiders love Hayden’s attitude. The No. 12 overall pick has the type of want-to attitude the team is looking for.
  • Cornerback Taiwan Jones, who switched positions from running back in the offseason, is a long shot. But because he plays so well on special teams, he has a chance to make the 53-man roster.
  • It is no sure thing that wide receivers Rod Streater and Denarius Moore will be strong starters this year, but both have big potential. Streater, an undrafted fee agent last year, looks particularly comfortable.
  • I love how center Stefen Wisniewski and left tackle Jared Veldheer are looking. These are two of the better young offensive lineman in the game.
  • I get the sense Allen is very pleased with this staff. This group seems like it is working well together.
  • The punting job probably will go down to the wire as Oakland looks to replace Shane Lechler, now in Houston. As expected, veteran Chris Kluwe has shown consistency, but Marquette King has a stronger leg. King has a chance if he can find consistency in the next several weeks.
  • Seventh-round pick and pass-rusher David Bass has shown some nice burst. He has a chance to develop.
  • The tight end position continues to be in flux. The team’s four tight ends are David Ausberry, Richard Gordon and sixth-round picks Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera. I’d say Ausberry is the favorite to win the job. Still, it is a work in progress.
  • The team likes what it sees in returner Josh Cribbs. He has a great attitude and is a good influence in the locker room.
  • Journeyman offensive lineman Alex Barron has looked good. Once considered a longshot to make the team, Barron has a chance to play a lot.
Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler were a team in Oakland.

Janikowski
They kicked together. They golfed together. They hung together. They were known as the best kicker-punter pair in the NFL for years.

Now, Janikowski is on his own after Lechler left for Houston via free agency. And the 2000 first-round pick says he has no intentions of leaving the Raiders. A pending free agent, the 35-year-old Janikowski told reporters he wants to play seven or eight more NFL seasons and he’d like to retire in Oakland.

I think Janikowski has a chance to get his wish. Oakland will have a surplus of salary-cap room next year and thus the flexibility to re-sign Janikowski if it wishes. Janikowski is still kicking at a high level and is a rare offensive weapon, so I think we could easily see him in silver and black for the long haul.

Here are some assorted AFC West minicamp nuggets:

Broncos coach John Fox had former Denver linebacking great Randy Gradishar speak to the team Wednesday.

Several media outlets noted that Tuesday's session was a rocky one for Oakland's offense. Wednesday, the reports were more positive, with the quarterbacks seemingly throwing the ball better. My reaction remains the same -- it’s June. Things will work themselves out.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy continued to rave about the chemistry the Chargers have displayed and how well they have bought into the new system.

San Diego first-round pick D.J. Fluker is going to be a media darling. The 6-foot-6, 335-pound offensive lineman's personality is as large as he is.

Oakland coach Dennis Allen said the foot injury that is keeping rookie running back Latavius Murray out of minicamp is not serious.
The Oakland Raiders do not have an experienced punter on their roster.

Chris Kluwe is an available punter with eight years of NFL experience. Kluwe has indicated he is being cut by the Minnesota Vikings.

Would it be worth Oakland’s time and effort to consider Kluwe?

The Raiders are totally rebuilding, and general manager Reggie McKenzie is counting on inexperience at other positions. Punter Marquette King may end up getting his chance to show he can be the long-term answer. The Raiders also signed rookie Bobby Cowan out of Idaho, but King seems to be the young punter Oakland is focused on.

King was intriguing last year in training camp and in the preseason, as he showed he has a booming leg. But he is raw and inconsistent, and it often takes punters a few years to find that consistency.

Oakland has a hole at the position because it let star punter Shane Lechler leave for Houston in free agency. If Oakland feels it needs an experience punter, it could turn to Kluwe. He is not an upper-echelon punter, but he is solid and very likely would be better than King this year because of the experience factor. And Kluwe could be an affordable acquisition.

If Oakland bypasses Kluwe, King would then get his chance this summer. And if King fails, the Raiders can always search the waiver wire for a punter after teams make their final cuts.

AFC West checkpoint

May, 4, 2013
5/04/13
1:00
PM ET
Now that the NFL draft has wrapped, the rosters are essentially set for each AFC West team heading into the 2013 season. Sure, each team will make some tweaks, but the heavy lifting has been done.

Let’s take a look at the offseason and where each AFC West team stands:

Denver Broncos

What was good about the offseason? Denver went 13-3 in 2012 and followed up by adding several terrific pieces in free agency and the draft. There aren’t a ton of glaring holes on this team. The Broncos are strong in all phases of the game. And they upgraded in some big ways. Of course, the big prize was slot-receiving star Wes Welker in free agency. He makes Denver’s passing offense even more dangerous. But Denver also upgraded the roster by adding cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, guard Louis Vasquez and pass-rusher Shaun Phillips in free agency and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and running back Montee Ball via the draft.

What was bad about the offseason? The lone blemish on Denver’s offseason was the bizarre departure of pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil was set to return before the infamous fax-machine gaffe paved the way for him to go to Baltimore. Denver signed Phillips and drafted Quanterus Smith in the fifth round. Phillips will probably be a situational player and Robert Ayers will probably start in Dumervil’s old spot. Smith was leading the nation in sacks last season for Western Kentucky when he tore an anterior cruciate ligament. He is expected to be ready for training camp. The Broncos will miss Dumervil, but they think they got enough help for Von Miller.

How should they feel moving forward? The Broncos should believe they are ready to make a Super Bowl run. Is Denver flawless? Certainly not, but no NFL team is these days. Denver did enough in the offseason to be considered one of the better teams in the league.

Kansas City Chiefs

What was good about the offseason? A horrible 2-14 mark in 2012 seems like a long time ago. The Chiefs upgraded with the hiring of Andy Reid as coach and John Dorsey as general manager. Then they added quarterback Alex Smith -- the best quarterback available in the offseason, including the draft -- and several other pieces on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs' roster was already solid and it got better; what the Chiefs lacked was coaching and quarterback play. Meanwhile, the signing of cornerbacks Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith could, in combination with holdover Brandon Flowers, give Kansas City the best cornerback group in the NFL.

What was bad about the offseason? The situation with left tackle Branden Albert should be resolved by now. He will probably stay with the team and No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher will play right tackle. The Chiefs tried to trade Albert, who was given and has signed the franchise tag, but a deal fell through with the Dolphins. A swap could still happen but more likely, Albert comes back for a year and then leaves as a free agent. In a clean offseason, this has been the one sticky situation.

How should they feel moving forward? The Chiefs should feel great. There are few holes on this team. How many squads coming off a 2-14 season can say that? I’m not sure the Chiefs are playoff contenders. It depends on how Smith fits with the offense and how quickly the defense comes together. But this team should be much improved. Reid’s program is on the right track.

Oakland Raiders

What was good about the offseason? The Raiders had a good draft. General manager Reggie McKenzie worked the process well, turning seven picks into 10. Because this outfit is being totally rebuilt, I would not be shocked if all 10 draft picks made the 53-man roster. Oakland's first-round pick, cornerback D.J. Hayden, and its third-round pick, linebacker Sio Moore, have a chance to start right away and make an impact. Adding Hayden to free-agent signees Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins is a big upgrade at the cornerback spot. The linebacking crew has a chance to be better too.

What was bad about the offseason? Salary-cap problems made it very difficult for Oakland. It had to cut several players, including defensive back Michael Huff and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey; it traded quarterback Carson Palmer; and it saw solid free agents like Philip Wheeler, Brandon Myers, Shane Lechler and Desmond Bryant go elsewhere. The Raiders did the best they could under the circumstances, but a lot of talent left the team.

How should they feel moving forward? The Raiders should feel like a work in progress. The NFL has become a quick-turnaround league. That is not, however, likely to happen in Oakland this year -- the Raiders are probably a three-year project. McKenzie tore it down and is starting to build it up. The Raiders have made their salary-cap situation right for the future and have some promising players. But if the Raiders made a playoff push this year, it would be a major surprise.

San Diego Chargers

What was good about the offseason? The Chargers had a great draft -- arguably the best in the league. They drafted right tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round, inside linebacker Manti Te'o in the second round and receiver Keenan Allen in the third. All three were considered first-round talents and should start this fall. The franchise is headed in a new direction, and these players will have paved the way. The Chargers also added some nice pieces in free agency in the form of cornerback Derek Cox, running back Danny Woodhead and guard Chad Rinehart.

What was bad about the offseason? Yes, the Chargers did have some success in free agency, but because of salary-cap worries, they didn’t do too much. The Chargers need an infusion of talent, and free agency didn’t solve all the problems. The offensive line in particular is still a work in progress.

How should they feel moving forward? The solid draft gives the Chargers some good vibes heading into the summer. But this is not a complete roster. The offensive line is not great, and there are some concerns in the secondary. Yes, the Chargers are improving. But as with Oakland, the promise may be more long term than immediate.

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