Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will be providing position-by-position breakdowns each day leading up to Raiders training camp. The full squad will report on July 24, with the first practice day scheduled for July 26. Today, Scott focuses on the safeties.
Who they have: SS Tyvon Branch, FS Charles Woodson, FS Usama Young, SS Reggie Smith, SS Shelton Johnson, FS Cory Nelms
Who they lost: FS Michael Huff, FS Matt Giordano, SS Michael Mitchell.
Looking back: A defensive strength was depleted by injuries at another position. Free safety Huff had to take over at left cornerback when Shawnte Spencer and Ron Bartell suffered injuries in the first two weeks, moving Giordano into the starting lineup. He started 14 games in Huff’s place and was exposed at times in coverage, giving up five touchdowns and a 63-percent opponent completion rate. Branch was his consistent self at strong safety, a stabilizing force despite change all around him. Mitchell was a solid reserve, especially against the run.
Overall outlook: The Raiders lost three key components at safety, but reloaded efficiently. Huff was released for salary cap relief – he’s with Baltimore now – while Giordano and Mitchell were allowed to sign elsewhere. The team brought back fan favorite Charles Woodson on a 1-year, $1.8 million contract, allowing him to bookend his career in silver and black. He should start over Young, a free-agent import from Cleveland with real promise. Woodson might not be the same player he once was, but the 36-year old remains a solid player and a respected leader. Young should spell Woodson at times to keep him fresh.
Camp competition: Young should push his elder during camp, but the Raiders didn’t bring Woodson in to be a backup. Woodson is an icon in Oakland and is expected to start, but that won’t dampen Young’s drive to maximize his playing time. If he can prove himself more effective in certain packages, he can join a regular rotation. There is little talent behind Branch, but Smith was brought in to be his reserve. He was out of football in 2012 after being cut by Carolina just before the season. He played four seasons in San Francisco before that. Nelms and Johnson must have a solid camp to stay on the roster. The Raiders won’t keep more than four safeties.