Dennis Allen is happy with the Raiders’ offseason haul. The third-year head coach also admitted Monday he didn’t get everything he wanted for Christmas. There are a few needs left on Allen’s list, an expected occurrence considering where the Raiders roster was roughly three months ago.
Count a veteran tight end among those things he didn’t get.
“It’s kind of like when you go and sit on Santa Claus’ lap,” Allen said Monday. “You ask for a bunch of stuff, and you get about half of it. That’s kind of where we’re at. I feel good about having some young guys at the tight end position and we’re going to need those guys to step up. Somebody in that room has to step up and say that they’re the guy. I think we’ll all know when that time comes.”
Though undrafted free agents abound and NFL Network has reported the Raiders have shown interest in veteran standout Jermichael Finley – he’s had trouble being medically cleared from a neck injury -- this remains a three-man race between David Ausberry, Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa.
Rivera was primarily a pass catcher in his rookie season. Kasa spent most of his first year on special teams. Ausberry, however, was a spectator.
A “nasty” shoulder injury suffered in Week 2 of last preseason took 2013’s presumed starter out for what could’ve been a breakout year. The converted receiver from USC spent his first two seasons bulking up while learning a new position, with just nine receptions to show for it.
Now he enters another offseason full of promise, hoping to win a starting job and be a productive part of this offense. After a season physically unable to do anything but watch film, Ausberry feels better prepared for this opportunity. And being 260 pounds of raw muscle doesn’t hurt.
Ausberry has performed well early in this offseason program and has consistently run with the first team.
“I was a little rusty. I can admit that. It was good to get back in there and get in with the guys,” Ausberry said. “…We are not really in real football yet with no pads on. It’s about technique, it’s about being confident, it’s about knowing your assignment. That’s one of those things that I am working on right now.”
Ausberry certainly sees opportunity, especially with tight-end friendly quarterback Matt Schaub running the show.
In 2012, when Schaub completed 350 passes for 4,008 yards and 22 touchdowns, 32 percent of his passes, 35 percent of his yards and 55 percent of his TDs where thrown to tight ends.
Those numbers were spread over three different players, meaning Ausberry, Rivera and possibly Kasa or a younger tight end will see a ton of targets.
“I watched film on Matt before he came,” Ausberry said. “He likes the tight ends. He likes to use the middle of the field, so we’ll be there for him.”
Ausberry’s size, strength and untapped potential have intrigued many during this offseason, but let’s not forget that Rivera had 38 catches for 407 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie.
Talk of Finley making it to Oakland is intriguing but still a stretch due to a neck injury that hasn’t passed snuff of NFL team doctors and reportedly has a $10 million insurance policy if it ends Finley’s career.
That means these young tight ends must produce consistently and become Schaub’s safety net.
“Nobody is 100 percent established in that room,” Allen said. “We’re looking for some of those guys to step up. I think they’ve done a nice job throughout this offseason program of trying to get better. We’ll continue to work with them on through training camp and we’ll see where we’re at.”