ALAMEDA – The Raiders started this training camp with little experience at tight end. Now they have even less.
With Richard Gordon cut and David Ausberry ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts with a shoulder injury, the Raiders don’t have an available tight end from last year’s roster.
They’re carrying two unproven rookies and fourth-year pro Jeron Mastrud, who has one catch in 36 games played. Mastrud’s catch count is excused by solid blocking technique.
He’s carved out a niche as an in-line blocker, and will be part of a situational rotation at tight end. Mychal Rivera is a receiving threat, more polished at this point that fellow draft pick Nick Kasa.
“These guys have specific skills,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “We’re going to try and put them in position to emphasize the things they do well.”
Mastrud’s strengths should activate him in the run game and on certain passing downs helping Khalif Barnes’ sudden transition back to left tackle with Menelik Watson out.
“He’s highly intelligent, so he understands what to do,” Allen said. “He’s a little bit of a jack-of-all-trades; he can do a little bit of everything. He can adjust for us. He’s a smart football player and I think the more smart football players you put on the field that have the ability to adjust when things change, that’s going to give you a better opportunity.”
Rivera’s size hinders his use, but his receiving skill is advanced for his age. He excelled throughout the preseason and will have snaps where he’s asked to make plays in the seam and across the middle.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to play a regular season game,” Rivera said. “I’m sure there will be some nerves before the game, but I have confidence in myself and the offense.”
The Raiders were looking for a clear-cut starter at tight end, someone who could block and catch big passes. Ausberry was that guy before separating his shoulder in an Aug. 16 exhibition at New Orleans. He’s been out ever since, leaving others to fill his void. Mastrud has proven himself since that time, working his way up the depth chart with quality practices. Rivera and Kasa have also improved in that span, giving the Raiders optimism that they can produce with Ausberry out.
“That’s what we have to do,” Rivera said. “It’s a bummer that David is out, but we have talent here and we can do a lot of different things from the tight end spot.”