Raiders: Tight end gets chance to impress

ALAMEDA -- When the Oakland Raiders open the season next week against Detroit, only one of their first three draft picks will even be in uniform.

With top pick JaMarcus Russell still holding out and third-rounder Quentin Moses getting cut, tight end Zach Miller is the only one of the top three left.

Miller, a second-round pick, is in line to start the Sunday's opener against Detroit after showing good progress during training camps and the preseason.

"I'm definitely a ton more comfortable than when I arrived," he said. "I'm comfortable with the guys on the team, with the offense. I'm not swimming anymore like I was. I'm pretty good on all the plays and the game plans and stuff. As far as information overload, I feel good. When I first arrived, I was struggling to learn the plays. I wasn't sure what I was doing. I'm much better now."

Tight ends are expected to play a bigger role in coach Lane Kiffin's offense, which emphasizes quicker passes.

"It's part of the offense that Coach Kiffin likes," Miller said. "I'm glad for that. It gives us some good opportunities to get involved in the passing game. It's good to be used like that on offense. I really like what we're doing on offense so far."

Randal Williams' 28 catches last season led the team's tight ends, but he was released over the summer along with the second-leading receiver at the position, Courtney Anderson. The leading returning tight end is second-year player John Madsen, an undrafted free agent who played receiver in college before making the switch in the pros.

Madsen had 11 catches as a rookie when he did well in the passing game but struggled as a blocker. Kiffin has been pleased with his progress during training camp and Madsen should get plenty of opportunities during the season -- especially in obvious passing situations.

The third tight end is Tony Stewart, a seventh-year player who has served as a tutor to the young tight ends and is the best blocker of the three. But Kiffin has been impressed with Miller's all-around play.

"I think he is a very good blocker," Kiffin said. "We're excited about what he's done in preseason and what he can do in the regular season for us."

SURPRISE! YOU'RE CUT -- Along with third-round pick Quentin Moses, Oakland cut veteran fullback Zack Crockett, receiver Alvis Whitted and free-agent safety Donovin Darius.

Moses, the first pick of the third round, was competing for the starting right defensive end spot until late in the preseason. Tommy Kelly won the job when he moved from tackle after the Raiders acquired Gerard Warren from Denver and fifth-rounder Jay Richardson beat Moses out for the backup role. By keeping Warren on the roster, the Raiders must give Denver a fifth-round pick in next year's draft.