Raiders welcome camp competition

NAPA -- Years ago players arrived at NFL training camps with aspirations of making a roster, carving out a meaningful career and delaying their entry into the real-world job market.

Many of those players used training camp to trim down after the offseason and to knock off the rust that came with seven months of being away from football.

Nowadays, football is a year-round endeavor, with offseason workouts, minicamps and countless hours spent in the weight room. Most everyone arrives in top shape. What hasn't changed is the presence of myriad players seeking an opportunity to impress the coaching staff and make the quantum leap from just another guy to a member of the opening-day roster.

To that end, several Raiders have made great strides toward making their dream a reality during the first week of camp. For some, it simply means making the 53-player roster. Others are hoping to go from backup to starter.

They are with the ideal team. Raiders coach Lane Kiffin showed last season that he isn't averse to turning heads when it comes to selecting his roster or shaking up the starting lineup.

Last season he cut 2007 third-round draftee Quentin Moses late in training camp, parted ways with longtime Raiders Courtney Anderson, Adam Treu and Zack Crockett, and benched starting defensive tackle Terdell Sands and cornerback Fabian Washington.

"I love competition," Kiffin said. "Anything I can do to throw guys in, regardless of who's at that spot, I love bringing them in. I just think competition makes people rise to the top."

With that in mind, it bears taking a look at some of the so-called no-names who have impressed Kiffin and his staff during the first week of camp.

Third-year linebacker Ricky Brown was one of those players thrilled to make the opening-day roster in 2006 and '07. He spent the bulk of his time on special teams, with an occasional play on defense mixed in. This year, Brown is making a strong push to unseat Robert Thomas and Sam Williams for the starting spot at the strong-side position.

"He really just plays so consistently," Kiffin said. "He doesn't make mistakes and just keeps pounding away in there. ... He continues to do things really well and he's had a great offseason."

Brown said he approaches every day as if it's another chance to prove himself and get better.

"Whether they want me to start or want me to be one of the leaders of the special teams, I feel like whatever my role is, I can do it well," he said.

Rookie Louis Rankin went undrafted out of Washington despite rushing for 1,294 yards and six touchdowns last season. Hardly a day passes without someone asking, "How did this kid not get drafted?"

"Right when we got him, he flashed," Kiffin said. "We didn't even know if he would make it to camp because we're so deep there, but he continues to flash and make plays, and he's helped out on special teams."

Second-year wide receiver Jonathan Holland sustained shoulder and knee injuries during minicamps last season and spent the 2007 season on injured-reserve.

The time off allowed him to recover from his injuries, acclimate to the NFL grind and show up this year prepared for the challenge of earning a backup spot.

The early returns are promising, with Holland outshining drafted rookie receivers Chaz Schilens and Arman Shields, among other hopefuls.