What To Watch: Sophomores

Every year and in every city the preseason is when the fans watch to see if they have the next impact rookie.

This year’s top crop includes Rolando McClain, Lamarr Houston, Jared Veldheer, Jacoby Ford, Bruce Campbell and Walter McFadden.

What is often lost in the rush to evaluate the rookies is just how much a second year player can improve and make an impact for a team. One recent example is Tyvon Branch.

Branch, as a Sophmore, lead all safties in tackles. He figures to be an impact player for the Raiders in 2010 and beyond.

The 2010 sophmore crop includes: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Mike Mitchell, Louis Murphy, Matt Shaughnessy, Desmond Bryant and Marcel Reece. These sophmores will all see significant playing time in 2010.

The offseason has been filled with reports on Heyward-Bey’s improvement. He’s looked like the best player on the field at times and his route running is much better. All the reports a vast departure his the drop-filled 2009.

Mike Mitchell’s rookie campaign was hindered by a hamstring that kept him out of camp and into the regular season. In limited duty late in the year he had success, but questions remain about his coverage skills.

Will Murphy be able to build on a successful 2009. You would think the addition of Jason Campbell would enable Murphy to take a leap forward, but unless Chaz Schilens remains on the sideline, Murphy could be forced to in the slot. Murphy will have to compete for reps with a more crowded core of young receivers.

Matt Shaughnessy has been so impressive the Raiders cut Greg Ellis and moved Richard Seymour to defensive tackle. Equally strong against the run and pass, Shaughnessy’s progression will go a long way towards determining the success of the Raiders defensive line in 2010.

Desmond Bryant is all of the sudden fourth on the depth chart at defensive tackle. This isn’t a terrible problem to have. Bryant still needs to become more consistent, but he can be a valuable member of the defensive line with limited snaps. Giving the aging Henderson, Kelly and Seymour a breather will be his primary role, but that’s not to minimize it. The Raiders will expect minimal drop-off in play when they call on Bryant’s number.

While many fans will keep a close eye on the rookies, perhaps it is the sophmores that are hungry and primed to make an impact in 2010.

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