ALAMEDA (AP) — David Ausberry was poised to win the starting tight end job for the Oakland Raiders last summer before a nasty shoulder injury ended his year in the preseason.
Ausberry is back healthy and once again making a bid to seize that job after Oakland let starter Jeron Mastrud leave in free agency and chose not to add any other proven tight ends.
This well could be the last chance for Ausberry, who has shown flashes of being a legitimate NFL tight end but has not done it consistently enough in his first three NFL seasons.
“It’s one of those things I try not to think about too much,” Ausberry said. “My job is to get on the field and be productive and do what I can do to help this team.”
Ausberry, a seventh-round pick in 2011, had nine catches his first two seasons. He appeared to be the leader last training camp for the starting job before taking an awkward fall in an exhibition game against New Orleans.
Ausberry chipped a bone in his left shoulder and also tore ligaments, leading to his eventual placement on season-ending injured reserve.
“It was really tough,” he said. “Coming out and having a strong training camp from the beginning, it was tough to go down and watch everybody, but it’s part of the game. You have to take it for what it is.”
While the Raiders spent the offseason overhauling their roster at almost every position, the only additions at tight end were a pair of undrafted free agents.
That leaves Ausberry to compete with second-year players Mychal Rivera and Nick Kasa and practice squader Brian Leonhardt for the starting role.
Coach Dennis Allen said the lack of additions at that spot was not necessarily a strong vote of confidence in the returning players, saying it’s impossible to address every need in the offseason. But he hopes one of the tight ends will emerge before the start of the season.
“I feel good about having some young guys at the tight end position and we’re going to need those guys to step up,” Allen said. “Somebody in that room has to step up and say they’re the guy.”
The tight end figures to be an important spot for the Raiders this season after they acquired Matt Schaub as their starting quarterback.
Schaub relied heavily on the tight end during his time in Houston, forming a strong partnership with Owen Daniels as he tried to do much of his work in the middle of the field. Schaub threw nearly 60 percent of his passes over the middle the past two seasons, according to game charting by Pro Football Focus, compared to less than half for Oakland last season when the tight ends combined for more than 45 catches.
“I watched film on him before he came. He likes the tight ends,” Ausberry said. “He likes to use the middle of the field, so we’ll be there for him.”
The bigger test for Ausberry will be to prove he can handle the blocking role of a tight end, which has been a bit of a struggle at times for a player who was a wide receiver most of his college career.
Ausberry has added about 15 pounds to his frame since entering the NFL and now weighs close to 260 pounds. With the Raiders unable to get in pads for practice until training camp starts, Ausberry has been unable to prove he can handle the blocking load.
“It’s one of those things where you can’t really tell right now,” he 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.”