Raiders try to center on a starter

July 29, 2008 11:42:49 AM PDT
Lane Kiffin believes it could take all of training camp for the Oakland Raiders to settle on a starting center. Jake Grove disagrees.

"I plan on starting," Grove said. "We'll see what happens. But I feel if I can go out there and do what I can do, it won't be a problem."

Grove was the Raiders' full-time starter two years ago but played in only seven games in 2007, most of them as a backup to Jeremy Newberry. He's also coming off knee surgery that forced him to miss all of Oakland's offseason workouts.

The Raiders signed veteran John Wade in late March; the team used Wade and Chris Morris, a seventh-round draft pick in '06, at center during the team's June minicamp.

But through the first week of training camp, Grove has taken the bulk of reps with Oakland's starting offense while Wade has acted as the backup. Morris, meanwhile, is getting work at right guard as a backup to Cooper Carlisle.

"It's wide open," Kiffin declared earlier in the week. "They'll decide who plays there by the way they practice and the way they play in the preseason. All three of them will get a shot."

Oakland's offense struggled last season while Daunte Culpepper, Josh McCown and -- eventually -- JaMarcus Russell rotated at quarterback. It didn't help that Newberry, the starting center who beat out Grove for the job in training camp a year ago, was playing on cranky knees that prevented him from practicing much during the week.

The outcome was predictable and painful. The Raiders botched numerous snaps that resulted in fumbles, and the offense sputtered the entire year.

With Russell now firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, Kiffin is hopeful the team can find him a permanent center to work with.

"The sooner we get the center thing figured out the better," Kiffin said. "As soon as we can get the same center with the same quarterback going together, definitely that's going to help. I'm not going to put a date on it and then make the wrong decision. That's going to be them showing it to us, and we're obviously not going to know that until we get into the preseason."

Grove, a second-round pick in 2004 who started eight games at right guard as a rookie, doesn't think it will take that long.

Though he was only recently cleared to return to practice after rehabbing his knee in the offseason, Grove has looked strong in practice and has shown no lingering effects from the surgery.

"Probably the last month I really started feeling good," Grove said. "I didn't get any vacation over this last month. I've been working every day. It's good to finally get back to practicing." ------

EXTRA POINTS: The Raiders announced that backup guard Mark Wilson has suffered a broken leg and is likely done for the season. ... Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was excused from practice to attend a funeral.


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