The departure of Brandon Myers in the offseason left the Raiders’ tight end position one of the more open competitions heading into training camp.
After being drafted in the sixth round (184th overall), rookie tight end Mychal Rivera is using his first training camp to make an impression on coaches and help earn a chance to fill that void.
Rivera has shown one of his biggest strengths by using his speed and route-running to get open against defenders on numerous occasions. On one play, Rivera used a nice double move that left veteran safety Usama Young trailing and shaking his head at what had just happened.
Rivera’s ability to get open shouldn’t come as a surprise after the finishing his senior year at the University of Tennessee with 36 catches on the year for five touchdowns and 562 yards, setting a new school record for a tight end by surpassing Jason Witten’s mark of 493 yards. Rivera’s 1,018 career yards at Tennesse make him just the second tight end to exceed the 1,000-yard mark.
But being well aware of his young tight end’s success as a receiver, it has been Rivera’s blocking ability that has impressed Raiders head coach Dennis Allen.
“I’ve been really impressed,” Allen said of Rivera. “Like I said [last Thursday], one of the question marks you had on Mychal Rivera is his ability to block. We knew he was going to be skilled in the passing game, which he has been, but I’ve been impressed with the fullness of his game and his ability in the running game as well as in protection.”
Undersized at 6-foot-3, 245-pounds, Rivera must use solid technique in order to gain leverage against defensive lineman that are often much bigger than him.
“The blocking, I still need to improve my technique,” Rivera said. “Me being a smaller guy, you know, 50-, 40- pounds under what most of these d-linemen weigh, I need to really focus on my technique to be sure I can be in the right position at the right place at the right time to make sure they can’t get around me.”
Rivera attributes his relatively smooth transition into the NFL to his time playing in the SEC while at Tennessee, along with his natural desire to succeed.
“I feel like Tennessee and the SEC competition really helped me a lot,” Rivera said. “That play is really fast up there and it’s really similar to the NFL play here. I’m just really competitive and just want to come here and work hard everyday. You’ve got to bring a fighter’s mentality everyday to practice.”
Though he is in the midst of a competition for the tight end position, Rivera knows he just needs to focus on improving his own game as opposed to focusing on the actual competition.
“I don’t think about it much,” Rivera said of the competition. “I feel like we’re all brothers out there. We’re all competing for playing time but at the end of the day, you just have to work hard individually.”
The 22-year-old tight end approaches each practice with a clean slate and ignore the highs and lows that occur.
“Everyday I come into practice with a new mentality,” Rivera said. “Some practices you do really good and catch 10, 11 balls out there and you’re just all over the place and some practices you’re blocking a lot and maybe you have a drop and stuff. So everyday you’ve got to come in with a new mentality. Like I said, you’ve got to come into it as a fighter and just win everyday.”
You can listen to Monday’s conversation with Rivera below: