ALAMEDA, Calif. – When the Raiders traded for quarterback Matt Schaub in the offseason, it was expected that Oakland's tight ends would take on a bigger role in the offense.
Schaub leaned heavily on the tight ends in Houston, so the assumption was that the affinity would carry over. Through five games, it has been the opposite.
Schaub lost his job to rookie Derek Carr coming out of training camp, and tight ends Mychal Rivera, David Ausberry and Brian Leonhardt have combined for only 17 catches. The lack of production is even more glaring considering Oakland's mediocre group of wide receivers.
Rivera's drop-off has been the most significant. He was third on the team in receptions as a rookie last year, but has not come close to that form this season.
"He expects more (and) we expect more of him," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "For us to have any type of success, he's got to be that player that we thought he was developing into and that we believe he will develop into. He's got to be more consistent in both of those areas, in securing the football and catching the football."
A sixth-round pick last season, Rivera has just 12 catches for 83 yards after being one of the team's top downfield threats a year ago. He's averaging only 6.9 yards a catch and has not scored since Week 15 of last year.
It's not just lower numbers, either.
Generally acknowledged as Oakland's best pass-catching tight end, Rivera has had trouble holding onto the ball this season. He fumbled away the Raiders' first possession of the third quarter in a Week 2 loss to Houston. He also let an easy catch slip through his hands last week against San Diego when he was shut out for only the second time in his young NFL career.
"We have all the faith and confidence in the world in Mychal Rivera," Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said. "He's made a lot of big catches for our football team and he'll continue to make those catches. Nobody is tougher on themselves than Mychal is. He wants to be that guy that the quarterback can throw the ball to and feel comfortable throwing the ball to."
Rivera isn't the only one struggling with the winless Raiders.
Ausberry was projected to be the Raiders starting tight end in the preseason before injuring his knee and undergoing surgery. His recovery was slow, and since returning Ausberry has played only a handful of plays on offense, spending most of his time on special teams.
"We actually got David into the ballgame a little bit last week and the week before in London," Sparano said. "But we'd like to get David involved a little bit more as well. It's not a knock on Mychal."
Leonhardt, an undrafted free agent in 2013 who impressed the coaching staff in training camp, has only been slightly more effective with three catches for 22 yards and one touchdown.
Notes: RT Khalif Barnes practiced for the first time this week but was limited with a quad injury and is questionable. ... DE Justin Tuck (knee) and FB Marcel Reece (quad) also returned to practice. Both are questionable. If Tuck can't play, veteran C.J. Wilson will start in his place. Wilson leads the Raiders with two sacks. ... Sparano has not decided if CB DJ Hayden will play against Arizona this week. The 2013 first-round draft pick practiced this week for the first time but is still on the PUP list.