Former Ute turned Raider Tony Bergstrom adding center to his resume
Jeff Chiu, AP
NAPA, Calif. — Tony Bergstrom already has a place in Oakland Raiders history as the first draft pick of the post-Al Davis era.
What the 315-pound offensive lineman would prefer is a starting job on the offensive line — a considerable task considering the beef that's ahead of him.
Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie made upgrading the line a priority in the offseason and signed veterans Donald Penn, Austin Howard and Kevin Boothe to fill in the gaps.
Bergstrom, a third-round pick in 2012, was viewed as a valued backup capable of playing tackle and guard. Through the first week of training camp, however, he's spent considerable time at center with Oakland's second-team offense.
"Anytime you change position, even if you're just moving over to the other side, it's really awkward for a while but then it starts feeling natural," Bergstrom said. "It doesn't take too long. It's feeling good now."
It's a definite change to how Bergstrom felt earlier in his career.
The 27-year-old started one game as a rookie, the season-finale against San Diego, then spent all of 2013 on injured reserve after injuring his foot in the final preseason game.
He was approached by the coaching staff in early spring about potentially moving to center and spent a little time working on the center exchange during minicamps and OTAs.
It wasn't until camp started that the former Utah standout took reps with the rest of the team.
The reviews have been mixed.
There were a few botches snaps on Monday, but Bergstrom has settled in since then.
"They're just testing the waters," Bergstrom said. "That's what camp is for, is to kind of move guys around and see what people can do. It's not terribly different from guard from a mental standpoint. The most awkward thing about it is everything looks different. It takes a second longer to identify the front and that comes with reps."
The Raiders don't have much depth behind starting center Stefen Wisniewski.
Andre Gurode, who filled the backup role last year, wasn't re-signed and is still a free agent. Boothe, a sixth-round draft pick by Oakland in 2006 who signed with the Raiders in March after seven seasons with the New York Giants, has nearly a dozen starts at center under his belt, including seven in 2013.
With little to pick from, the Raiders opted to give Bergstrom a look.
"It's something that we want to begin to take a look at a little bit and see how he develops," Oakland coach Dennis Allen said. "When you're a backup player, your versatility in being able to play multiple positions gives you more value on the football team. I think that's something we want to continue to look at. We're going to see how this thing develops."
A tackle in college, Bergstrom hadn't played center since his junior year in high school.
He hasn't had a bad snap since his miscues early in camp but is far from a polished product.
"It's just a matter of getting your reps in," Bergstrom said. "It's a challenge, and that's the fun part."
Moving positions isn't the only change Bergstrom has had to get accustomed to. His wife, Jessica, took up MMA fighting and recently won her first fight. At times her excitement from training has carried over into her home life.
"She jumps on my back and tries to choke me out," Bergstrom said. "She forgets I'm 200 pounds heavier than her."
Notes: Safety Charles Woodson intercepted his third pass in two days, all three coming off quarterback Matt Schaub. ... DE Justin Tuck was given the day off.
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