NAPA — Nnamdi Asomugha has been a fixture for the Raiders at right cornerback the past four seasons. Finding a suitable complement is an issue that has confounded four coaches.
However, current Raiders coach Tom Cable believes he has two appealing options in Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt as he attempts to turn a problem area into a strength this season.
"We want to have competition everywhere that it's possible to have it," Cable said. "There's a pretty good battle right there."
The battle is being waged by two players who consider themselves the rightful heir to a position that Oakland attempted to solidify by trading for DeAngelo Hall last season.
Instead, Hall squandered the opportunity from the outset and was released after only eight games and to the cost of $8 million.
Routt, 26, thinks he should be the starter based on the fact that he started the final 14 games of the 2007 season and lost his job only because of the sizable investment made in Hall.
"It was probably the hardest thing I ever went through, sitting behind somebody you know you can play just as good as or better than," Routt said. "But because of the business side of things, with the contracts, that obviously has a stronger hold on things then just (solid) playing."
Routt's play was so impressive the Raiders benched first-round draft pick Fabian Washington after only two games in 2007 and traded him before last season.
Yet, Cable turned to Johnson as soon as the Raiders released Hall. By all accounts, Johnson fared well in his first starring role.
Johnson spent five years with four teams — including the Raiders — searching for the proper fit for a player who runs as well as anyone in the league and excels in man-to-man coverage.
"Since I got drafted (in 2003), I felt I was one of the top corners in this league," Johnson said, "but I just never got the opportunity to play. Last year, Mr. (Al) Davis and Tom gave me the opportunity to play, the opportunity to show my abilities. "... I just needed an opportunity to play. Once I got an opportunity to play, it showed."
Johnson, 29, tied for the team lead with three interceptions in 2008. He also made it more difficult for opposing teams to shy away from All-Pro corner mate Asomugha.
The Raiders rewarded Johnson for his impressive play with a four-year contract that included a $4 million signing bonus.
Routt, among others, assumed Johnson had a stranglehold on the job.
"I'm not going to lie to you. Probably not; I really didn't," Routt said, when asked if he expected another shot at starting. "But you go ahead and you just try to hope for the best sometimes, and it will shake out the way it's supposed to shake out."
The situation is in the process of shaking out. Johnson and Routt are splitting time in practice, with the loser of the competition likely to assume the nickel back position.
"I love to start, and that is how I am taking it this year," Johnson said. "We are rotating right now, but at the end of the day I am going to feel like I am the starter, regardless of what happens."