NAPA -- With precious few starting jobs available in Raiders training camp, the spirited competition between cornerbacks Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson has drawn the spotlight.
Johnson is confident he'll keep his starting job. Routt entered camp with renewed focus, determined to regain the job he once held.
Coach Tom Cable has noticed a change in Routt's overall play and demeanor.
"It's a little bit of the light bulb (turning on)," Cable said. "It's year six, so it's time."
This past offseason was supposed to be the time Routt cashed in on free agency. A second-round pick by the Raiders in 2005, Routt had honored his original contract and was prepared to peddle his wares to the highest bidder. Not so fast.
An impasse between NFL owners and the players union resulted in players needing six years to qualify for unrestricted free agency instead of four. Routt was among more than 200 players affected by the change.
Rather than sulk, he signed the Raiders' one-year tender for $3,268,000 and set about becoming a starter again.
"It feels good to be wanted, obviously, and I just go from there," Routt, 27, said. "I just know that they didn't give me (that much money) for nothing, so I just go out and play football and let the chips fall where they may."
Routt felt as if he had arrived in 2007, when he cracked the starting lineup for the final 14 games. A trade for two-time Pro Bowl cornerback DeAngelo Hall before
Johnson, who turns 31 in September, fended off a stern challenge from Routt during training camp last season and is being asked to do so again.
"I look at it like I am the starter," Johnson said. "Last year really wasn't a season I can be proud of, but ... I came into camp as a starter and I am going to leave as a starter. ... I don't ever worry about the next man."
That would be Routt. Day after day, he searches for ways to make an impression upon the coaches.
"There's been a change in Stan in terms of how he works at it and the intensity that he's working at it with," Cable said. "It's just like everybody, you want to see it carry over to the game, but I've been very pleased with him thus far."
Johnson and Routt split time with the first-team defense. Both are tall, fast and physical. Spotting differences between them is the domain of those with trained eyes.
"When he's focused, he's an outstanding talent," Cable said of Routt. "I really felt like when he was around in the (offseason workouts) there was a much different focus about him. I see it in camp already. He probably feels like it's time, and it's his time. I'm all for that because he's definitely a talented, talented guy that could help us."
Routt said he wasn't surprised by the Raiders tendering him at the highest level for a restricted free agent. Still, he wasn't taking anything for granted.
To that end, he changed his workout regimen in Texas to incorporate more track-and-field drills so that he could maintain the impressive speed that first wooed the Raiders at the 2005 scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said he has noticed the change in Routt, as well.
"If he continues to build on that, you never know how it can unfold," Asomugha said. "I do get the sense he's been playing well, but, year six, by now you have to have it. If he doesn't have it by now, it's like, 'What's going on?' "