Camp Season: Position Battles

OTA‘s are schedule to start on May 22nd, and roll through the 9th of June (days off in between sessions).

Minicamp is June 13th, 14th, and 15th.

Like every offseason, there are old faces and new faces. Players you’re excited to watch run around again, and perhaps a player or two you still don’t quite understand how they’ve hung around. Regardless of how you feel about certain players, there will be competition all over the field. I’ve highlighted four position groups and a handful of players that I’ll be watching closely during this year’s workouts and practices.


This unit will be at the top of everyone’s list (still), as it’s pretty clearly the weakest position group on the Raiders’ roster (with the additions made in the draft to seemingly bolster the secondary). There are question marks everywhere, to go along with lack of talent, and just general uneasy feelings.

Heading into camp, it appears the middle linebacker spot is (once again) Ben Heeney‘s to lose. He started the first two games in 2016 before being demoted and then eventually placed on injured reverse with an ankle injury. While Heeney’s dealt with plenty off the field, something he should certainly be respected and commended for, personally, I’m not convinced he’s apart of the solution on the field. Considering Ben Heeney as a starter certainly speaks to the overall “condition” of this roster. At this point, best case scenario is Perry Riley Jr.‘s return.

Speaking of middle linebacker, Reggie and the Raiders’ finally nabbed one in the fifth round of this year’s draft. Marquel Lee comes in, hoping to stick in the middle given the open competition. Talked about Lee a bit here, and described him as a 2-down player essentially. Unfortunately, not quite the answer I’m looking for either (at least not at first glance).

Moving outside, Oakland brought in free agent Jelani Jenkins to fill Malcolm Smith’s shoes. If he (Jenkins) is healthy, that won’t be hard to do. Smith, for a better part of 2017, was hard to watch. The biggest question mark with Jenkins has always been his health. The former five star recruit (top ten player in the ’09 class, and nation’s best linebacker) would go on to be a fourth round selection for the Dolphins where he started 34 games in four years in Miami (2013-2016).

Right Tackle

Somehow, newcomer Marshall Newhouse arrives with a leg up on the competition, per Del Rio. That’s unfortunate. Newhouse, in my opinion, is a backup-caliber player. If he’s being looked at as a starter, or even worse, holds on/wins the job, the hole at right tackle becomes more obvious.

Austin Howard is back, and hopefully 100% this time around, coming off of shoulder surgery. Upon season’s end, it was revealed that Howard played through both shoulder and ankle injuries in 2016. I, along with a majority of other’s, was critical of Howard throughout the season. To later find out that he battled through injury changes things a bit. He’s not a Pro Bowl or All-Pro-level talent like the rest of that line, but he’s Oakland’s best option with plenty of experience at this point. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s my favorite based off the continuity factor alone.

Vadal Alexander is a guard who saw time at right tackle last season. He looked like a “Tice project” coming out of Louisiana State and will continue to be one. He does have a chance to clean things up and make a run at the starting spot.

David Sharpe was drafted in the fourth round this year, which felt like a stretch. While he can play both spots, look for him to work under Donald Penn on the left side exclusively.

Jylan Ward is a ridiculous athlete for a player his size, and may surprise some folks in camp this offseason. I like his chances of mixing into the competition on the right side sooner than later.

Defensive Line

This conversation starts and stops with Mario Edwards Jr. who, according to recent reports, is in excellent shape and “extremely motivated”. Here’s to hoping he can stay healthy and available, because we all know what he’s able to bring up front when he’s in the lineup.

We’re going to see familiar faces Darius Latham and Justin Ellis in the fray, of course. Second year player Jihad Ward was called on early and often in 2016, due to the injury to Mario Edwards Jr., and looked lost a majority of the time. Overall, a largely ineffective season. In year two, you hope he can start to put things together; especially if he’s relied on less-heavily, as he works to “live up” to that second round selection.

Rookie Eddie Vanderdoes is a question mark, and one that’ll have a shot at decent playing time immediately. What player is Oakland getting, though? The banged up, out of shape version? Or the new, highly-motivated, disruptive defensive lineman? The latter would be preferred, as the Raiders’ desperately need some help on the interior.

Wide Receiver

Seth Roberts made some noise last season off a handful of clutch touchdown receptions (5 total in 2016, matching his 2015 number). Perhaps more notably, he seemed to consistently frustrate with crucial dropped passes. On 77 targets, he had 38 receptions and 5 dropped balls in 2016. That said, he apparently has a solid rapport with Derek Carr, so look for those targets to drop, but not by much.

In free agency, the Raiders added Cordarrelle Patterson who will probably do most of his damage on special teams. I’m not sure he’s the plug-and-play receiver that many think he is or can be. Then again, his expectations will be diminished in Oakland, so perhaps we’ll see a “different” player. New, first-year offensive coordinator Todd Downing could get creative as well.

Jaydon Mickens is another name to know, and already has a small, cult-like following. The sophomore wide receiver may be ready to take a step and factor in the slot, siphoning some targets away from the aforementioned Roberts. He’s quick on his feet, and could provide a similar spark a la Jalen Richard.

A personal favorite, Ishmael Zamora went undrafted but certainly looks the part. His ceiling might be Josh Gordon:

Look for Johnny Holton and K.J. Brent to be involved, and perhaps Keon Hatcher, another undrafted free agent. It’s shaping up to be a tight battle with a few spots already locked up, obviously (Cooper, Crabtree, Roberts, and Patterson).

Catch me on Twitter: @StillRyanFive