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Oakland Raiders Position Battle Update

Two games of the 2017 NFL preseason have been played, and the Oakland Raiders still have a number of position battles that remain open. Here’s an update from our previous article on all the various competitions taking place for the team during the final two exhibition contests.

Quarterback (EJ Manuel vs. Connor Cook)

Derek Carr‘s immediate backup has flip flopped a few times during training camp. Cook, who started the Raiders’ playoff game in place of an injured Carr as a rookie last season, began practices as the #2 before being passed up by Manuel, who joined the team on a prove-it deal during the offseason.

Manuel started the first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals and did well, while Cook was mediocre. In last week’s game versus the Los Angeles Rams, however, the tables turned. Manuel played poorly, giving way to Cook, who put the team in the lead with a touchdown pass in the final period before the Rams scored a game winner late. It remains to be seen who’s in the driver’s seat; next week’s game against the Seattle Seahawks will most likely be the final determiner, seeing as it’s the designated spot for backup battles.

Running back (DeAndre Washington vs. Jalen Richard; Elijah Hood vs. John Crockett vs. George Atkinson)

Hometown hero Marshawn Lynch has arrived to take charge in the running game for the Raiders, but who his backup will be has yet to be decided. Washington is currently second on the depth chart, but he and Richard have gotten equal time thus far, both looking flat in the first game and decent in the second. They’ll get plenty of time during the regular season though.

What’s more murky is if the team will keep a fourth RB, and if so, who it will be. Hood, a seventh round rookie, was out with an injury against the Cardinals, but played a few snaps versus the Rams, including some on special teams. Crockett scored the team’s lone TD in week 1, but barely played last week. Atkinson was steady for both, and also made some appearances as the kick returner. Hood might have an advantage with his draft pick status, but Atkinson might be more versatile as a core special teamer. Expect all three to get reps against Seattle.

Wide receiver (Seth Roberts vs. Cordarrelle Patterson; Johnny Holton vs. Jaydon Mickens vs. KJ Brent vs. Isaac Whitney vs. Keon Hatcher vs. Ishmael Zamora)

The slot receiver role is still up for grabs. Roberts seemed like the prospective winner, but he was out on Saturday. Patterson has looked okay in his limited time as well. Sharing the role like Richard and Washington is definitely a possibility.

The Raiders will most certainly keep 5 receivers, and they may open up a spot for another as well. Holton might be a lock to nab the fifth spot, maintaining his excellent special teams play from last season and catching Cook’s TD pass against the Rams. Mickens and Brent have the lead for the possible sixth spot, with the former getting a lot of targets during games and the latter performing well in camp. Hatcher broke out last week, finishing second on the team in catches. He might be a priority practice squad candidate. Whitney got some looks as well. Zamora has done nothing.

Tight end (Gabe Holmes vs. Ryan O’Malley vs. Pharaoh Brown vs. Cooper Helfet)

There’s been speculation that the Raiders might keep a fourth tight end to add to the stable threesome of Jared CookLee Smith and Clive Walford to act primarily as a special teamer. Holmes began camp with the best chance for that role, but he lost a fumble against the Cardinals. Brown could earn that spot, but it’s more likely that he or O’Malley will end up on the practice squad. Helfet has been on the non-football injury list since the start of camp, and he may end up on injured reserve or the waiver wire soon.

Right tackle (Marshall Newhouse vs. Vadal Alexander vs. David Sharpe)

This battle got derailed when Donald Penn began his camp long holdout in search of a contract extension, forcing the Raiders to move Newhouse to left tackle and place Alexander on the right side, with Sharpe getting time at both spots on the second team. Word has come down that Penn may be returning soon, so this competition is back on.

All three were mediocre versus the Cardinals, but they stepped up for the Rams. Sharpe even played the most snaps on offense for the Raiders. Newhouse is still the likely winner, but the team may have a bit more confidence at this position than they did a few weeks ago.

Defensive tackle (Eddie Vanderdoes vs. Darius Latham vs. Treyvon Hester)

Justin Ellis has looked sharp in preseason action, so he’ll definitely be one of the two starting defensive tackles. Vanderdoes, a third round rookie, is currently penciled in, and he’s looked solid as well. Latham and Hester have both had bright spots too, the latter especially in the first game. Vanderdoes’ upside will probably give him the spot, but all three can feel safe about their places on the roster.

Linebacker (Middle and Weakside)

Fifth round rookie Marquel Lee may currently have the starting middle linebacker role, but it might be time for the Raiders to think about putting Cory James in that slot instead. The second year man from Colorado leads the team in tackles with 13 across the two games thus far, good for a top 10 spot in the entire league.

James has been starting at weakside linebacker, where the team expected Jelani Jenkins to be at. Jenkins was slowed by injury early in camp and only got significant reps last week, where he shifted between first and second team in a solid performance. Tyrell Adams, who was Lee’s immediate backup at MLB, was also impressive. It may be a better idea to put James in the middle and Jenkins on the weakside, with Lee and Adams behind them on the depth chart.

Cornerback (Sean Smith vs. T.J. Carrie; Dexter McDonald vs. Antonio Hamilton vs. Breon Borders vs. Kenneth Durden vs. Chris Humes)

Boy, the Raiders are missing Gareon Conley. The first round pick has missed all of camp and both preseason games with a shin injury. He was expected to compete for the slot corner role with Carrie, with Smith and David Amerson as the starters on the outside. Complications have arisen.

Smith is in a bad place right now, and not just on the field. He was briefly benched in favor of Carrie and the undrafted Borders during camp, didn’t play well against Arizona and got charged with felony assault for an incident on July 4. Smith rebounded a bit with a couple of nice deflections against the Rams, but he also let up a few catches as well.

Carrie was somehow worse on Saturday, giving up 6 catches for 70 yards to rookie Cooper Kupp. That includes a wide open touchdown pass where a miscommunication between Carrie and safety Karl Joseph left the young receiver wide open in the endzone. The struggles of Smith and Carrie will leave the starting job open for Conley, if he can return in time for the opening regular season game against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 10.

With four corner spots locked up, a fifth and possible sixth opening on the roster is up for grabs. Borders playing with the first team in camp might indicate he has the advantage, but he’s been quiet in actual game action, as has Durden. McDonald has been a bit better, but not by much. Both Hamilton and Humes have struggled at times when they’ve entered the game. Whoever can contribute on special teams is the likeliest to earn a roster spot.

 

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