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Raiders expecting big things from Ray-Ray Armstrong

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In order for the Raiders to pull out of their funk, they will need some solid contributions from several key positions and several players - something I detailed last week with the 5 players the Raiders who need to step up in 2015. But according to the Raiders, one player who you keep hearing could surprise a lot of people is linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong.

At the Raiders first OTA practice in mid-May, head coach Jack Del Rio, unprompted, made mention of Ray-Ray Armstrong as the one player he has seen take considerable strides this offseason.

"Every time you come into a new season, new opportunities for guys and certainly with a new staff, there are opportunities for guys to reinvent themselves," said Del Rio. "A guy like Ray-Ray [Armstrong] has really had a productive offseason. As a staff, we're really excited about where he's tracking. . . From a linebacking corps standpoint, it's great to see a couple of guys that are here that we think we can develop and help them play at a higher level, and we need that. We're going to need to bring a few guys along that were here before and help them hopefully play at an even higher level."

Now two weeks later and five OTA practices since, Justin Tuck was asked who he saw as an unknown player on the Raiders who will make a name for himself this season and he named Ray-Ray Armstrong.

So, who is Ray-Ray Armstrong?

He came to the Raiders a month into last season by way of waivers from the St Louis Rams. The 2013 undrafted free agent out of Miami (FL) was a special teams maven for the Rams, appearing in every game in 2013 and four games in 2014 before being released.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher waived Armstrong primarily because of his penchant for racking up stupid penalties. In 20 games for the Rams, Armstrong committed 9 penalties; 8 of which were on special teams.

Fisher had gotten very frustrated with the play of his special teams and a day after Armstrong had committed an unnecessary roughness penalty, Fisher cut Armstrong as a way of sending a message.

After the Raiders claimed him, Armstrong brought his penalties to Oakland, committing five penalties over his 10 games last season, including unnecessary roughness and running into the kicker.

With the hip injury to Sio Moore, Armstrong was thrust into starting duties over the final two games last season and results were not pretty. In week 16 against the Bills he was abused for four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown and the following week  missed tackles on two Denver touchdown runs and gave up a total of 84 yards of offense.

Sio Moore's hip injury would require surgery, which would signal for that much more workload on Ray-Ray this offseason. And from the sounds of it, he has responded very well.

The team signed former Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith as a free agent and drafted Florida linebacker Neiron Ball in the fifth round. All three could compete at weakside linebacker which would also be cause for Armstrong fight even harder to try and retain his newfound playing time. In fact, following the draft, Del Rio compared Ball to Armstrong.

"Neiron is a linebacker, a very versatile linebacker who can really play on the line or off the ball," said Del Rio. "He's in the 235- to 240-pound range. He's probably built similarly to Ray-Ray Armstrong in terms of his length and size and speed."

Sio Moore was practicing limited in OTA's and appears to be on schedule to return to the team by training camp. Upon his return, his job as first team weakside linebacker will be waiting for him.

Which makes one wonder; with Sio on one side, Khalil Mack on the other side and Curtis Lofton in the middle, how is Ray-Ray to break out and make a name for himself? The most logical way would be in a 3-4 defense.

I'm not suggesting the Raiders will be switching to 3-4 -- that suggestion is tossed around every offseason and never fully materializes -- but I could see an increase in 3-4 looks if personnel dictates it.

Standout play in camp from Ray-Ray could be the key to seeing the Raiders find ways to get him on the field on defense rather than just special teams. Should that happen, Ray-Ray could offer the Raiders some bonus production from a previously unexpected source.