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Five Raiders position battles to watch heading into preseason opener

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The Raiders open the preseason Friday in Arizona. Most positions on the team are set, but there are a few that are still up for grabs.

1. Wide receiver

The top two receivers are locked in with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and the third receiver is likely also set with Seth Roberts. The battle is for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spots. Andre Holmes was the fourth wide receiver last season and he has not looked good in training camp. One area that isn't talked about much in which Holmes excels is as a blocker/special teamer. The team likes his size as a receiver and the only of the receiver hopefuls who can come close to matching his size is 6-3, 202-pound KJ Brent. Making him a player to watch Friday both as a receiver and special teamer.

The top competition to secure a receiver spot comes in the slot. In the offseason, that competition was led by Joe Hansley, with Jaydon Mickens showing some potential as well. Since camp began, it's been Johnny Holton who has emerged as the frontrunner. The former Cincinnati Bearcat gamebreaker has shown all the qualities you look for in a receiver at this level.

2. Cornerback

Once again, the starting job is locked up. David Amerson and Sean Smith are in place. The biggest battle has been and will continue to be at nickel/slot. Throughout camp, it's been DJ Hayden who has gotten the bulk of the reps as the primary slot corner ahead of TJ Carrie. Hayden has performed well, but Carrie has been consistently outstanding. The two of them will take the field together with the second team defense, so we should see a lot of both of them in this game and hopefully get a few good looks from each in covering the middle of the field.

After those two, there's still the matter of the fifth cornerback spot. Neiko Thorpe returns on a 2nd round tender, coming in as the frontrunner for the job. But he is seeing some strong push from 2015 7th round pick, Dexter McDonald.

3. Tight end

There is still a battle going on between Mychal Rivera and Gabe Holmes for that third tight end spot behind Clive Walford and Lee Smith. Rivera has looked quite good as a receiver in this camp, but the Raiders still like what they see from Gabe Holmes.

There were rumors before the draft that Rivera could be on the trade block and as teams find out what they have (and don't have) at the tight end position as the season approaches, that trade buzz could heat up again. The ironic thing here is if Rivera plays well, it could simply increase his value in trade which would further open the door for Holmes to make the Raiders. Both players have struggles with blocking, but Rivera has had three years to improve on his. Holmes was a raw rookie last season on the practice squad and Jack Del Rio likes his development.

4. Running back

DeAndre Washington is the team's fifth round rookie running back. We should see a lot of him in the first preseason game in part because Latavius Murray and the starters with only see a couple series and in part because undrafted fellow rookie Jalen Richard may not play in the game. Richard was not on the field with the team for Wednesday's practice. Not participating in the practice before a game usually signals a player won't be available. Washington will be playing not only to try and earn more snaps from Murray, but to beat back the upstart former tryout Richard who has looked like his equal in camp.

5. Nose tackle

This position swapped hands this offseason, with Justin Ellis taking over as the starter in the middle of the defensive line. He and Dan Williams started alongside each other a lot last season, but with new additions like second round pick Jihad Ward coming in as a better fit for that 3-tech defensive tackle/ 5-tech defensive end spot, Williams has moved back to playing nose tackle, and took a backseat behind ‘Jelly'. Del Rio said early in camp that the order could change, but 12 days into camp, and just two camp days left, it remains unchanged.

Nose tackle is almost always a position that rotates to keep the big fellas from wearing down. So, we could see both take the field with the first team.