Bubble battles is just fun to say. Reminds me of that great ‘80s video game, Bubble Bobble. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. You can get off my lawn in a minute, but for now let’s talk about a few of the battles going on between some of these youngsters fighting to get inside the Raiders roster bubble when the final cuts come down next week.
Thursday is the last they will have to make an impression. And that goes for their hopes of landing on another team’s roster or the Raiders’ practice squad. Remember, the team must waive them first before they can place them on the practice squad, which makes them available for any team to steal them away before they get there.
In many cases, there is a player at their own position who the team will have to choose between. And sometimes, their only competition is themselves. They objective will be to show themselves to be valuable enough that the team wouldn’t risk losing them as an asset.
Jalen Richard vs Taiwan Jones
For the most part, Richard is his own competition. Should he perform at a high level Thursday as he did last Saturday, it could open some eyes – many of which could be those on other teams seeking a speedy running back like him.
Jones proves his worth on special teams most of the time, with the occasional niche back play in the spread or as an outlet for the QB to get him the ball in space. For that reason, it’s possible the team could keep both he and Richard. But again, that will depend on what Richard can show in the game.
Keeping both would mean the Raiders enter the season with five running backs – the others being Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, and (FB) Jamize Olawale. However, Marcel Reece is suspended for the first three games of the season, which could delay any major decision until he is set to return.
Matt McCants vs Denver Kirkland
The top eight linemen on this team appear to be locked in. That’s the starting five plus Austin Howard, Jon Feliciano, and Vadal Alexander. Should the team decide to keep a ninth offensive lineman, these two are the ones who will fight for that spot. Should they not opt to keep nine linemen, they could be battling for a spot on the practice squad.
Both players can play inside or outside. Though McCants has made his home mostly at tackle over the past three seasons in Oakland, while Kirkland is seen more as a guard than a tackle.
Kirkland was highly thought of coming out of Arkansas. He left school with a year left of eligibility and was ranked as a mid-round prospect by many. His biggest issue is his weight. At 6-5, 340 pounds, he doesn’t move well enough to play tackle. If he can get his weight down, he could be a nice project.
Stacy McGee vs Darius Latham
McGee, like McCants, have hung around as a reserve lineman due to an overall lack of depth on the Raiders the past three seasons. The Raiders have been testing him a lot this preseason as they decide whether to keep him around now that there is actually some decent competition at the position.
Latham was arguably the most highly touted undrafted free agent signing the Raiders had this offseason. He has lived up to the praise of those who said he was should have been drafted. The Raiders have been high on him all offseason and this preseason, PFF graded him as their top rookie defensive tackle.
Keeping both would be illogical. They already have Justin Ellis and Dan Williams at nose tackle and Jihad Ward at the 3-tech. With as much 3-4 as they will play, it makes no sense to keep more than four defensive tackles.
Neiko Thorpe vs Dexter McDonald
This is a very tough decision for the Raiders to make. Thorpe was the Raiders’ nickel cornerback late last season. He even had a game-clinching interception on Joe Flacco in the team’s week two win over the Ravens. They liked him enough to keep him on a second-round Restricted Free Agent tender this year.
The unfortunate thing for Thorpe is, he hasn’t quite played as well as he had when he made the team two years ago while at the same time Dexter McDonald has showed a lot of promise.
McDonald was the Raiders’ seventh round pick last season. He appeared in just six games last year, including the last five games, seeing more extensive action.
Early in preseason, Thorpe had an interception. Last week he saw only snaps on special teams while the team got a long look at McDonald and some undrafted hopefuls. There may not be anything to read into that other than the team wanting to get a look at other players. It’s also important to understand just how key special teams play will be in who lands a roster spot. And it’s also a possibility they keep both.
Dewey McDonald vs Brynden Trawick
Speaking of special teams… From of the looks of things, the top four safety spots are sewn up. That means whomever gets this spot will be earning it based on their special teams prowess. Though if special teams play were equal, the safety play would be factored in as the deciding factor.
All offseason the Raiders and training camp, the Raiders were very high on McDonald. He was a primary backup; even consistently seeing time with the first team while Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph were out. Then came the preseason and ugh. He was bad. Out of position, poor angles, and bad tackling technique. Meanwhile Keith McGill made the transition to safety and looks to have grabbed one of the backup spots.
McDonald made some plays on special teams, but over the past two weeks, Trawick has lapped in. The former Ravens key reserve and special teamer blocked a punt that was recovered for a touchdown in week two and then began the game with three straight special teams plays, including the first two stops short of the 20-yard-line. This battle may already be over.