It’s never an encouraging sign when a player is still not able to practice with his teammates some 8 months after his initial injury. Such is the case with Raiders’ third year linebacker, Ben Heeney.
Heeney was lost to an ankle injury during the Raiders’ week four game of last season and placed on injured reserve. The seriousness of the injury was unknown at the time, but usually you would have expected he would be back and ready to go for OTA’s the following year. He is not.
“Yeah, he’s still a little bit banged [up],” Del Rio said of Heeney. “You know how I feel about the injuries this time of year. The guys that can go will go and the guys that can’t are going to work at it and he’s off working on the side. Jelani [Jenkins] was out here yesterday and then he wasn’t today. So, we’re just being smart with guys and we’ll bring them along as we think is wise and go from there.”
The starting inside linebacker job was Heeney’s to lose heading into last season. He was benched after two starts in favor of Corey James, who in turn was benched after two games in favor of free agent addition Perry Riley Jr.
Along with Jenkins’ coming aboard as a free agent, the team used their fifth round pick on Marquel Lee. But Del Rio isn’t going to throw a rookie out there with the first team in his first practice with the vets. He isn’t familiar enough with the defense yet.
Instead, to begin OTA’s, it was James and Tyrell Adams, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, appearing in 6 games, primarily on special teams.
It might seem odd to have James and Adams lining up with the first team, but they are actually the most experienced of the Raiders’ healthy linebackers.
“They can both run,” Del Rio said of James and Adams. “I think with Cory, he’s a year in the system, a little more comfortable. He should take a big step forward.”
It is a bit concerning that Heeney is still not back, but otherwise it’s way to early to read anything into who the team lines up with the first team at linebacker. We’ll see if anything changes when the team takes the field for the second week of OTA’s.