Every team enters training camp with questions that must be answered. That’s what training camp is for. The hope is that there is an answer to every question. Or at least one that satisfies the coaches. Here are the top things to look for this training camp.
What’s the status of Austin Howard and the right tackle position?
To begin offseason workouts, it was Austin Howard who was working with the first team. Howard had offseason shoulder surgery so he did not participate in OTA’s or minicamp. Newly signed Marshall Newhouse was the team’s first team right tackle throughout OTA’s, but by minicamp, he was sidelined with an injury, so Second year man, Vadal Alexander was the first team right tackle. Prior to Newhouse’s injury, Alexander had been lining up as the second team left guard behind Kelechi Osemele.
Newhouse is expected to be ready for training camp, so you would figure Alexander will head back to left guard. Austin Howard’s status is uncertain as of this moment. In more ways than one. Once he is healthy – if he returns healthy – the team must make a decision. Should they he be looked to as the starter, Newhouse would drop to second team. But should Newhouse be looked to as the starter, Howard’s $6.8 million salary is tough to swallow for a backup. This question has loomed all offseason, but you can’t cut injured players. Roy Helu Jr is a prime example of this. He was released just after returning from injury early last season.
Also see: Raiders top five training camp battles
How will they deploy rookie Eddie Vanderdoes?
Vanderdoes was the team’s third round pick out of UCLA. Due to UCLA being on a quarter system, rules state seniors must return to finish their graduation requirements before participating in NFL practices. Those requirements completed right around the time minicamp was over which meant that outside of the rookie minicamp, Vanderdoes missed the Raiders’ entire offseason.
His absence has left a bit of a mystery as to exactly how the Raiders will look to use him and, specifically, which position. He is ideally a 3-tech DT or 5-tech DE, but should the Raiders look to get him on the field more, they could look to him at the nose tackle position. They had him cut a lot of weight to get down to 305 because that’s where he is at his best from a pass rushing perspective, but that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of him lining up with the big(ger) fellas in the middle.
Also see: Scouts pre-draft: Vanderdoes was “entitled”, “coddled” by UCLA coaches
Could we see more Amari Cooper in the slot?
One of the more notable free agent additions this offseason for the Raiders was Cordarrelle Patterson. He makes his hay mostly as a return man and having that kind of speed on offense could be a good thing. He also has great hands. Where he has never developed is as a route runner, which is kind of important for a receiver who would often be lining up in the slot. For that reason he isn’t an ideal choice to play there.
One possible solution is to put him on the outside in three wide receiver sets, and move Amari Cooper inside. If Coop weren’t such a fantastic outside receiver, he would be ideal in the slot with his speed, quickness, and superb route running abilities.
Also see: Raiders position battle: Slot receiver
Will anyone emerge as the team’s middle linebacker?
What a ragtag group the Raiders have taking the field pushing for the middle linebacker spot. Ben Heeney won’t be among them, at least initially, as he was placed on the NFI list Tuesday. Throughout the offseason it was Cory James and Tyrell Adams who were lining up as the first team inside linebackers. The question is if they were the first teamers by default as the only returning healthy inside linebackers on the team, or is it really their jobs to lose?
Free agent addition Jelani Jenkins figures at some point to step into one the first team weakside linebacker spot. That could begin on day one if he has absorbed the playbook. As for the other inside linebacker position, the next logical choice is fifth round rookie Marquel Lee. After that it’s just a couple undrafted rookies.
Also see: Is the Raiders starting middle linebacker currently on the team?
Where will the missing interior pass rush come from?
Everyone is celebrating the return of Mario Edwards Jr to line. And everyone seems to be almost assuming he will solve all of their problems on the line. And he might, you never know. But that is far from certain. Even when he was healthy, he was more of a run stopper than he was a pass rusher. And that healthy time didn’t last long, so even that’s a small sample size on which to base any conclusions.
Denico Autry has been here the past couple seasons. He provides at least some pass rush; he was third on the team with 3.0 sacks last season. But that clearly wasn’t enough. The next to come to mind is Jihad Ward, who had a horrible rookie season in which is didn’t record a single sack and seemed lost most of the time. After that, the next candidate is the aforementioned rookie third rounder, Eddie Vanderdoes. We’ll see how he factors into that equation as well.
Also see: Mario Edwards healthy and “extremely motivated” to prove he can be “a dominant football player”
Can Darius Latham push for the starting nose tackle job?
Justin Ellis has been the Raiders’ first team nose tackle since day one of camp last year. Dan Williams showed up overweight and Ellis was the next man up. That didn’t last very long. He started just 4 games last season which was down from 9 the previous season and 14 as a rookie. The best option the Raiders had at nose tackle turned out to be Stacy McGee and he left as a free agent.
After ‘Jelly’ is Darius Latham, who was an undrafted rookie in 2016. He was highly touted for going undrafted and impressed the coaches very early on. He will have his chance to make a push for the nose tackle spot. I don’t see it happening overnight, but it’s something to keep an eye on as camp progresses.
Also see: Can Darius Latham make a larger contribution in his second season?
Who will be this year’s surprise undrafted free agent story?
Speaking of Latham, he was one of the undrafted free agents to show up for the Raiders last season. The most notable, of course, was Jalen Richard, but he wasn’t the only one. Not by a long shot. Along with Richard and Latham, there was James Cowser, Johnny Holton, Denver Kirkland, Kenneth Durden, Antonio Hamilton, Oni Omoile, KJ Brent, and Jaydon Mickens who all spent time with the team either on the regular season roster or practice squad and who return to take another swing this year.
It’s hard to say at this point who will emerge from this year’s class. As always, it will be fun to watch the ones separate themselves from the pack.
Also see: Del Rio: Richard is example that “anything’s possible” for UDFA hopefuls