Coming into the 2017 season, the Raiders don’t have a whole lot of question marks. The team is as solid as it’s been in 15 years and they have a strong young group of players. But there are still a few questions to be answered at certain positions.
Jack Del Rio highlighted these positions at the Raiders’ press conference today when he was asked specifically about the backup quarterback position. He responded thusly:
“It’s just like who’s going to start at inside linebacker? Who’s going to be the backup quarterback, who’s going to earn the position at right tackle? Those are all questions we have to answer in this camp. Those are all battles that I’m sure I’ll be asked about a lot. Certainly there’s a process underway in evaluating and making sure we allow these guys to really come in and compete, express who they are and how they can help us. We have to make good decisions on who gets to start and who’s the backup. We’ve got good people and it should be healthy competition.”
The difference between your average fan and Jack Del Rio isn’t that fans are aware of the problem and Jack is not. The difference is that Jack isn’t worried about it, because he believes in the players on the team. But, farbeit for any good journalist to have a level head when paranoia is called for.
So allow me to set myself on fire while I discuss who the hell is going to play these three positions. They’re question marks for a reason.
Backup quarterback: Behind unquestioned starter and current highest-paid NFL player Derek Carr, the Raiders have Buffalo washout EJ Manuel and second-year Raider Connor Cook. Manuel has a lot to prove. He was one of the biggest draft reaches in recent memory and did nothing whatsoever to justify his selection. But- and may God forgive me for saying this- he’s probably better than Matt McGloin.
Cook has experience in the Raiders’ system, but with Todd Downing having taken over at offensive coordinator the value of that experience is questionable. Cook is a tough kid with good mid-range accuracy and mediocre everything else.
If Manuel doesn’t win the QB2 job, something has gone terribly wrong and we should all panic.
Right Tackle: The Raiders just cut Austin Howard because of reasons. They have currently on their roster four viable options:
Marshall Newhouse, brought over from the Giants, ostensibly to shade Reggie McKenzie from the harsh sun on warm summer days because surely he wasn’t brought in to actually play tackle.
Vadal Alexander, who was drafted in the seventh round out of LSU in 2016 and was pressed into extensive playing time. Had more false starts than a fourteen-year-old boy trying to get to third base with a cheerleader.
Denver Kirkland, whose chief skill is being very large.
David Sharpe, who apparently is not legally blind.
Well, well, we’ve got a real murderer’s row of incredible right tackle options. Let’s spin the Wheel of Despair.
If Vadal Alexander doesn’t start the season at right tackle, and if David Sharpe doesn’t end the season there, something has gone terribly wrong and we should all panic.
Inside Linebacker: The one thing Reggie McKenzie hates more than wasting money on a starting right tackle is spending any money whatsoever on an inside linebacker. Ben Heeney’s out with a pulled hair and Malcolm Smith moved to Santa Clara to do his best to earn the Niners that coveted #1 spot ahead of the Jets and Browns. The Raiders will have two fifth-round players in the middle this year, Corey James and rookie Marquel Lee.
Having a rookie at middle linebacker is a recipe for a dominant defense if I ever heard one. Especially a guy who competed against top ACC talent every day at Wake Forest practices. It’s amazing that the Raiders were able to get a defensive gem from the Washington Generals of college football so late in the draft.
Wake Forest is neither a wake nor a forest. Discuss.
The Raiders simply don’t have a lot of options here, and that’s by design. If Reggie really wanted to sign a veteran ILB, he could have brought back Perry Riley Jr. The omniscient Google tells me that Riley has not been signed by anyone, so technically this could still happen.
If Marquel Lee is not in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year, something has gone terribly wrong and we should all panic.
“We’ve got good people and we’ll have good competition,” says Del Rio. That is technically correct, and technically correct is the best kind of correct. But please forgive me if I feel a little nervous.