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Raiders must rebuild depleted special teams unit with ‘suspects and prospects’

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They say Football Is Special Teams (FIST) and in that case, the Raiders are facing some rebuilding.

This offseason the Raiders special teams unit got picked apart like a carcass by vultures. The team could’ve done something to stop it, but they didn’t. They just let them all go and in one instance even pushed the player out the door. Now they must go about rebuilding that unit practically from the ground up.

I’m not talking about guys like Sebastian Janikowski, Jon Condo, and Marquette King. They’re still here. I’m talking about the guys who race down field to make the tackle or to lay a block. That unit has been obliterated.

Five core special teams guys from last season are now with other teams — Brynden Trawick, Andre Holmes, Daren Bates, Nate Allen, and Taiwan Jones. They led the sixth best kick coverage team in the league, allowing under 20 yards per kick return (19.9).

Trawick led the team with 15 special teams tackles (11 solo). Holmes not only was a master at downing punts, but he was third on the team with 9 ST tackles (7 solo). Next up in ST tackles was Daren Bates (8), then Allen (7). Jones was the team’s gunner the past few seasons as well as occasional return specialist. He was cut on the eve of training camp.

All of these players found new homes fairly quickly.

The cupboard isn’t completely empty. Still here is Johnny Holton who was second on the team with 12 ST tackles (11.0 solo), Cory James with 9 ST tackles (5 solo), Keith McGill (6), and Jamize Olawale who led the team in 2015 with 10 ST tackles.

Holton will be expected to step into Taiwan Jones’s role a the gunner and gadget player which is probably partially why they felt they could release Jones as his role had been replaced.

Replacing Trawick, Holmes, Bates, and Allen won’t be as easy.

“We had a great group of special teams guys and they were forcing everything to come my way and I was just out there making plays along with them guys,” said Holton. “We just had a pretty good special team.”

Ben Heeney seems like the most logical replacement for Bates, but Heeney hasn’t set foot in camp yet with an undisclosed injury.

McGill could be looked to to step up in Trawick’s absence, but he was seen leaving practice today on crutches and a walking boot. Special teams coordinator, Brad Seely, mentioned McGill and Olawale by name as leaders on special teams.

Seely will have his work cut out for him piecing this unit back together, but he seems downright jovial about it.

“That’s what’s always exciting about a new season, we have to find some new guys,” said Seely. “We have suspects and prospects. It’s early, so we’ll see what happens when the games start. That’s why we have these preseason games, to find out what guys do when the lights come on because sometimes they change.”

When it comes to who among the guys in camp right now will fill those roles, it will also depend on how well they play in their respective positions on offense and defense and vice versa.

If there are two players who are performing well at their position and are on the bubble, the guy who can also step up on special teams will be the one on the roster. It happens time and time again. For those young players, they see a great opportunity in Oakland right now with so many spots to fill.