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Mike Mayock offers his reasoning behind some of Raiders more questionable roster decisions

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NFL: Oakland Raiders Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Roster cutdown day for the Raiders wasn’t without some side eyes and head scratching. The first surprising cut was that of veteran linebacker Brandon Marshall, who was expected to be the starter on the weak side. The Raiders signed him knowing he wasn’t going to be available for the entire offseason, but ultimately it was that delayed return that Mayock said contributed to Marshall’s release.

Brandon Marshall is a guy that took a while to get his flexibility and his speed back,” said Mayock. “He worked through the (Organized Team Activities) OTA’s and the early part of training camp. We were just starting to see that burst that we were used to.”

With Marshall cut, it seemed like it might open the door for another linebacker to make the team that might not have otherwise been expected. But instead the team went with just four linebackers, which is a lot fewer than you’d typically expect.

“I think what really happened is if we’re only going to keep four or five linebackers, which is the way the NFL is going these days because of the spread offenses, that fourth or fifth linebacker has got to be a special teams player,” Mayock continued. “He has to be a core special teams player. If Brandon wasn’t going to be the first guy in on base and play a high percentage of snaps, then we were going to need him to play almost all of the special teams.”

That would put Nicholas Morrow and Marquel Lee as those linebackers who play few defensive snaps as well as special teams. Mayock also said four or five, which suggests they will be scanning the waiver wire for another linebacker.

While they were keeping so few linebackers, they kept three quarterbacks, ten offensive linemen, and five safeties.

While keeping extra depth at those positions, they cut a couple of talented undrafted rookies in wide receiver Keelan Doss and defensive tackle Anthony Rush.

While keeping more than enough players along the Oline and at safety didn’t seem to be an issue, it was the primary reasoning behind Doss being cut.

“Yeah, I mean it’s pretty obvious that we went with a veteran group,” said Mayock of the wide receiver position. “I have strong feelings for Keelan Doss. I thought he did a great job. Local kid, great story. That was a very difficult cut. J.J. [Nelson] has been out for a couple of weeks with a mild ankle. He brings a speed element. We loved Hunter Renfrow from Day 1. [Dwayne] Harris, of course, is one of the top returners and special teams players in the league. At the end of the day, there still could be some more movement at that position, but we really like how we line up Week 1.”

For Rush’s part, it was how raw he was that was the culprit.

“Anthony Rush, we liked him, 340 pounds. We picked him up off the street after Philadelphia had cut him. Felt like we gave him some real good exposure and opportunity. We kept four defensive tackles and obviously, we had signed Corey Liuget. I’m not sure we’re done at a bunch of different places on the roster. There’s still more to come. But at the end of the day, he’s very raw. He’s a guy that I think has a future in the league, but for us today, it was not his day.”

As for keeping all three quarterbacks, well, that’s Jon Gruden.

“[B]ottom line is that Jon loves his quarterbacks, does a great job developing them and I think we pretty much knew all along, especially if all three of them played the way they did, I think it became obvious that we were going to go with three,” Mayock said.

The surprise cuts aside, the biggest surprise to make the roster was former practice squad safety Dallin Leavitt.

I saw a kid with a chip on his shoulder that couldn’t wait to prove to people that even though he wasn’t drafted, he belongs with the big boys,” Mayock said of Leavitt. “He’s become a core special teams player and that’s how you have to make it in this league, if you’re not a draft pick and you don’t have a job because of your draft status, you got to make it on special teams. And this kid committed to it, he’s made plays, he’s a core teams player and he’s gotten better and better. He’s making plays at safety and if you watched the game the other night for instance, in the fourth quarter he made three or four tackles in the open field, 1-on-1 tackles in the open field and that’s what a safety has to do. Last line of defense, it doesn’t have to be pretty, but you got to get him on the ground. So, to me he’s the kind of kid I’m proud of. He didn’t have a lot of fanfare when he came out. I think he was a tryout guy a year ago, to get through to the practice squad a year ago and now he’s on the 53. I think he’s a testament to hard work, passion and love of the game.”

Happy for Leavitt for sure. But with more moves expected, you can bet he’s not getting too comfortable.

We can question their decisions. They can try to explain their reasoning. We’ll just have to wait and see if those decisions were the right ones. Cuts are always a risk. You can’t keep ‘em all. Just try to keep the right ones.