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Raiders training camp: Defensive tackle position gets a boost

Veteran DT Vernon Butler makes camp debut

NFL: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Vernon Butler
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

One of the early concerns of the Las Vegas Raiders training camp was a glut of injuries at the defensive tackle position.

However, the Raiders got a boost at the position on Tuesday when veteran Vernon Butler participated in practice for the first time. He missed the first four days of training camp practices because he was on the non-football injury list. That is an indication he was injured away from the team. Yet, the fact that Butler has returned now shows it was not serious and, barring a setback, it shouldn’t affect his preparation for the regular season.

Butler is expected to be a rotational defensive tackle after signing a one-year contract with Las Vegas as a free agent this offseason. Butler, 28, was a first-round draft pick by the Carolina Panthers in 2016. He spent last season with Buffalo.

With Butler back, the Raiders now need to get defensive tackles Johnathan Hankins and Bilal Nichols back. They have been on the Physically Unable to Perform list since prior to the start of training camp. Both Hankins and Nichols were injured during the Raiders’ offseason sessions.

Last Thursday, Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said Hankins and Nichols (along with cornerback Trayvon Mullen) all have a chance to return from the PUP list at some point in the near future. If they don’t return to practice by Aug. 23, they can’t play until Week 5 or the regular season.

This was going to be a season of massive change at defensive tackle for the Raiders anyway. The new Raiders’ brass changed the position, adding five veterans in free agency and drafting two more. With the three veterans starting camp hurt, draft picks Neil Farrell and Matthew Butler have gotten extra work and they likely will in preseason games as well. That, of course, is great. but the Raiders need their veterans on the practice field to help set the regular-season rotation.

The return of Butler was a needed development Tuesday.