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Raiders training camp primer: Malcolm Koonce may be among odd men out

A look at players who are danger of losing roster spots if they don’t have strong training camp performances

NFL: New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders
Malcolm Koonce, a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, hasn’t found solid footing or meaningful snaps for the Las Vegas Raiders.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

To a person, the Las Vegas Raiders coaching staff is keen to say competition is a critical component of roster building. While there are certain position groups that have a clear-cut starter, the Silver & Black have several spots that need a standout or proper depth.

Hence why training camp in late July will be integral for Las Vegas identifying the best 53 to fill the regular season. With the fight for roster spots comes both ascension and freefall from players. Some will rise to the occasion, impress, and state a strong case for their inclusion on the Week 1 roster. Others will fall flat and become nothing more than camp fodder and released.

While fringe players exist on every offseason roster, let’s take a look at some players on both defense and offense who may be odd men out if they don’t shine in training camp and ensuing preseason games. And it’s important to take note: The 2023 offseason will be vastly different from previous ones because instead of gradually making releases in waves as the NFL mandates cuts, it’s one stone cold date of Aug. 29 when teams go from 90 players to the initial 53.

San Francisco 49ers v Las Vegas Raiders
Cornerback Amik Robertson, left and seen here intercepting a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle last season, is a Raiders coaching staff favorite. But Robertson faces serious competition at cornerback this offseason.
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images


Edge rusher Malcolm Koonce:

A third-round pick from the 2021 draft by the previous regime, the Buffalo product arrived with intriguing potential. Relegated to special teams in the first year of the McDaniels era (260 snaps on special teams, only 68 on defense), Koonce will have to showcase he’s worthy of defensive snaps or lose out special teams snaps to younger (perhaps hungrier) talent. At 25, Koonce is by no means “old” and the Raiders remain thin at edge rusher, but Year 3 is a make or break season for him.

Defensive tackle Jerry Tillery:

A 2019 first-round pick picked up off the waiver wire mid-season, Tillery provided some pass rush juice from the interior. But he also committed a costly penalty, too. With the Raiders adding more competition at defensive tackle — namely 2023 third-round pick Byron Young — Tillery needs to showcase both improvement and discipline this offseason.

Cornerback Amik Robertson:

The new regime is keen on Robertson despite being a short corner (5-foot-8). And the 2020 fourth-round pick had his best season in 2022 (38 total tackles, one sack, two interceptions, and a 68-yard scoop and score). But Las Vegas added serious competition at cornerback this offseason and Robertson must prove he’s a better option than fellow short (but extremely stingy) corner Duke Shelley to likely stick.

Safety Roderic Teamer:

A special teams mainstay that saw defensive snaps last season, Teamer is more enforcer and tackler than reliable backend cover man. With the Raiders adding veteran Marcus Epps and Jaquan Johnson via free agency and drafting Chris Smith II in the fifth round of this past draft, improved the position group’s depth. Also, Second-year undrafted free agent Isaiah Pola-Mao may supplant Teamer as special teams ace.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
Alex Bars (64) started 14 games for the Las Vegas Raiders last season. He played primarily at right guard and could win that role again. However, he faces competition for the starting gig this offseason.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports


Offensive lineman Alex Bars:

Thought to be camp fodder when initially signed last offseason, Bars went on to start 14 games (853 snaps) and was primarily the Raiders’ right guard last season. Las Vegas signed versatile veteran Greg Van Roten to compete and intriguing UDFA Curtis McClendon could put up a fight, too. Then there’s Jermain Eluemunor. If he loses the starting gig at right tackle, he can shuttle inside to guard, too.

Running back Brandon Bolden:

A coaching staff favorite for his ability to do a little of everything, Bolden is in a stacked running back room. At age 33, special teams is now his forte but a younger option like Brittain Brown has a shot of supplanting Bolden and potentially pushing him off the roster.

Wide receiver Keelan Cole Sr.:

Las Vegas stacked the receiver room like there’s no tomorrow this offseason. With Jakobi Meyers now in the fold, Hunter Renfrow seemingly not being shipped out, and speedster Tre Tucker taken in the third round of this past draft, Cole has an uphill climb to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster.

Tight end Jesper Horsted:

Another special teams mainstay in 2022, Horsted offers speed at the position but isn’t a stout blocker in comparison to second-round pick Michael Mayer and veterans Austin Hooper and O.J. Howard. Horsted is willing to do whatever is asked of him, but so is Howard. And of the two, Howard is the better blocker and can play special teams.