Many Position Battles Beyond Quarterback For The Oakland Raiders

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D.J. Hayden (25) stands out among his teammates after returning from lifesaving heart surgery. credit Eric Risberg, Associated Press

Terrelle Pryor’s improbable run at the starting quarterback gig for this year’s Oakland Raiders has overshadowed every other position battle, and there are lots of them, one might even say most of the starting spots on the Silver & Black are still up for grabs.

Raider coach Dennis Allen spoke before Friday’s tilt against the Chicago Bears about the importance of the final preseason games.

I don’t think there is any question that these next couple of weeks are make or break games for a lot of guys. There’s still a lot of positions on this team where we haven’t made our mind up exactly who those guys are going to be.

Teams must get down to 53 players by 3pm pst on Saturday, Aug 31. Oakland should be extremely aggressive after those cuts, seeking players to upgrade talent and depth, which could well find starters not yet on the roster.

Starting spots that look secure: Darren McFadden (RB), Marcel Reece (FB), Stefan Wisniewski (C), Lamarr Houston (DE) Charles Woodson (FS), Tyvon Branch (SS), D.J. Hayden (CB), Sebastian Janikowski (K) and Jared Veldheer (LT) when he returns from injury.

Battle at Running Back

Rashad Jennings appears to have the backup job. Rookie Latavius Murray had his ankle scoped, but he’ll also see carries this season. And it must be said, backing up DMC means staying ready.

Offensive Line

May 11, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tackle Menelik Watson (71) addresses the media during rookie minicamp at the Raiders team headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders are crossing their fingers that some good linemen will get cut, because Wisniewski and Veldheer are the only ones worth mentioning. If this unit isn’t upgraded it could derail the entire offense.

Menelik Watson is playing left tackle with the first-team this week, and starting Thursday in Seattle. Rookie linemen rarely get such a chance after missing significant time, but Watson’s opportunity represents one huge advantage of having a thin roster. The Raiders may unearth a starting tackle most teams would have buried this deep in training camp.

Tight End

Recent evidence suggests David Ausberry’s conversion from wide receiver will pay dividends. He won this year’s starting job before getting hurt, but he’ll return soon, while the rest of the competition is wide open.

Nick Kasa’s bruising 19-yard touchdown catch and Mychal Rivera’s two grabs for 35 yards on Friday made an impression. Jeron Mastrud is also in the mix, with Richard Gordon’s name atop the depth chart, but he could just as easily be cut.

May 28, 2013; Alameda, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders receiver Brice Butler (19) at organized team activities at the Raiders practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver

Denarius Moore and Rod Streater will probably be the starters, but rookie Brice Butler’s rapid ascension threatens to go even higher. Jacoby Ford is looking dangerous once more. The Raiders still don’t have a true No. 1, but all of their receivers can make plays.

Defensive Line

One offseason priority will be re-signing 2014 free agent Lamarr Houston; the other projected starters are short-term solutions. Vance Walker (DT), Pat Sims (DT) and Jason Hunter (DE) may only play one year in Oakland. Second-year man Jack Crawford (DE) and rookie David Bass (DE) made some noise this preseason, and should find the field.

Linebacker

Kevin Burnett (OLB) and Nick Roach (MLB) are solid vets that may only be in Oakland one year. Coaches may hope Miles Burris earns one of their spots after returning from injury. Raider 2013 third-round pick Sio Moore (OLB) should be an early standout, but his pass coverage must improve. Moore will see snaps with a hand in the dirt as an LB and a DE — because Sio’s  addicted to hitting QB’s.

Defensive Back

There’s depth here. Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins will battle for one CB spot, and if the winner sees a ton of balls thrown his way it would mean teams are avoiding first-round pick D.J. Hayden. Usama Young gives Oakland a quality backup for both safety spots.

Aug 9, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson (24) on the sideline during the second quarter of the game against the Dallas Cowboys at O.Co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

One of nine new starters on defense, Charles Woodson’s leadership must be felt on and off the field this year.

Punter. Marquette King’s powerful 24-year-old leg or Chris Kluwe’s technique and experience, at 31, will take over.

Comparing this roster to other teams in the NFL, it’s hard to be overly optimistic about win totals, but there are players with talent, and there will be excitement.

The Raiders could take a huge step forward next season if this batch of youngsters produces some impact players: Menelik Watson, Denarius Moore, Brice Butler, Rod Streater, David Ausberry, Nick Kasa, Mychal Rivera, Latavius Murray, D.J. Hayden, Sio Moore and we can’t forget about Terrelle Pryor, who won’t let anyone watching the 2013 Oakland Raiders fall asleep.

Speak up Raider fans. What did I miss — and who do you want playing where?

 

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