As the Raiders prepare for their third preseason game of the year, injuries and uncertainty has left a number of starting positions up for grabs.
The offensive line is the primary area of uncertainty. At this point, there is really only one position that the starter can be predicted at this point. The Raiders think that second year player Jared Veldheer could be their answer at the left tackle position and will be given the opportunity to start at that position again this year.
Besides Veldheer, there is competition at both guard spots. Daniel Loper, Cooper Carlisle, Bruce Campbell and rookie Stefan Wisniewski are all considered potential starters at both guard positions. Coming into the preseason, it looked like the starters would be Daniel Loper and Stefan Wisniewski. However, strong performances in the first two weeks by Cooper Carlisle and the potential of workout warrior Bruce Campbell mean the starters will not likely be named until the end of the preseason.
At center, there is still competition, but it is not quite as fierce. Returning starter Samson Satele has a good chance of being the starting center again this season. The Raiders clearly want to replace Satele as they believe he is too small to play in Hue Jackson’s power blocking scheme. They attempted to replace him last season with Jared Veldheer and again tried to replace him by drafting Stefan Wisniewski this year. However, Wisniewski does not appear ready to take over as the starting center, meaning Satele will likely survive another season as the Raiders starter in the middle of the line.
At right tackle, the Raiders are looking at a very close competition between rookie Joseph Barksdale, Khalif Barnes and newcomer Stephon Heyer. Raiders fans should be excited that Barksdale is so competitive in this competition. The Raiders have struggled at the tackle positions for years now and guys like Barns and Heyer, while serviceable, are not the answer. Barksdale is a big, powerful kid with a lot of upside. If he can distance himself it would be a good sign for the Raiders offensive line.
Besides the offensive line, wide receiver is the only other position on offense still undecided. With injuries to two potential started in Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy, Denarius Moore will get another shot this weekend to show that he is deserving of serious playing time as a rookie. It will also means an opportunity for Darrius Heyward-Bey to continue his impressive preseason and prove that he can be the player the Raiders were looking for when they drafted him.
On the defensive side of the ball, one position battle was answered through injury. Many thought that Travis Goethel would challenge incumbent starting outside linebacker Quentin Groves. However, a season ending injury has all but ensured that Groves will be starting again this season.
That leaves the cornerback position as the only other position on defense with serious questions. Stanford Routt and Chris Johnson will likely be the two starters come opening weekend. However, the nickel and dime back positions are far from set. Rookie Demarcus Van Dyke is attempting to prove he is worthy of time at nickel back, while second year players Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden are simply trying to ensure they will make the team and hope to get some playing time.
Meanwhile, the Raiders have brought in veteran cornerback Lito Sheppard to compete for time at the nickel and dime back positions. Sheppard, a former pro bowl corner, is past his prime. However, his experience is valuable for a position lacking in that department. The Raiders are hoping Sheppard will provide some stability to a shaky position.