As the preseason is about to begin, it is time to take a look at what positions will be contested leading into the season. The Oakland Raiders are coming off of their best season in over seven years and will be looking to build off of that momentum and possibly make a return to the playoffs this year.
In order to build off of last season, it is important that the Raiders have the right personell in the right positions to start the season. The Raiders are pretty much set, as far as depth is concerned, when it comes to the runningback, defensive line and safety positions.
However, there are a lot of questions surrounding the entire offensive line, the cornerback position, the wide receiver position and one outside linebacker position.
The left side of the Raiders offensive line appears to be fairly set in stone.
Second year tackle Jared Veldheer will be given the opportunity to continue his learning process at the left tackle position. He had a solid rookie season and the Raiders believe he could be their left tackle of the future, so do not expect him to get unseated.
At left guard, second year Raider, Daniel Loper appears to be ready to step in for the departed Robert Gallery. When Gallery missed time last season with an injury, Loper stepped into the starting role and the offensive line did not appear to miss a beat. The Raiders hope he will be able to do the same as a starter this season.
The rest of the offensive line is up for grabs.
The center position was thought to be locked down by rookie Stefan Wisniewski, but with the re-signing of two year starter Samson Satele, the Raiders will hold an open competition and decide who is the better fit, with the loser likely getting a good look at the right guard position.
At right guard, most thought that last year’s starter, Cooper Carlisle, was going to be released by the Raiders this season. With Carlisle still on the team, the Raiders will be looking at him, second year player Bruce Campbell as well as Satele and Wisniewski as potential starters at right guard.
The right tackle position will likely be the weakest position along Oakland’s offensive like this season. The two front runners for the starting job right now are rookie Joe Barksdale and returning tackle Khalif Barnes. Barksdale has looked good in training camp and could push for playing time. However, there are rumors that the Raiders are trying to bring back Langston Walker. This could be a sign that the coaching staff is not impressed with Barksdale or Barnes at this point.
The Raiders receiving corps is full of young talent. Unfortunately for the Raiders, most of that talent has yet to reach its potential. With the return of a healthy Chaz Schilens, the Raiders have four players who are considered viable options as starting wide receivers.
Last season’s starters Darius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy will certainly receive strong consideration. DHB has yet to live up to his high draft status, but Davis seems intent on giving him time to learn while still playing in a starting position. Murphy has shown sparks of brilliance at the position, but has also shown a lot of inconsistency.
Meanwhile, Schilens is finally healthy after two years of injuries. If he can stay healthy and return to the form he had before the injury problems, he could easily become a starting option since the Raiders have been longing for a possession type receiver for years now.
Finally, last season’s rookie phenom, Jacoby Ford is clearly the fan favorite to be a starter. After a rather impressive rookie season where Ford showed the ability to be a game changing threat on offense and in the kick return game, he will be looking to solidify his role as a starting wide receiver for the Raiders.
There is also a dark horse candidate in fifth round rookie Denarius Moore. The wide receiver out of Tennessee has been the star of Raiders training camp so far. Injuries and inconsistency at the wide reciever position could enable Moore to see good playing time as a rookie.
One of the outside linebacker spots is set in stone. Kamerion Wimbley was outstanding in his first year wearing the Silver and Black in 2010. It earned him a big contract and an unopposed starting position.
Opposite Wimbley is another question. Last year’s starter, Quentin Groves, played well at times and struggled a lot at others. Though the Raiders did not bring in any big name free agents to compete with Groves, the spot is not necessarily his for the taking. Rumor has it that second year ball hawk, Travis Goethel, will compete with Groves for the starting role.
Plus, the Raiders will need to figure out what to do with Trevor Scott once he is healthy, and the outside linebacker position is a possibility even though he did not excel there as a starter early last season.
The massive contract given to Stanford Routt means that one of the starting corner positions will certainly belong to him. The opposite corner and the nickleback positions, however, are far from set in stone.
Veteran speedster Chris Johnson is the most likely player to start opposite Routt. Before Routt’s seemingly inexplicable rise to stardom in the eyes of Al Davis, Johnson was the corner faced with playing opposite Nnamdi Asomugha and did a fairly good job at it.
Besides Johnson, the Raiders will be looking to see if second year players Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden have matured enough to push for playing time opposite Routt. Both players saw the field as rookies due to injuries in the Raiders secondary, however, neither stood out in their limited time.
Rookies Demarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa will likely be battling Ware and McFadden for playing time as the nickle back corner. However, there is also the possibility that safety Michael Huff will see time at nickle back, giving the rookies a year to get caught up to NFL game speed before being thrown into significant roles in the secondary.
These competitions will all start to heat up as the preseason games begin. Given the shortened off season, a strong showing in the preseason could easily lead to a starting role for any number of these guys come opening day.