Let the training camp battles begin.
With increased depth on the Raiders roster, some starting-caliber players will be relegated to back-up roles, and head coach Jack Del Rio said he welcomes the competition:
“It’s pretty much open competition everywhere. We really like the idea of playing the guy who is performing best, who’s going to help us win on Sundays.”
The most intriguing roster spot battles so far have been for back-up quarterback, starting nose tackle and starting right tackle.
It’s still very early in camp, and time can change where players lie on the depth chart. But so far, Matt McGloin is beating out rookie Connor Cook for the back-up quarterback spot.
McGloin, the fourth-year undrafted free agent out of Penn State, hasn’t looked exceptional so far in camp, but he’s certainly looked better than the floundering Cook.
Cook was drafted by the Raiders in the fourth round of this year’s draft. General manager Reggie McKenzie liked the value of trading up in the draft to snag Cook, who some had graded to go in the second round. Early in camp, Cook’s slide in the draft is starting to look like less of a surprise.
Cook has looked like a rookie still trying to get up to speed with the NFL game. His passes have been consistently late on timing routes, and the ball looks wobbly coming out of his hands. He’s flashed some potential though, throwing down the seam to tight ends. On Saturday, Cook hurled a 15-yard dart to a well-covered Ryan O’Malley.
Another camp battle is for the starting nose tackle position, and, in somewhat of a surprise, Jack Del Rio said Justin ‘Jelly’ Ellis was beating out Dan Williams.
Williams was a big free agent signing for the Raiders last offseason, but so far ‘Jelly’ has the upper hand and has taken the majority of first-team snaps. Del Rio said that although Williams might not start, it won’t affect his role with the team in a major way.
Del Rio said:
“They are all going to play; it’s just a matter of who gets to trot out first. We are going to use all of our guys. We are going to use all the talent we have. We like to play all of our guys and keep them fresh.”
Keeping players fresh and rotating in and out of a game, especially on the defensive line, looks to be a huge advantage for the Raiders this season. They’ve also vastly improved their depth on the offensive line, though starting roles seem to be solidified, except for right tackle, for which Menelik Watson and Austin Howard are competing.
It appears that, much like last season, the starting right tackle spot is Watson’s to lose. The big man is a tremendous athlete, and has immense potential, but he has failed to stay healthy since he was drafted in 2013.
Last year, Watson ruptured his Achilles during the preseason. He’s appeared agile and fluid so far in camp, and if he manages to stay healthy, he should become a key part of a solid “fist” that Jack Del Rio wants to build on the offensive line.
There is still plenty of time for players to make a case for starting roles, and the coaching staff will get a better idea of their players’ strengths and weaknesses once preseason games begin.
Del Rio said:
“We’re learning about these guys who are new to us. We want to make sure we are really thorough with them, and give them the opportunity to show who they are and to compete…We are taking notes, sharing the information. As a football team we want to make sure we are taking advantage of the individual talents that we have.”