As we inch closer to pre-season camp, there are some unfinished battles over starting spots on both offense and defense for the Oakland Raiders. Although head coach Dennis Allen doesn’t like his starters to feel comfortable at any stage of preseason, there are some players who are starting without a doubt. Matt Schaub, Darren McFadden, Justin Tuck, Lamarr Woodley, and Charles Woodson are all guys who you can expect to see starting in week one without a doubt if they can all remain healthy through camp.
Where this final OTA camp can be crucial for some Raiders’ to win a starting spot is at the linebacker position. With Khalil Mack added to the bunch, it will be extremely entertaining to see who comes out as the top three linebackers in the Raiders’ 4-3 defense.
In a recent interview, defensive coordinator Jason Tarver stated how he is looking forward to seeing how the 5-man battle over the three starting linebacker spots will play out when the young contenders finally get to put the pads on. Tarver went on to say that once the pads are on it will be much more evident where Khalil Mack stands with the rest of the linebacker crew.
You might think it would be an easy decision to add Mack to the outside linebacker position with Kevin Burnett on the other side and Nick Roach in the middle. This is all considering the fact that Kevin Burnett and Nick Roach both led the defense in tackles with 83 tackles apiece. However, it is not that simple: veteran linebacker Miles Burris is coming off a season-ending injury last year, trying to prove he deserves to get back on the field. Also, Sio Moore is coming off a decent rookie season where he started 11 games and recorded 38 tackles.
Another interesting position battle going into the preseason camp is on the offensive side of the ball. It will involve a battle of offensive linemen to start at right guard.
In last months OTA’s Austin Howard, the former New York Jets tackle, seemed to have the right guard position claimed with former New York Giant and Super Bowl Champion, right guard Kevin Booth, on the bench. This wasn’t the case when last month in the last couple of days of OTA’s Austin Howard found himself injured and unable to finish practicing.
This gave rookie Gabe Jackson the opportunity to pick up some reps toward the end of last months OTA’s, but with pre-season quickly approaching it is not clear who will claim the right guard position. Will Austin Howard be back and healthy or will the experienced Kevin Boothe come in and beat out the rookie to win the right guard position?
The last competitive position battle is for the strong safety who will get to play alongside veteran free safety, Charles Woodson. Last season, Brandian Ross played 13 games along side Woodson and proved himself to be effective as the 5th best Raiders tackler with 56 tackles. However, this preseason, Ross will be competing against Tyvon Branch, who was the second best Raiders tackler in the 2012 season with 74 tackles. Branch only played in two games last season before a season-ending ankle injury. In recent interviews, Branch said he is back to 150% and looks forward to friendly competition to get his spot on the defense back.
With all of these position battles going on, Allen said in an interview at the end of last month’s OTA’s that these position battles are great. He added, “They (position battles) motivate the players to continue to work hard and never feel complacent but given the length of the season and competitiveness in our division we are going to need everyone to contribute”.