For starters, no one can question the Raiders’ scout team and general manager Reggie McKenzie’s shrewd personnel moves. During the offseason, the front office focused on bolstering the offensive line, ground attack and secondary with free-agent acquisitions and draft picks.
Raiders’ brass expects offensive guard Kelechi Osemele to strengthen the ground attack with exceptional interior blocking. Defensive backs Sean Smith and new team captain Reggie Nelson will attempt to lead the secondary with smothering coverage and turnovers.
The Raiders drafted Texas Tech product DeAndre Washington and signed Jalen Richard as an undrafted free agent to complement Latavius Murray in the backfield.
Heading into the 2016 campaign, the Raiders should see balance within the offense and find success in closing out games with an improved secondary. When diving a little deeper, what else comes to light?
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) waves towards the crowd after the game at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The Tennessee Titans defeated the Raiders 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Once again, whispers about benching the Raiders’ starting quarterback circulated after his mini struggles during the preseason. We’re talking about preseason? Preseason. The games don’t even count, and we’re talking about the preseason.
After backup signal-caller Matt McGloin’s productive exhibition debut against the Arizona Cardinals, where he tossed two touchdown passes, fans started to raise eyebrows at Derek Carr. Let’s not even mention the defense that put the backup quarterback in great field position to score.
Despite rooming with wideout Amari Cooper while practicing at the Napa Valley Training Facility, Carr struggled in the first two exhibition games. In the third outing, he hooked up with his young wide receiver and found Washington on a short route to the end zone.
The Carr critics went silent.
In fact, McGloin’s performances in the last three weeks show he’s nothing more than a backup quarterback on the Raiders roster. Barring injury, Carr will be the leader under center for the distant future, get over it.
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington (33) celebrates with Raiders guard Gabe Jackson (66) after scoring a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans during the first half at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Ground Attack Growth
Last year, the Raiders ranked No. 28 in rushing yards, averaging 91.1 yards per game.
The Raiders didn’t draft high on a running back, allowing Derrick Henry, Kenneth Dixon, and Devontae Booker to come off the board before their choice.
McKenzie decided to wait until the fifth round for DeAndre Washington to Raiders’ fans surprise. Though, he became a player to watch throughout the preseason. He contributes on special teams, as a receiver and ball-carrier out of the backfield. During the preseason, however, Washington looked good enough to take over for Murray in 2017 if he doesn’t re-sign or earn an extension.
Undrafted rookie Richard carries a similar stature to Washington but shows elusiveness with ball possession. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave spoke highly about the Southern Mississippi product before he stepped on the field for his preseason debut, per the team’s official website.
After a knee scope, Richard impressed everyone with special teams play and seven carries for 35 yards as a ball-carrier against the Titans. Between Washington and Richard, the Raiders have viable complements to Murray. Furthermore, the two rookies could become the one-two punch at the position in the near future.
September 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders defensive end Mario Jr. Edwards (97) during the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at O.co Coliseum. The Raiders defeated the Ravens 37-33. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
The Raiders didn’t finish the offseason unscathed. Defensive end Mario Edwards suffered a hip strain in the first preseason game. Initially, the team expected him to return in four to six weeks in time for a Week 3 showdown with the Titans.
However, the team placed Edwards on injured reserve, but the NFL allows clubs to designate one player eligible to return during the season. The second-year pro will miss at least eight weeks. At that point, the team could activate him for the remainder of the season.
Assuming Edwards plays this year, he’d return against the Denver Broncos Nov. 6 on Sunday Night Football before the team’s Week 10 bye.
In the meantime, the defense will rely on second-round pick Jihad Ward, Denico Autry and undrafted rookie Darius Latham to fill the void. Among the young talent, Latham jumps out the most due to his incredible performances during the preseason.
During his college years, Latham racked up 7.5 sacks as an interior lineman. Over the past few weeks, he’s flashed as an above average run defender with active hands at the line of scrimmage. He won’t start over Ward or Autry but may finish with just as many or more snaps than both players.
On the official depth chart, Ward lists as the starter with Autry behind at defensive end in a four-man front. The veteran started the season slow with an injury, which allowed the second-round pick to gain an edge playing with the first-team defense.
Latham should push Justin Ellis at defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme before Edwards returns. If the undrafted rookie plays well, don’t be surprised to see Khalil Mack, Dan Williams, Latham, and Edwards from left to right on the defensive line in November and December.
Aug 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Clive Walford (88) is unable to make a catch in the end zone against the Tennessee Titans in the second quarter at Oakland Alameda Coliseum. The Titans defeated the Raiders 27-14. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Concerns for Clive
It’s great to take an optimistic approach, but after two seasons, we keep hearing about this massive jump for tight end Clive Walford. Many watched preseason games hoping to see the Miami product jump off the screen as an ascending tight end.
It’s yet to happen.
Walford caught one pass through four exhibition games and Carr has yet to establish a strong connection with the supposed X-Factor on offense. Optimism says the two will jell during the regular season. However, we watched Carr continuously look for Cooper over the summer to build a rapport. He seldom looked in Walford’s direction. When he did, on an intended touchdown pass, the throw and catch lacked synchronization.
Let’s slow down on Walford becoming the primary X-Factor to put the Raiders offense in another stratosphere. Washington may see just as many or more looks out of the backfield as a developing receiving component.
Aug 12, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Oakland Raiders tight end Mychal Rivera (81) against the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Is it Watson’s year to blossom? As long as he stays healthy, we’ll finally see his potential as a right tackle in this league. Austin Howard started the offseason recovering from a knee injury and the 2013 second-round pick took advantage of the opportunity. Watson held onto the starting spot, and he’s ready to begin the season protecting the strong side where ball-carriers will look to stretch runs laterally.
As mentioned, Walford’s noticeable strides have yet to happen. In March, the Raiders placed Rivera on the trade block, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport says the fourth-year pro will stay in Oakland for the year.
Due to Lee Smith’s limited ability to contribute as a pass-catcher, it’s a good idea to keep Rivera in case Walford disappoints in his second year or goes down with an injury.
Many Raiders fans seemed shocked to see safety Nate Allen ahead of first-round pick, Karl Joseph on the official depth chart. Here’s a repeated lesson learned. Head coach Jack Del Rio doesn’t hand out starting positions like candy on Halloween night. He’s not running a charity for those in high regards without playing a down in the NFL.
The Raiders’ coach made the right move to start Allen over Joseph. The veteran played far better in the preseason, snatching an interception and flashing on special teams.
On Sunday, the Raiders will defend against a cerebral quarterback in Drew Brees, who could pick apart the best secondary units in the league. Joseph comes in as a rookie, who’s missed some practices after coming off an ACL tear. Start Allen in the beginning and allow the rookie to catch up near midseason.
In last year’s season opener, ex-Raiders linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong recklessly rolled into Allen’s leg, which damaged his MCL. The veteran safety returned, but his play lacked technique and ability to cover ground.
Now healthy, he’ll show why the Raiders initially signed him to a four-year deal before his release and re-sign process on a prove-it contract, per spotrac.com.