With only three days until the Oakland Raiders’ first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals, Jack Del Rio and his staff will get a chance to further scrutinize the depth of the roster.
Most of the starting roles on the team are largely solidified, a first for the Silver and Black in over a decade. The real battles are for backups: The slot corner, the fifth and sixth receivers, and back-up running back are all hotly contested.
Head coach Del Rio is excited for the opportunity to see his team compete in a non-training camp scenario:
“(The players) are definitely ready to see another team. It’s that time in camp, and we welcome seeing new schemes, new player and new ways of doing things. You really like to test some of your principles anyways, things that you do and make sure they hold up.”
Defensive backs Dexter and Dewey McDonald have both had impressive camps. Dexter McDonald in particular is making a strong case for starting slot cornerback, consistently blanketing receivers and batting down balls.
During practice on Tuesday, Dexter McDonald leaped in the air to deflect a pass in the end zone to wide receiver K.J. Brent. He moved his hips fluidly and turned to see the ball without causing contact.
A cornerback being able to get his head around to avoid costly pass interference penalties is pivotal, and McDonald has been displaying that skill on a consistent basis. McDonald was a seventh-round pick out of Kansas in the 2015 NFL draft, and he continues to showcase improvement during practice.
Del Rio praised the two defensive backs:
“The McDonald boys, both of them, Dexter and Dewey, they’ve both had nice camps. They’ve both taken advantage of the time during the offseason, and they’re pushing for a spot. They are right in the mix in the competition in the back end. They’ve done a nice job for us.”
Both McDonalds have covered an assortment of undrafted free agent receivers vying for a roster spot. Two who have emerged as possible fifth and sixth starters are Johnny Holton and K.J. Brent.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Del Rio said the top four spots at the wide receiver position look solid, but he welcomes the competition regardless:
“I’m glad they returned, we have a good core group of receivers there, and we have some young guys jockeying for position. This is camp and some guys jump out to an early lead with it. We will continue the evaluation.”
Holton looks like a solid deep-threat option for the Raiders. During his pro day, he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, and according to NFL.com, almost half of his 17 catches last year for the Cincinnati Bearcats went for 25-plus yards.
While Holton offers the ability to take the top off the defense, Brent looks like more of a possession-type receiver. The rookie has flashed strong and reliable hands, making an assortment of acrobatic catches on the sidelines. During his senior year at Wake Forest, Brent caught one touchdown and tallied 583 receiving yards.
Holton and Brent look like favorites to crack the depth chart, but how they play in game action will dictate their roster position, according to Del Rio. Del Rio said Friday’s preseason game is important for evaluating all the players on the roster:
“For us the key is ‘what are they doing when it’s real,’ when they are going up against another opponent, when they are not familiar with the coverage they are seeing and having to adjust during the game. I feel good about the whole process, we will continue that evaluation and obviously it goes up a notch into the games.”
Another key position battle on the offensive side will be for the role of third-down running back. Taiwan Jones, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are all competing for the opportunity to play behind starter Latavius Murray.
Jones is now listed as the No. 2 back, but his fumbling makes him a risky option. Washington and Richard are both rookies who have been impressive in camp. Jones is a speedster, where Washington and Richard are both shorter, low-to-the-ground type backs that excel at hiding behind their guards and squeezing through the smallest of running lanes.
In terms of evaluating the players on the roster during the first preseason game, Del Rio said starters will most likely play a bit more than the first quarter, and from there the rest of the depth chart will to showcase their strengths:
“We stress effort first with everything we do, so we want to see great effort from our football team. Try and play everybody. Everybody’s here in camp, we’d like to get a look at them. It’s a game where everyone should play.”