It's hard to argue that the biggest training camp battle this offseason for the Oakland Raiders won't be at the middle linebacker position. But that's exactly what I'm going to do.
While much of the focus seems to be on which young player will win the inside linebacker job for the Raiders, there are two pretty simple ways that battle is going to go. Either one of the young players like Marquel Lee, Ben Heeney or Cory James will step up, or the Raiders will add a veteran linebacker, just like they did in 2016 with Perry Riley. Regardless of how it plays out, there's a plethora of young talent at inside linebacker on the Raiders' roster, so the future does look bright there, but it just may not be the immediate future.
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Options at right tackle in 2017
The Raiders are going to have plenty of options when it comes to filling the open spot on the right side of the line. Austin Howard seemed like an easy choice as one of the early favorites, as he started 23 games at right tackle over the past two seasons with the team, and started 16 games at right guard the year before that. But he was released in late July, saving the team $5 million against the cap.
Even without Howard, the competition is still going to be an intense one.
The Raiders signed journeyman Marshall Newhouse, who's playing on the fourth team of his eight-year NFL career. Newhouse has started 20 games over the past two seasons for the New York Giants but lost his starting job last season after Week 2.
Then there are the youngsters: second-year pro Vadal Alexander and two rookies in fourth-round pick David Sharpe and seventh-round pick Jylan Ware. Any of the three could be in the mix should they excel during camp, but Alexander specifically will have an edge over not only the two rookies but potentially the two veterans as well.
It's easy to say that Newhouse should win the right tackle gig with Howard gone, but there's much more to it than that. He was brought in with the hopes that a change of scenery could work wonders. There's even a real reason to believe that he'll enter camp as the hot choice to win the job, but it may not take long for Alexander to push his way right into that starting right tackle gig.
Projecting the Raiders' running game
How key will quality play at right tackle be to establishing a fierce ground game? Here's how SportsLine projects the stats to shake out among Raiders running game:
Predicting the winner
The 2016 seventh-round draft pick in Alexander should be the guy. He may even prove to be the long-term answer, but Sharpe will have something to say about that. The Raiders just don't need to rush Sharpe into the action before he's fully ready. Instead, they have a player in Alexander who started five games last season and now gets another offseason to work in a system which he impressed in.
The second-year pro from LSU should take the job, especially after the release of Howard. Even if Newhouse starts in Week 1 and Alexander doesn't win the job immediately, it won't be shocking if the second-year player winds up taking it over early on in the 2017 season.