Raiders

GM McKenzie: Aldon Smith remains in Raiders' plans

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GM McKenzie: Aldon Smith remains in Raiders' plans

Editor's note: Matt Maiocco is in Florida for the NFL owners meetings. Watch SportsNet Central tonight at 8 & 10:30pm for comprehensive coverage.

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Outside linebacker Aldon Smith, currently unsigned as an unrestricted free agent, remains solidly in the Raiders’ plan after his scheduled completion of a one-year suspension.

General manager Reggie McKenzie said he is in no rush to re-sign Smith, 26, as the Raiders want to be certain the talented pass-rusher is making the correct decisions off the field.

“The conversations have been good,” McKenzie told CSNBayArea.com on Monday at the NFL owners meetings. “Really, it’s encouraging him as a person to continue to get his life right. And if you’re going to commit to this thing, you have to go through some steps. And that’s what he’s going through right now.”

Smith is eligible to be reinstated off the NFL’s reserve/suspended list in mid-November after he was suspended for a full year due to violating the league’s policy on substances of abuse. Teams are allowed to sign him even while he is under league suspension.

While a member of the 49ers, Smith was suspended for nine games for violations of the league’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct to open the 2014 season.

The 49ers released Smith on Aug. 7 after his fifth run-in with the law since the 49ers selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The Raiders signed him to a one-year contract on Sept. 11.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office filed charges against Smith of DUI with a prior conviction and refusal to submit to a chemical test; hit and run with property damage; and vandalism under $400.

Smith recorded 44 sacks in 50 games with the 49ers. He recorded 3.5 sacks in nine games with the Raiders before his season ended due to the suspension.

Raiders training camp battles: Several combinations possible at safety

Raiders training camp battles: Several combinations possible at safety

Editor’s note: We’ll take a look at several Raiders training camp battles leading up to the first full-squad practice on Saturday, and then we’ll update their progress throughout the preseason. Let’s get into the second one, focusing on safeties.

The Raiders have taken a safety in the first round of the NFL draft two of the last four years. They still paid a veteran top dollar to join the mix as a safety and slot corner. They extended a special teams player with some starts to his credit, too.

In short: the Raiders have options at safety, lots of them good.

That position will shake out in training camp, which starts this week in Napa.

This year’s No. 27 overall draft pick is already there. Johnathan Abram reported to camp Tuesday with the Raiders rookies, already in good position to snag a starting spot. Coaches love the Mississippi State alum, who joined the first unit later in the offseason program. He carries unshakable confidence and skill into his work as a do-everything safety that seems pro ready.

He paired with 2016 first-rounder Karl Joseph during the offseason program, who should still be a factor despite the team declining his fifth-year option. The team came away impressed by his recovery from injury and a slow start, when he found his footing in a role tailored to his strengths.

Erik Harris evolved into a defensive role last season, with the size and length to play free safety. He clearly has assumed a vocal leadership role in the back, and will fight for a job either on every down or obvious passing situations. He might end up being a super sub capable of playing anywhere, a valuable commodity in the secondary.

Lamarcus Joyner is the x-factor in all this. He’s clearly the team’s best free safety, but the high-priced free-agent signing has focused on slot cornerback to this point. That could change during training camp. Time will tell on that front. Coaches could split his focus -- he’s fully capable of switching between free safety and slot corner -- right away or bring him back to safety at times should one of the aforementioned contenders flop.

[RELATED: Why Carr should be primed to have a huge season this year]

Curtis Riley and Jordan Richards are also veterans in the mix, though they’re firmly on the roster bubble.

Early edge: Abram and Joseph at safety, with Joyner primarily at slot CB.

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict give stability at linebacker?

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict give stability at linebacker?

The Raiders have searched long and hard for stability at middle linebacker. They haven’t had much luck recently, no matter who has been picking players.

Let’s call it the curse of Rolando McClain, a wasted first-round pick that exemplifies the team’s issues filling an important position. Only Perry Riley and NaVorro Bowman offered partial-season respites during this middle linebacker drought, and neither player re-signed with the club.

Nick Roach, Curtis Lofton, Ben Heeney, Miles Burris and Derrick Johnson all have tried and failed to stabilize the position. Still-developing Marquel Lee, a rare linebacker drafted to play the middle, was thrust into a starting role but didn't stick and has been used on the strong side. The Raiders haven’t selected a middle linebacker before the fourth round since McClain, choosing largely to go the veteran route inside.

Vontaze Burfict enters as this year’s attempt to get the middle linebacker spot right. Brandon Marshall also is in town and capable of playing inside and out, as the Raiders hope to establish veteran leadership running Paul Guenther’s defense.

Burfict has spent most of his career as Guenther’s field general, and having him here should open previously closed chapters of an extensive playbook. Burfict was helpful running practice reps and meetings during the offseason program, already proving to be a valuable resource to his new team.

He must remain available and productive to stay that way. Burfict has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, which has hampered his effectiveness. Will he be a three-down player inside? Even two would be helpful, considering Tahir Whitehead’s lineup regularity and comfort with the defense.

Marshall also can fill the middle, proving a solid Plan B if Burfict struggles. Having veteran options playing in front of a developing corps including Jason Cabinda, Lee and Nicholas Morrow should be better than previous seasons, where the Raiders never seemed to have a backup plan.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

Burfict has been impactful already, but we haven’t seen much of Marshall. The former Bronco missed most offseason practices with an undisclosed injury.

These older veterans have been producers in the league but skepticism is fair until they show old form during the regular season. Can Burfict and/or Marshall succeed where previous players have struggled?

It’s worth keeping a keen eye on the middle linebacker spot and the position group as a whole, which must improve for the Raiders' defense to run well this regular season.