Raiders

Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down

Who won? Evaluating Raiders' position battles as preseason winds down

The Raiders have, at long last, reached the preseason’s final stretch. A handful of practices and Thursday’s largely inconsequential game at Seattle remain before final cuts. Coaches have been chipping away for a little while, but that’s when preparation for the regular-season opener begins in earnest.

There were roles to fill and a depth chart to set this summer in training camp and over the preseason slate, but most position battles have been settled. Some were settled quickly, others took most of camp and new ones emerged during the Raiders’ time in Napa. We’ll update those position battles, declaring victors in some instances and identifying leaders in those still undecided.

Let’s go over pre-camp position battles turned out before moving on to some newer ones:

SLOT RECEIVER

Hunter Renfrow vs. Ryan Grant

Renfrow took control of this battle early, with an impressive start to camp. He proved reliable, with precise routes and soft hands. He built trust with Derek Carr, while Grant faded into the background. The veteran didn’t lie down, putting solid practices together against the Rams backed by two quality preseason performances.

It’s possible both guys make the roster, though Grant might be trade bait for the right opportunity. The back end of the receiver group remains in the air, but Renfrow’s a roster lock after giving opponents fits in camp.

Victor: Renfrow

BACKUP QUARTERBACK

Mike Glennon vs. Nathan Peterman

This one was tight early, but Glennon pulled away in Napa and seems to have the No. 2 spot locked up after largely effective preseasons. That doesn’t mean Peterman has been bad, or is off the roster soon.

The 25-year old has been solid in preseason games and improved in practices while gaining confidence, and could well prompt the Raiders to keep three quarterbacks. He has better long-term upside and head coach Jon Gruden might not be ready to give up on his pet project.

Victor: Glennon

LINEBACKER

Brandon Marshall vs. Marquel Lee

There was some question how Marshall would fare after missing offseason program practices, especially coming off injuries, but the veteran has been steady while getting into tip-top football shape.

He has worked almost exclusively with the first unit in camp, with Lee as the strongside backup. He has gotten some work in the middle, where he has played the longest.

Marshall worked with Vontaze Burfict in the sub packages, but Tahir Whitehead has done some of that lately. It’s uncertain at this point who comes out when slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner comes in, but Marshall has been a first-unit fixture heading into the regular season.

Victor: Marshall

TIGHT END

Derek Carrier vs. Luke Willson

The top end of the depth chart was set in the offseason. Darren Waller is the primary receiving tight end, someone who moves around the formation. Foster Moreau was the primary in-line blocker. Finding the third member of the fraternity was tough.

Carrier looks like the guy, especially after an excellent touchdown catch against Arizona and the fact he didn’t play with starters and important role players skipped Thursday’s preseason game in Canada.

Odds-on favorite: Carrier

PUNTER

Johnny Townsend vs. A.J. Cole

This one ended fast, with Townsend waived shortly after the first preseason game. Cole ran away with it in Napa practice periods and in games, showing power and the hang time that helps punt coverage.

Cole was consistent while Townsend was erratic and largely ineffective, prompting the Raiders to punt last year’s fifth-round draft pick for an undrafted kid signed after a rookie minicamp tryout.

Victor: Cole

Some position battles over specific regular-season roles have emerged over the course of training camp. Let’s take a closer look at those …

FULLBACK

Keith Smith vs. Alec Ingold

This one was created by circumstance. Smith repaired a torn meniscus just days before training camp, giving Ingold opportunities aplenty. The undrafted free agent took full advantage in games and practices.

Smith returned with a vengeance during Thursday’s preseason game vs. Green Bay, scoring a touchdown while making his presence known. He’s a respected core special teams player who won’t give up without a fight.

The Raiders should be able to get Ingold onto the practice squad -- few teams require fullbacks anymore -- so the Silver and Black can keep both guys in the building.

Odds-on favorite: Smith

SWING TACKLE

Brandon Parker vs. David Sharpe

Parker seemed to have this gig locked up during the offseason program, but he slipped up a few times this summer and Sharpe has played tough despite dealing with injuries. The Raiders have both players working on the right and left, as they try to identify a super sub on the flanks.

Parker still seems like the guy. He’s bigger and athletic with room to improve, and the Raiders also spent a third-round pick on him just last year.

Favorite: Parker

RIGHT GUARD

Jordan Devey vs. Denver Kirkland

Gabe Jackson’s knee injury created a vacancy in the starting lineup, temporarily at least. Gruden said interior super sub Devey would get first crack at the position, and has taken ownership of it thus far. He sat while Kirkland played on Thursday, another sign that a hierarchy has been formed.

The Raiders could shake things up before or after final cuts if Devey doesn’t inspire confidence.

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Denzelle Good’s also a factor here, especially if he can prove healthy after missing most spring and summer work recovering from back surgery.

Odds-on favorite: Devey

NOTE: You don't see a discussion on the sixth receiver or whether the Raiders will keep a fifth running back or an extra lineman here. That comes later. Such roster math fits into our final 53-man roster projection, which will come out early Monday morning. 

Vontaze Burfict's football IQ critical to Raiders’ defense playing fast

Vontaze Burfict's football IQ critical to Raiders’ defense playing fast

The Raiders set out to get faster on defense. That mission was accomplished in every sense.

That’s true by traditional measures, as the Raiders hope their raw speed can keep up with the track stars Kansas City trots out on offense Sunday afternoons.

It’s also true in terms of reading and diagnosing plays. The Raiders installed a faster multi-core processor this offseason, plugging Vontaze Burfict into a defensive network that now runs at warp speed.

Burfict has mastered Paul Guenther’s scheme and knows exactly how to adjust and re-align to best defend a particular offensive play. Burfict is confident in his reads, efficient and clear when dispensing pre-snap information. Being in the right spot, able to anticipate what’s coming, allowing the defense to play faster.

Burfict as Guenther’s field general has been a storyline since the veteran joined the Raiders in March, and his scheme knowledge assisted returners and newcomers alike during the preseason.

That was clear when operating at game speed. Burfict orchestrated the defense well in a Monday night victory over Denver, making individuals better while helping the defense play as a cohesive unit.

“It was awesome,” defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said. “He knows the system inside and out, so he’s able to make checks pretty quickly. He always seems to know what’s coming and gets us aligned fast, so we can just play ball.”

The Raiders must play mentally and physically fast against Kansas City, armed with speed and an offense that will attack using both latitude and longitude.

“They make you defend every inch of grass,” Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “Laterally with the jet sweeps, you got to defend them sideline to sideline. They can outrun you, outflank you and vertically they can run right by you over the top.”

There’s a buzz word that describes the key to defending this high-powered attack.

“Eye discipline,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “[Quarterback Patrick Mahomes and coach Andy Reid] will try to mess with a defense, to shift people around the formation and put you in a bad spot. They will do all types of things to play with your eyes and make you think you’re seeing one thing when it’s something else. You have to trust your preparation and make the right checks.”

That’s where Burfict comes in, and why he’s so key to the Raiders’ defensive effort on Sunday.

“He obviously knows the system, but Vontaze is very intelligent,” Morrow said. “He processes information quickly and is confident in what he’s doing. That’s what you want from somebody in his position.”

Burfict is the defense’s cerebral cortex, but he isn’t just directing troops while watching them work.

He plays with trademark intensity and didn’t step over the line in his Raiders debut. That’s key moving forward, because the Raiders need him on the field to succeed against Kansas City, a team that doesn’t need freebies to score.

“He’s really fun to play with,” Hurst said. “He’s an aggressive player. He’s going to come downhill and hit everything that moves. It’s awesome playing with someone like that.”

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Burfict fought through some knicks in the opener but didn’t miss a practice snap all week. It’s important for him to stay upright and available, because they need his presence and football smarts on all three downs.

“Those of us returning for a second year with Paul [Guenther] feel pretty fluent in the system,” cornerback Daryl Worley said. “But having a leader like Vontaze in complete command is definitely helpful.”

Chiefs-Raiders odds, predictions: Betting lines, picks for NFL Week 2 game

Chiefs-Raiders odds, predictions: Betting lines, picks for NFL Week 2 game

An undefeated record is on the line.

It may only be Week 2 but after the Raiders and Chiefs earned victories to open the season, both will look to keep the momentum rolling in Oakland on Sunday afternoon.

The Chiefs are favored by a touchdown and likely would get a few additional points if the game were being played at Arrowhead Stadium.

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Line:

Caesars: KC -7 (-110)
Consensus: KC -7 (-110)
Westgate: KC -7 (-110)
Wynn: KC -7 (-110)

Here’s how NFL writers around the country see the matchup shaking out:

Paul Gutierrez, ESPN: Chiefs 38, Raiders 30
Adam Teicher, ESPN: Chiefs 37, Raiders 31
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Chiefs 30, Raiders 26
Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk: Chiefs 30, Raiders 17
Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk: Chiefs 35, Raiders 21
Tadd Haislop, SportingNews: Chiefs 34, Raiders 20
Greg Patuto, Heavy.com: Chiefs 37, Raiders 21