May 25, 2022 - 12:21 pm
The Raiders began Phase 3 of their offseason program this week and will open one of their 10 organized team activities to the media Thursday.
It will be the first public look at a refitted team breaking in a new coach in Josh McDaniels, new offensive and defensive coordinators in Mick Lombardi and Patrick Graham and two game-changing newcomers in wide receiver Davante Adams and edge rusher Chandler Jones.
In other words, there is plenty to keep an eye on as the Raiders begin laying the foundation for the season.
Here are three areas to focus on in the first week of OTAs:
1. Who assumes starting roles on the offensive line?
Nothing is etched in stone, so it would be a mistake to read too much into who takes the field with the first-team offensive line Thursday. McDaniels has been consistent in saying the Raiders’ pursuit of identifying the best five-man starting group will include players cross-training at multiple positions. So expect a bit of a revolving door in the next few weeks.
The goal isn’t just to create the most effective starting group, but also to prepare players to be able to handle various positions if circumstance dictates.
That said, fans should get an idea of the plans for second-year lineman Alex Leatherwood, who was drafted in the first round last year as a right tackle but moved to right guard when injuries ravaged the interior of the line. The sense is the Raiders will give Leatherwood a legitimate chance to win back his starting right tackle spot.
It also will be interesting to see how the Raiders handle guard duties, and Denzelle Good, who missed the final 16 games with a knee injury, plays big in that equation. If Good reclaims his starting right guard spot, it most likely leaves rookie Dylan Parham and third-year guard John Simpson to compete for the left guard job.
2. What does the defensive line look like?
The change from Gus Bradley to Graham as the defensive coordinator means a switch from a base 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4. Graham has maintained the Raiders will be multiple in the way they line up, with an emphasis on being flexible to match up with the strengths of each opponent. But it will be interesting to see if Maxx Crosby’s role will expand from a strictly hand-in-the-ground defensive end to someone who fluctuates between that role and perhaps an upright edge rusher.
Also, where do newcomers Bilal Nichols, Vernon Butler, Matthew Butler and Neil Farrell factor in along the defensive line? And is there a new role for Cle Ferrell and an expanded role for Malcolm Koonce?
Ferrell’s fifth-year option was not picked up, meaning he’s headed to free agency after the season. This is a make-or-break season relative to his Raiders’ future. Can he forge a meaningful role under a new coaching staff?
Koonce flashed an above-average pass rush trait in his limited time last season as a rookie. He could see his playing time increase under Graham.
3. New coaching staff
The McDaniels’ hiring represents a seismic change for the Raiders, and everything from scheme to teaching to messaging is altered as a result.
The interaction and chemistry between the coaching staff and players will be noteworthy, as the Raiders have precious little time to make the transition to a new way of business. Unlike most teams that make coaching changes, the Raiders are coming off a 10-win playoff season and have aspirations of building on that success. It’s incumbent on them to make as seamless a transition as possible.
McDaniels will play a big role in that. Whatever growth he’s made between his unsuccessful run as a first-time head coach 12 years ago and now will go a long way in determining how quickly things come together.