Spots Las Vegas needs to strengthen during training camp
The Las Vegas Raiders are one week out from the start if all-important training camp. Rookies report first on July 18 with veterans joining the mix on July 20 at Raiders HQ in Henderson.
This is where the Silver & Black will continue to build on the foundations set by the new coaching staff. More immersion in and learning of head coach Josh McDaniels’, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s and special teams boss Tom McMahon’s respective systems is on tap. As is the critical building of rapport between coaches and players.
Let’s take a look at the Raiders weakest links. These are the spots the team needs to shore up and strengthen during training camp:
Right Tackle: Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker are the prime candidates to man the perimeter spot on the offensive line with others likely getting into the mix. Leatherwood struggled mightily as rookie and wasn’t the plug-and-play type prospect the Raiders had hoped when it took him with the 17th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He shuffled inside to guard while Parker took over. It was a mixed back. The plus side? Leatherwood is only 23 and is still coming into his own and Parker wasn’t the worst right tackle in the league (if that’s any consolation). There are also starting-caliber right tackles still available in free agency. If Leatherwood doesn’t win the right tackle spot outright and it’s Parker on that island again — sheesh.
Third Down Back: The spot that scat back Jalen Richard held down and Kenyan Drake dabbled in, too. Richard earned the third down running back duties due in large part to his blitz pickup and pass blocking chops to go along this his rapport with quarterback Derek Carr. Richard was also a solid pass-catching option, but he’s no longer with the team. Drake still is and newcomer Brandon Bolden provides a veteran and familiar option to McDaniels, too. This spot will likely be a major strength before too long.
Speed Receiver: Tyron Johnson is by far the fastest receiver currently on the Raiders roster, but the group as a whole has the makeup of crisp route-running type possession receivers. Perhaps a lid-lifting wide out isn’t a requisite thing in McDaniels offense, however, having a deep threat keeps defenses honest. Johnson is the lone option with blistering deep speed and if he’s axed from the roster, a true deep threat would be severely lacking. A clear-out option at receiver who draws the attention of a corner and as safety helps the group as a whole. And the Raiders haven’t had that since Henry Ruggs III and Nelson Agholor were pass catchers.
Interior Pass Rush: Bilal Nichols will be looked to provide the inside rush but beyond him, things are a bit unclear. Rookie Matthew Butler showed a penchant to break through and pressure the quarterbacks in college, so he’s likely going to get opportunities to show his wares. The rest of the Raiders’ defensive tackle group is comprised of big-bodied, double-team attracting run stoppers. Maybe at some point Vegas looks to the free agent market to scoop up another pass-rushing defensive tackle.
Edge Rushers: The Raiders have two quality starters in Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones at their disposal, but who will be the rotational/situational pass rushers behind them? Talent is there in Malcolm Koonce, Kyler Frackell and Clelin Ferrell. Koonce may be a better fit as a standup rusher due to his lighter frame at 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds. Koonce wasn’t big enough to be an every-down option as a 4-3, hands-in-the-dirt defensive end. Frackell and Ferrell should mix in as rushers, too. But a solid rotational group behind the top two edge rushers is a must-happen.
Strong Safety: We’re going to find out if enforcer Jonathan Abram can play deep in Graham’s two-deeps safety looks. Abram is much better in the box where he can lay the lumber and get to the ball carriers and pass catchers, alike, but perhaps a new staff can ignite his coverage flame. If not, veteran Duron Harmon is likely to take the reins at strong safety. He may not be a stout hitter like Abram, but despite his age at 31, Harmon presents a better coverage option on the back end.