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Edwards: 5 under-the-radar players of Raiders Training Camp and preseason

The Las Vegas Raiders are 2-0 this preseason going into their last matchup against the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday. Despite the two wins not counting towards their 2023 season yet, they haven't come by coincidence.

A plethora of players have stepped up in a big way so far through Training Camp and the preseason, while in the thick of competing for the opportunity to make the initial 53-man roster.

Levi Edwards takes a look at five Raiders who have may be flying under the radar as the Silver and Black head into the preseason finale.

After rushing for 70 yards on 17 carries his rookie season, White could be in line for an expanded role in 2023.

The 2022 fourth-round pick out of Georgia looks the part of a three-down running back. He brings a lot of physicality to his game every time he steps on the field. He's been able to shine among a talented running backs room, and has shown the ability to fight for extra yards in joint practices against both the 49ers and Rams. This preseason, he's accumulated 83 rushing yards on 23 carries with a touchdown. He finished last Saturday's preseason game with a 77.4 offensive grade from Pro Football Focus.

"Zamir has made a lot of progress in every area," McDaniels said Sunday morning. "He knows who he's responsible for in protection. He's chipping in slamming on the edges when he's responsible to do that to help the tackles. He took great care of the football and protected it very well, which is a huge thing for us and our team, and he runs downhill. ... He's just continuing to progress and improve, and the more he plays, the better he does."

There might not a be a player that's made a bigger leap this offseason than Pola-Mao.

The former USC safety was one of four UDFAs to make the initial 53-man roster in 2022. In the limited action he saw his rookie season, he showed promise as a box safety with a sack and 14 solo tackles.

Throughout 2023 Training Camp, he's been maximizing on his added reps. The 6-foot-4 defender has been using his length to create turnovers, with several interceptions in practice to his name. His ability to get the ball in his hands translated over in the Raiders' second preseason game, returning an interception off Rams quarterback Stetson Bennett to the house for 50 yards. So far this preseason, Pola-Mao has only allowed 17 yards in coverage, earning a 80.2 defensive grade by Pro Football Focus against the Rams.

Heading into his third season with the Raiders, things appear to be clicking for the young edge rusher.

Since being drafted out of Buffalo in 2021, Koonce has seen the majority of his snaps on special teams. He came out the gate and showed flashes of what he can do as a pass rusher, with two sacks in five games as a rookie. In 2022, he played all 17 games, ending the season with nine total tackles.

Koonce is in the process of trying to earn a bigger role in the defensive line rotation. He's been a problem for offensive tackles this preseason, with five quarterback pressures and two tackles for loss within the two games.

"Malcolm has had a great attitude all year," McDaniels said following Saturday's preseason victory. "He's really grown since we've got here. Just overall in terms of how he plays the position fundamentally and thinks about both run game, pass rush, etc. ... Malcolm has been disruptive. He's got a lot better over the two years we've been together, and he has a great attitude about it, so I expect him to really compete and help us this year at that spot."

These two UDFA offensive linemen are getting looped together because of how much time they've spent together developing as players since arriving to Las Vegas.

"Literally the two of them are kind of joined at the hip, which is interesting because they've ended up playing quite a bit right beside one another also on the offensive line," said McDaniels. "But when you see them together, they're in the meal room together, they're in the meeting room together, they're on the practice field early together. They do a lot of things to try to help each other continue to grow as football players which is great."

Both players have stood out on the O-line for their massive size and the poise they play with. Wagner was a two-time All-SEC selection at Arkansas and McClendon a three-time first-team All-SoCon selection at Chattanooga.

The success has seemed to carry over, though it's early into their NFL careers. Neither allowed a pressure or hurry in a combined 32 snaps against the 49ers in Preseason Week 1.

"Showed some toughness in both of these preseason games, have continued to make some progress in practice relative to all the things that our offensive lineman are responsible for," McDaniels added of both Wagner and Curtis.

"All you can ask for from them now is that they give great effort to try to improve and fix the things that we're addressing, which both of them do. They're out there every day, their durability has been very good. They're tough guys, so a lot of positives in that regard, and we'll just continue to work with them and grow."

View the best photos from the Raiders' Preseason Week 2 victory against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium.

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