Left Tackle Donald Penn
The Oakland Raiders are less than a week away from kicking off the 2017 regular season, as they'll travel to Nashville to square off against the Tennessee Titans. When the Silver and Black take the field Sunday, the newest version of the Raiders 53-man roster will be on display, and is set feature some rookies in the starting lineup.
Tuesday the Raiders released the first depth chart of the regular season.
As the season continues to move along, the depth chart is subject to change, but as of now Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his coaching staff have declared who will dig their cleats into the grass first.
Let's break down five notable observations from the depth chart.
1. Donald Penn is back at starting left tackle
The protector of quarterback Derek Carr's blindside is back in the fold, and No. 4 seems pleased to have the big man back on the offensive line. Throughout the preseason, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse – who has typically been a right tackle throughout his career -- saw reps at the position.
In 2016, Penn gave up only one sack to opposing defenses, and helped the Raiders offensive line become one of the best in football. According to Pro Football Focus, Penn ranked 12th among all offensive tackles last year in overall rating (86.3), and was 13th in total offensive snaps.
Not only will Penn be blocking for Carr this season, but his friend, and now teammate, Marshawn Lynch. The Pro Bowl left tackle has expressed his excitement to block for No. 24, and I'm sure Lynch is thrilled to have him fortifying the left side. Penn will get his first taste of action against a Titans defense that ranked sixth in sacks last season with 40.
2. Marquel Lee remains the starting middle linebacker
When the Raiders unofficial depth chart came out right around the start of the preseason, the team's fifth-round pick (No. 168 overall) Marquel Lee was listed as the team's man in the middle. The former Wake Forest Demon Deacon has a unique combination of size and speed, standing at 6'3" and weighing in at 240 pounds.
During his four years at Wake Forest, Lee totaled 291 tackles, 41 for loss, two passes defensed, four fumble recoveries, and 14.5 sacks. Through his first three games in the preseason, Lee tallied 11 tackles and a fumble recovery, but didn't play in the preseason finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
As a rookie, he's looking to learn from experienced defensive minds like fellow linebacker Bruce Irvin, and defensive end Khalil Mack. In order for Lee to grow, he needs to see and experience more at the pro level, and the only way to accomplish that is by getting more reps. In his first official game in the NFL, Lee will be tasked with trying to stop Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and his go-to receiver, tight end, Delanie Walker.
3. Jared Cook is among Carr's starting offensive weapons
One of the Raiders biggest offseason moves was acquiring tight end Jared Cook, adding him to an already stacked receiving corps. In Week 4 of 2016, tight end Lee Smith went down with a knee injury that cost him the rest of the year, which left the group a bit thin at the position. While Cook certainly brings another dimension to the passing game, he also provides depth to the group.
It's no secret the team's goal is to return to the playoffs after reaching the postseason for the first time in over a decade last year, and the hope is that Cook can help with that. If you followed the playoffs last year, it's possible you saw his clutch play in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys, as the former University of South Carolina Gamecock showed off the toe-drag with a reception down the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal.
Through training camp it was clear that Carr was targeting his new tight end quite a bit, and I'm excited to see what he does this year in his first season with the Silver and Black.
4. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes remains the starter
After missing Mini-Camp due to the NFL rule which keeps college players on the quarter system from participating in NFL activities until the end of the academic year, Vanderdoes came into training camp eager and ready to work. The former UCLA Bruin seemed to form a bond with Irvin and Mack quickly, and has performed well when partnered alongside them.
Similar to Lee, Vanderdoes was listed as the starter following the unofficial depth chart release a month ago, and remains the starter. While the Silver and Black had a dominant presence on the edge last season, the interior wasn't as productive, and it's possible Vanderdoes remedies that dilemma.
View the Raiders roster as the front office made the final roster reductions to open the 2017 season.
5. Marshall Newhouse and Vadal Alexander could split time at the right tackle position
Alexander came in as a seventh-round pick in 2016, and proved to be an important asset on the right side of the offensive line. Former Raiders Menelik Watson and Austin Howard were hampered by a slew of injuries throughout the year, and the former LSU product stepped up in the wake of their absence. To add more depth at the position, Newhouse entered the equation this offseason and signed with the Silver and Black with aspirations of helping the offense continue to thrive.
According to the depth chart, both Alexander and Newhouse are both listed with the first team, and it remains unclear who will be the starter come Sunday. The duo have both been standouts in Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice's group, and will be worth watching as the season progresses.