Can you hear that, Raider Nation?
I can hear pads thudding, audibles being barked at the line of scrimmage, and the joyous screams of fans celebrating in the distance which means only one thing; football is finally almost back.
The Oakland Raiders officially get back to work next week, so understandably you had a ton of questions relating to the 2017 iteration of the Silver and Black, and now, we have some answers.
It's time for another edition of the Raiders.com Mailbag.
Where is Training Camp being held this year? - Brittany H.
EP:As I type this, the moving trucks are being packed at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway, in advance of the team's return to its Napa Valley Training Complex. For the better part of the next month, Head Coach Jack Del Rio, Derek Carr, and the Raiders will be based out of Napa, Calif., practicing and living at a local middle school, and an adjacent hotel. I may be a little bit biased, but with the weather and natural scenery, I don't think there's a better training camp location in the league. The Silver and Black break camp August 17, and will then return to their Alameda, Calif., facility.
Which position has the most competition for playing time? - Jeremiah K.
EP:There's going to be competition up and down the roster, that's really the point of training camp, but I'll give you two battles in particular that I'm going to have my eye on. First, I'm really excited to see how the battle for right tackle shakes out. While Austin Howard made 10 starts at right tackle in 2016, he's going to have to earn his starting spot again this season, holding off some pretty stiff competition in the process. General Manager Reggie McKenzie signed veteran tackle Marshall Newhouse this offseason to compete for time on the right side, and don't forget about Vadal Alexander either. The former LSU Tiger appeared in nine games as a rookie, and I think that he's going to get his fair share of opportunities to impress throughout training camp and the preseason. The other battle I'm looking forward to – as are many of you – is the fight for playing time at middle linebacker. Tyrell Adams got some run in the middle throughout the Offseason Workout Program, but keep an eye on a healthy Ben Heeney as well. The Raiders also addressed their need at middle linebacker by selecting Marquel Lee in the fifth round of this year's draft, and I'm really excited to see what the dynamic rookie brings to the table once the pads come on.
Who stands out along the defensive line going into Training Camp? - Jai S.
EP:Jai, when we talk about the Raiders defensive line, every conversation we have must start with Khalil Mack. The reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year has tallied 26 sacks in the past two seasons, and in the process has established himself as one of the best, if not the best, edge rushers in the NFL. He's reached the point in his career where opposing defensive coordinators have to game plan around him, and once again, I fully expect No. 52 to be a force to be reckoned with once the regular season comes around. As far as other players on the defensive line to keep an eye on, I'm excited to see a healthy Mario Edwards, Jr., this season. When he's healthy, the explosive defensive lineman has the ability to be game changer in the middle of the defensive front, and as far as we know, No. 97 is indeed healthy and ready to rock once training camp gets underway. Bruce Irvin proved to be a valuable complement to Mack last season, but if Edwards can insert himself into the fold as well, a potent Raiders defensive line gets all the more dangerous.
Does Elijah Hood have a chance to make the final roster? - Yukon B.
EP:Whenever it comes to a drafted player – regardless of where they were selected – you have to say there's a chance they end up on the final, 53-man roster. As far as Hood in particular, the bruising running back is going to have to show the coaching staff that he can not only contribute on special teams, but make the most of any opportunities he has running the ball as well. Yes, as it stands now, there are several talented backs in front of him on the depth chart, but if Jalen Richard taught us anything, it's that playmakers can come out of the most unlikely situations. While unfortunate, it's the nature of the game that people get injured, and because of that, depth is absolutely crucial. Hood was a very effective runner during his time at North Carolina, and if he wants to find himself in Silver and Black long term, it's going to be crucial that he makes the most of his opportunities in the preseason.
Everyone is focused on Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans, but why are the four preseason games important? – CJ G.
*EP: *That's a great question, CJ. First off, the preseason provides a great opportunity for the team's starters to all get on the same page, and finally square off against a live defense for the first time since the end of last season. Everyone loves seeing touchdowns on Sunday, but that synergy doesn't happen by accident, it takes repetition. While we know that the Derek Carrs and Amari Coopers of the world likely won't see a ton of action throughout the preseason, the series that they do play in will certainly help them down the road. Where the real value of the preseason games lie though are for the young players, and the players a little lower on the roster. For guys on the fringe of making the team, the four preseason games can make or break a dream. While the score at the end of the evening doesn't mean anything, don't tell guys battling for jobs that these games are "exhibitions;" it means everything to them.
Will Cordarrelle Patterson have any competition to be the team's primary kick returner? –Andrew R.
EP:There are few things that Head Coach Jack Del Rio loves more than competition, so the short answer to your question is, yes. Look, Patterson is a two-time First-Team All-Pro selection as a return man, so it's obvious that the return game is an area he excels. However, let's not go anointing "CP" as the primary return guy just yet. Jalen Richard was a dynamic return man in his own right last year for the Silver and Black, and a year of experience under his belt will only help him going forward. I expect both he and Patterson to get a crack at the returning duties throughout training camp and the preseason, and whoever has the most success will be "the guy" in the regular season. Also, don't sleep on Jaydon Mickens either; I wouldn't be surprised if we see him in the mix as well.