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Raiders Mailbag: Who's ready for the bright lights in Dallas?

Big Dream from Missouri asks:

"How is the battle for the defensive tackle spots going?"

It is indeed a tight battle.

From my eyes, the interior defensive line is one of the more wide open competitions, with several players making a good case to be a starter. Bilal Nichols is the only defensive tackle that started all 17 games last season, with Jerry Tillery getting a few big snaps after being picked up off waivers. Second-year players Neil Farrell Jr.  and Matthew Butler have progressed this offseason, while still actively competing for reps against free agent signings Adam Butler and John Jenkins – who both have looked superb this preseason. The competition doesn't stop there with 2023 draft picks Byron Young and Nesta Jade Silvera coming along well as rookies.

Holistically looking at the unit, it's anyone's job Week 1. This last preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys could determine a lot of how the defensive line looks moving forward.

Ryan Maslyn from New York asks:

"What's the word on Malcolm Koonce? Haven't heard much about him this Training Camp."

I recently addressed the play of Koonce in our five under-the-radar players story. I agree with you Ryan. While you haven't heard a lot of people talking about him, he's looked good in camp.

I've been a fan of Koonce's game since he was drafted in 2021, and it seems he's taken a leap heading into his third season. He's plays with speed off the edge, and has a nice maturity about him off the field. I believe with another nice showing against the Cowboys on Saturday, he could lock up a rotational edge rusher role.

"[J]ust all around trying to be a better player in every sense," Koonce said earlier in Training Camp. "Even the things I was good at, trying to get better at that. Even the things I was bad at. ... brand new system after going from a different system my rookie year, so it's my second year in the same system. So, I definitely feel way more comfortable than I was."

Jeremy Storey from North Carolina asks:

"Drake Thomas is a blue-collar, high-effort player that plays bigger than he's listed (at least from what we've seen of him at NC State). How is he transitioning to this level and does he seem to, so far, look to have a good chance at making the roster?"

Drake Thomas has come a long way since signing with the team as a UDFA.

After spending the better part of a month engaged in a tight competition between himself, Luke Masterson, Curtis Bolton and sixth-round pick Amari Burney, Thomas has taken his game to the next level the past two weeks. The linebacker out of NC State was laser-focused in last Saturday's game against the Rams, leading the team in total tackles (10) with an 82.6 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus.

"He's playing amazing, especially in these games. I don't even know how to describe it, it's just Drake," said Divine Deablo. "He's running to the ball like a missile. First one to the ball and when he gets there, he's laying the boom. I love to see that from Drake."

"Drake is a guy that – he's worked hard since he got here," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said Monday. "He's a guy who's an undersized guy, but he plays fast and physical, showed up in the kicking game last night multiple times. Made a bunch of plays on defense. He just has a knack of finding the ball, and he's a tough kid."

Get an inside look at the Raiders' 2023 Training Camp practice at Intermountain Health Performance Center.

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