Linebacker/Defensive End James Cowser, Tackle Menelik Watson, and Defensive End Jihad Ward
We're now another step closer to the official return of Oakland Raiders football, as the team has released their initial unofficial depth chart in advance of its first preseason game this Friday against the Arizona Cardinals.
Head Coach Jack Del Rio joked earlier in the week that the first depth chart shouldn't be read into too seriously, and he's right. At this point in the process, the depth chart is fluid, and will assuredly change after Friday night's matchup with the Cardinals, but even so, let's take an initial look at some things that stood at first glance.
1. Watson Holds Firm At Right Tackle
Heading into Training Camp 2016, right tackle seemed to be the only starting job up for grabs for the Silver and Black, and it appears as though Menelik Watson is currently the man tasked with those responsibilities.
Similar to last season, Watson and veteran tackle Austin Howard have been battling it out for the right to run with the first team, and although their competition figures to run until the very end of the preseason, right now, Watson has the edge.
Over the next month, I'm sure both Watson and Howard will get some run with the first-team offense, and like Coach Del Rio said, the depth chart can and will change, but heading into the desert, Watson will be the starting right tackle.
2. Cowser Runs With The Second Team
Linebacker/defensive end James Cowser has enjoyed an impressive start to his first NFL training camp, routinely applying pressure to the quarterback, and being a disruptive force from a multitude of positions along the defensive front.
Heading into the Raiders' first preseason matchup, the undrafted rookie from Southern Utah is listed as a defensive end and sits behind just defensive end Khalil Mack on the team's first depth chart.
Cowser has been a fun player to watch through the first portion of Training Camp 2016, and it'll be exciting to see what he brings to the table once he has a chance to go up against another opponent.
3. Olawale Gets The Nod At Fullback
As it stands now, Jamize Olawale is the starting fullback heading into the Raiders' preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
Keep in mind that fellow fullback Marcel Reece has three games left on his league-mandated suspension, and although he's eligible to play in the preseason, likely won't be able to hit the field until Week 4 of the regular season.
That being said, Olawale has shown that he has the ability to handle more of the responsibilities on the offensive side of the football, in addition to his extensive work on special teams.
Will Reece return to the first team once his suspension is up? That remains to be seen, but for the time being, Olawale has the job.
4. Ward Cracks The Starting 11
Since he arrived in the Bay Area, Jihad Ward has shown precisely why the Raiders selected him in the second round (No. 44 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Ward is a physical specimen, and has shown to have a wide-ranging set of skills on the defensive side of the ball, and after compounding an impressive Offseason Workout Program with a quality run at Training Camp 2016, the rookie has earned a spot on the first-team defense heading into Arizona.
The University of Illinois-product is another player I can't wait to see play in a game, so I'll be keeping a close eye on him later this week at University of Phoenix Stadium.
5. Jones and Carrie Set To Handle Return Duties
Throughout Training Camp 2016, one of the things I've been really intrigued by is the battle for the return duties.
Running back Taiwan Jones and cornerback TJ Carrie are the incumbents, and as the team prepares for their matchup with Bruce Arians and Co., they are listed as the first kick and punt returner respectively.
Rookie running back DeAndré Washington is listed as both the second kick returner, and second punt returner, so it stands to reason that he'll get ample opportunity throughout the preseason to show what he brings to the table. Fellow rookie running back Jalen Richard seems like he'll also be in the mix for work as a return man, so seeing who runs away – no pun intended – with the jobs is something I'll be keyed in on.
-Matt McGloin is currently listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart behind Derek Carr, edging out rookie signal caller Connor Cook for the time being.
-The first four wide receivers (Cooper, Crabtree, Roberts and Holmes) on the roster appear to be set, but behind them, Johnny Holton and K.J. Brent seem to be in the mix to be the fifth wide receiver.
-Lee Smith has once again earned the starting nod at tight end, with Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera following behind him in that order.