A look at the Raiders position by position - we continue with running backs.
POSITION BATTLES: Tight Ends
It is truly going to be weird going to training camp in just over a month and watching another player wear No. 20, let alone have that player be on defense. The one-two punch combinations the Raiders have trotted out the past several years have all included Darren McFadden. The former first round draft pick has moved on to the Dallas Cowboys, Maurice Jones-Drew, the veteran brought in a year ago to be the counter-punch, retired.
Latavius Murray has been waiting in the wings. After missing his rookie season due to an injury, Murray was inserted into the line-up late last season to jump-start a stagnant running game and he did not disappoint. After getting a taste of the role, we will all see if Murray has what it takes to be a 20-carry per game guy.
Latavius Murray | 6'3" | 225 | Central Florida | 3rd Season
Murray reminds me of Michael Bush, except he has better top end speed. I'd like to see a little more "make you miss" in the open field. He demonstrated quick feet and excellent vision in his limited time as the featured back a year ago. He also showed some big play ability in the passing game. Four carries for 112 yards and 2 TDs in the first half of his first start was nothing short of impressive. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has said that Murray has the opportunity to earn the starting role. "Right now he's [Murray] been running with the lead group, but he knows that he has to earn that through camp, through the preseason, but he's done a nice job this offseason," Head Coach Del Rio said. "He's taking steps and growing as a player."
Bottom Line: The Raiders really need to see what they have in Murray. He has the size, speed and innate ability, but can he develop as a pass catcher? How is he on blitz pick-up? Can he carry the ball 20 times per game for 16 games and be productive? Murray says he is healthy and ready. We shall see.
Trent Richardson | 5'9" | 225 | Alabama | 4th Season
Tales of Richardson in the Alabama weight room are legendary. I remember seeing reports on the college football pregame shows about Richardson's strength training. For some reason, Richardson has been unable to get on track as pro. Originally drafted by the Cleveland Browns and subsequently traded to the Indianapolis Colts, Richardson is now with his third team in four years.
Bottom Line: The Raiders may be the last stop for the young Richardson. He will need to prove that he belongs and that all he needed was a true fresh start. Preseason is going to be huge for Richardson.
Roy Helu, Jr. | 5'11" | 215 | Nebraska | 5th Season
Helu comes to Oakland after spending four years with the Washington Redskins. He is a jack-of-all-trades type. He reminds me of a bigger, faster Rock Cartwright. An excellent special teams player, Helu is a good open field runner and catches the ball well out of the backfield. If you'll allow me the baseball analogy, he reminds me of Nick Swisher at the height of his career with the A's and Yankees – multiple positions, do anything kind of guy.
Bottom Line: Helu has value as a special teams player at a minimum, but could be an excellent third down back for the Raiders as well.
Taiwan Jones | 6' | 195 | Eastern Washington | 5th Season
"Pro Bowl candidate" Taiwan Jones – perhaps the best gunner on punt coverage in the NFL when healthy. The former coaching staff moved Jones from running back to cornerback. Head Coach Jack Del Rio and his staff have moved him back to running back. Another multi-tool player, Jones can return and cover kicks. Ball security was the issue during his first stint as a running back/kick returner but he carved out a niche for himself on special teams. Long and lean with fantastic top-end speed, Jones seems to just want to get on the field any way he can.
Bottom Line: This could be another numbers issues, but Jones' special teams value can't be underestimated. It will be interesting to see how he makes the transition back to his natural position.
George Atkinson III | 6'1" | 218 | Notre Dame | 2nd Season
The son of Raiders Legend George Atkinson, George III spent most of last season on the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster to serve as the primary kickoff returner, a role in which he was successful at Notre Dame. He turned some heads in the final preseason game last year as his tough running closed out a 10-point win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Bottom Line: Atkinson III is going to have to prove that he has legitimate NFL talent. A former track star, he has blazing speed, but he'll have to demonstrate the finer points of playing the position – blitz pick-up, pass-catching, etc., if he's going to make the team.
Michael Dyer | 5'9" | 218 | Louisville | UDFA
Dyer burst onto the scene at Auburn and looked to be the next great SEC tailback. He broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record and ran for 143 yards in the BCS National Championship game in a win over Oregon. Dyer ended up transferring to Louisville and earning a contract after a mini-camp tryout here with the Raiders. The fiery Dyer showed quick feet and good pass-catching ability during the offseason program.
Bottom Line: If Dyer is anything like the player he was early on at Auburn, the coaching staff is going to have some tough decisions to make with this group. The scrappy Dyer seems to be hungry for a roster spot.
Marcel Reece | 6'1" | 250 | Washington | 7th Season
Reece, primarily a fullback – a three-time Pro Bowl fullback at that – can do a lot of things. He played wide receiver in college and defenses have paid dearly for sleeping on his speed. Reece has excellent receiving skills, deceptive top-end speed and absolutely loves wearing the Silver and Black. He's not what you would consider an old-school bruiser of a fullback, but his size, speed and skills create match-up problems all over the field. And he's been nothing short of productive when his number has been called at tailback.
Bottom Line: If new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave can find a way to maximize Reece's contribution, opposing defenses are going to have a very hard time dealing with Reece and this offense. And, oh yeah, Reece looks to be in fantastic shape.
Jamize Olawale | 6'1" | 240 | North Texas | 4th Season
This is a traditional bruising, old-school fullback. However, Olawale has shown good ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He gives the Raiders the ability to move Reece around the field while keeping a traditional fullback in the backfield. Humble, unassuming, Olawale has carved out a niche for himself on the team.
Bottom Line: This is going to be interesting. I think it is going to boil down to numbers kept at other positions to determine if Olawale fits. It all depends what the Raiders do with the tight end position and where they think Reece contributes.
Again, it is going to be weird to go into a season without McFadden as the presumptive starter at running back. The Raiders have a lot of unproven talent on the roster at the position, the operative word being "talent." Will the Raiders keep three tailbacks and two fullbacks? Or four and one? This position battle is going to fun to watch.