Safety Karl Joseph
The long offseason is almost officially in the rearview mirror as the Oakland Raiders begin Training Camp 2016 Thursday at their Napa Valley Training Complex.
Headed into the new season, there is a definite buzz surrounding the Silver and Black, particularly because of the additions they made through the draft and free agency. Additionally, quarterback Derek Carr is another year older and wiser, and after his first trip to the Pro Bowl, appears to be ready to take the next step in his career.
That being said, the Raiders, like every other team in the NFL, have some questions that need to be answered in the coming weeks, so with Training Camp 2016 on the horizon, let's look at five storylines to follow once the Silver and Black report to work.
1. Who's going to be the starting right tackle?
Austin Howard and Menelik Watson are once again poised to battle it out for the right to be the starting right tackle for the Raiders in 2016.
The pair went at it during training camp last season, in what was one of the more entertaining battles to watch, before Watson suffered a season-ending injury prior to the season opener. Howard put together a quality campaign, making 13 starts in 2015, but with a healthy Watson back in the mix, he'll have to fight to remain the starter.
As it stands now, there aren't that many openings in the Raiders' starting lineup, so any battle that will produce a starter is something to keep an eye on.
2. The battle for backup quarterback.
Derek Carr is firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback for 2016 and beyond for the Oakland Raiders.
However, what is not crystal clear as of right now is who will be his primary backup and the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart.
The incumbent for the job is Matt McGloin who is heading into his fourth season in Silver and Black, but he will be pressed throughout training camp and the preseason by rookie signal caller Connor Cook.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie surprised many around the league when he traded up to select Cook in the fourth round (No. 100 overall) of this year's draft, and as he said during his post-draft press conference, depth is always at a premium in the NFL, even at the quarterback position.
The battle between McGloin and Cook is shaping up to be entertaining, and one that I'm looking forward to watch play out over the next few weeks.
3. How does Karl Joseph look?
The Raiders knew that when they drafted Joseph No. 14 overall that he likely wouldn't hit the field until Training Camp 2016 as he recovered from a knee injury suffered during his final season at West Virginia.
Since he didn't participate in any of the Offseason Workout Program, Joseph has largely been a mystery since joining the Silver and Black, but all indications are that he'll be a full participant when the whole team hits the field for the first time Friday.
With impressive range and big-hitting ability, Joseph is certainly an exciting prospect to keep an eye on throughout training camp, especially considering it will be the first time he'll put on a full Raiders' uniform – pads and all.
4. Who will emerge as the complementary running back to Latavius Murray?
Plain and simple, Latavius Murray needs a little help in the backfield in 2016.
In his first season as the primary running back Murray was indeed impressive – he ran for 1,066 yards and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl – but behind him there was little production to be found. In fact, Murray accounted for 73 percent of the team's rushing yardage last season.
Quarterback Derek Carr was the team's second-leading rusher, and if the Raiders want to make a push to the postseason in 2016 that can't be the case again.
So who will emerge as complement to pair with Murray? Will it be rookie running back DeAndré Washington, or will a more seasoned runner like Taiwan Jones, or maybe even Jamize Olawale prove to be a viable second option out of the backfield?
Regardless of who it is, that role will be something I'll be keeping a close eye on throughout training camp.
5. The Slash Brothers
Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin – or The Slash Brothers as they've been affectionately coined – have the ability to be one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the NFL this season, so seeing the two work tougher once the pads go on will be one of the top storylines surrounding the Raiders in 2016.
Mack burst onto the scene in 2015, finishing the season with 15 total sacks, and paired with Irvin – who will be asked to get after the quarterback more than he has in seasons past – the two hope to make life quite difficult for opposing quarterbacks.
Throughout the Offseason Workout Program, the pair has already shown to be an effective one-two punch coming off the edge, and hopefully they'll look even more impressive once the pads come on and the team is permitted to go full contact.