Amid the flash and dazzle of the big moves the Raiders have made thus far in the offseason, a not-so-subtle message has been delivered to the entire roster.
The new coaching and personnel staff is promising a fresh start for players. While the past won’t be ignored, and clearly there are players for whom big roles are already envisioned, there is also an opportunity for other players to change opinions and narratives about themselves.
That is especially true across both lines of the scrimmage. Players there can win or lose jobs based on their willingness to compete.
“I think everybody, for us, it’s going to be a clean slate,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said this earlier this week at the NFL owners meeting. “I am really not as interested in what they’ve done as much as what we can do.”
That should be encouraging for players like fourth-year defensive end Cle Ferrell and third-year cornerback Amik Robertson. Last season Ferrell lost his starting job and Robertson never found the field on any consistent basis.
Ferrell has been a disappointment after being selected fourth overall in 2019. While it seems far-fetched he can finally justify his draft status with a breakthrough season, he’ll at least have an opportunity to prove he can be an asset.
“He’ll earn his role. Whatever the role is going to be, he’ll earn it,” McDaniels said. “We might have some things we ask him to do that he hasn’t done as much of, but that might fit him better.”
The same can be said for various other players and position groups, with cornerback, defensive tackle and linebacker among the most competitive areas of the team.
But no other position is as wide open as the offensive line, a group that struggled considerably last season and will go into the offseason with little certainty about which players occupy what positions.
“Kolton Miller is going to be on the left side,” McDaniels said. “Other than that … you better be able to play more than one spot. It’s hard to create extra value for yourself and the team, if we have too many players that are just one-position players.”
As of today, only Miller and Andre James appear to have an inside track on starting jobs. And by the looks of things, there are no guarantees the Raiders won’t upgrade at center or that James holds off anyone looking to take his job.
As the Raiders begin the first part of their offseason program, they will look at multiple combinations of players at every spot on the line throughout the spring and early summer.
“So there’s going to be a lot of moving around in there, and we’re going to give a lot of people an opportunity to compete,” McDaniels said. “At the end of the day, that’s the way we’re going to be able to find the best five. Let them compete. The best five will play. In order to do that, we have to let everybody have an opportunity.”
The Raiders ended last season with Miller at left tackle, John Simpson at left guard, James at center, Alex Leatherwood at right guard and Brandon Parker at right tackle. All five are back and are joined by the newly signed Alex Bars, who can play all over the line, T/G Denzelle Good, T/G Jermaine Eluemunor, G Lester Cotton, G Jordan Meredith and T Kamaal Seymour.
As McDaniels said, every one of them will get a fair shake.
“You’ll see a lot of people play at right tackle. You’ll see a lot of people play at right guard,” McDaniels said. “Because you never know what’s going to happen during the course of a game. The other thing we don’t want to do is pigeonhole ourselves and act like these guys will only play beside each other. We don’t know that.
“Most of the time in an NFL season there’s eight to 10 combinations of guys out there playing at some point. If you never put them in position to play next to each other or practice with one another, then the communication that it takes, to play well, it’s just impossible.”