Heading into 2014 after a busy offseason, the Oakland Raiders roster has a completely different look to it overall.
General manager Reggie McKenzie and his staff led the team to a largely successful free-agency period, followed by a solid draft that just may have landed them several instant-impact players as well.
With so many new faces, competition for starting roles as well as roster spots will be held throughout training camp and the preseason, ideally bringing out the best in all involved.
The most heated battles should come at several positions the Raiders staff made a priority to improve throughout this offseason.
The offensive line represents one of several position groups the Raiders were able to significantly upgrade the talent level at throughout this offseason.
Now, the unit has an impressive mix of veterans and younger players to compete for the starting positions across the board.
What’s unique about this group, and likely by design of the Raiders staff, is the versatility of the players. As a result, this competition throughout training camp will involve simply finding the best five to get on the field.
Likely starters from left to right include Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, Stefen Wisniewski, Austin Howard and Menelik Watson.
However, Khalif Barnes, Kevin Boothe, Tony Bergstrom and Matt McCants should all still compete as well, providing depth at the very least for several different positions.
Clearly, the Raiders’ focus for the offensive front has been to find players who fit the power-blocking scheme the offense is built around.
This unit has been relatively inconsistent for the Silver and Black for several seasons now, but like many other areas of the roster, it should be significantly better in 2014.
The Raiders’ interior defensive line is a position group that, although decent in 2013, had its lack of depth become extremely apparent as the season went on.
A defensive front is always at its best when there is enough positional depth for the players to be rotated in and out of the game on a consistent basis, and the Raiders should be much closer to that in this upcoming season.
Even so, the competition for those starting roles in training camp should be wide open—and even extending into the season given the consistent snaps each involved could get throughout.
Competing here will be nose tackles Pat Sims, Stacy McGee and Justin Ellis, as well as 3-technique tackles Antonio Smith and C.J. Wilson.
Like the offensive front, this group possesses some key versatility, and that should help the coaching staff get the best out of its rotations.
Either way, the additions of Smith, Wilson and Ellis should help this unit quite a bit in 2014, as it now possess the kind of depth that can allow it to sustain success throughout.
The wide receiver spot represents what is the most wide-open competition on the Raiders’ entire roster this offseason.
The front-office staff likely didn’t improve the unit as much as it had wanted to heading in, but some important additions were made nonetheless.
Most notable of which was the free-agent signing of James Jones, who should bring some much-needed veteran experience to an otherwise young group.
Jones, Rod Streater and Denarius Moore will be the favorites to earn the primary roles and see the most snaps throughout the year.
However, it will be most interesting to see which players will make up the remaining three to four spots that will be allotted to the position on the final 53-man roster.
Those competing for them include returning players Andre Holmes, Brice Butler, Juron Criner and Greg Jenkins; undrafted free agents Mike Davis and Noel Grigsby; and recent waiver claim Greg Little.
Whichever way the competition shakes out by the end of the preseason, given some key additions both there and at the quarterback position, the Raiders receiving corps should be much-improved in 2014.
Overall, the theme for the Raiders roster heading into this season will be competition, and these are just three of many roster battles that will take place throughout the preseason.
These stand out above the rest because, due to the depth improvements the team was able to make, there are a number of different ways they can turn out by the time the regular season rolls around.
This level of roster competition is an indication of the successful offseason the Raiders have had thus far, upgrading their talent and depth across the board.
While there is still work to be done, this Raiders team is indeed headed in the right direction and has done well to improve in a relatively short period of time.