Training camp is quickly approaching, which means it's time to preview the most exciting part of the summer. Over the next month, Around The NFL's Conor Orr will break down all 32 teams and give us something to look for in late July.
Training camp report date: Rookies: Rookies July 24, veterans July 28
Training camp location: Napa Valley Training Complex, Napa, California
Offseason in a nutshell: The Raiders are in the running for the dubious distinction of best offseason, which is normally terrifying for a general manager who needed to spend big on the open market to fill gaps in the starting lineup. But Oakland, like Jacksonville, stockpiled the war chest until the timing was right, and now the team has a legitimate chance of winning the AFC West for the first time since 2002. Kelechi Osemele is in town and, more importantly, playing at his natural guard position after the Raiders wisely re-signed tackle Donald Penn. Cornerback Sean Smith is in the fold, as is versatile SAM and pass rusher Bruce Irvin, who should have the chance to do more of what he loves (rack up sacks) in this defense. While the loss of Justin Tuck hurts the team's chances of being a consistent, every-down run stopper, Oakland should have enough speed to dominate games.
Player to watch: Linebacker Bruce Irvin. "Versatility" is the most prevalent buzzword in the NFL, but thanks to Irvin, the Raiders can show us a tangible definition. Pairing him with Khalil Mack could be a terrifying proposition for NFL offensive coordinators. The scroll of protection audibles alone could be a mile long. Irvin was an eight-sack rookie while playing under current Raiders defensive coordinator (and former Seahawks LB coach) Ken Norton Jr. in Seattle, and now he'll be in a more rush-heavy defense. Training camp will be a great way to discover just how often the team plans on letting both Mack and Irvin loose, and whether the new guy's experience as a traditional 4-3 linebacker will give Oakland the chance to throw out some more exotic looks.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS:
1. Who completes the all-star offensive line?
It's Menelik Watson vs. Austin Howard in a battle (at right tackle) that will decide who will cap off one of the best on-paper offensive lines in football. According to ESPN.com, Watson has the "upper hand", but either choice would give Oakland a massively thick front five that could do some serious bullying against a lighter nickel or sub front. Watson, a developmental second-rounder in 2013, appeared to be on his way to big things in 2015 before suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon in the preseason. He is certainly the higher-upside option Oakland.
It's nearly impossible to count on a running back carrying the load in today's NFL, but Murray, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2015 where he rushed for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns, doesn't seem to have many challengers on the depth chart currently. Speed back Taiwan Jones and veteran Roy Helu round out the top end of Oakland's rotation, with rookie DeAndre Washington coming from behind. Washington has drawn early comparisons to Doug Martin, but at 5-foot-8 and a notch above 200 pounds, he's more likely the team's hopeful answer as a third-down back, having caught 41 balls during his senior season at Texas Tech.
Joseph will start no matter what -- a ballhawk and brutal tackler like that doesn't waste away on special teams alone. Depending on how physical the Raiders want to be in training camp, we might not see some of his brightest attributes until the games count in September. Assuming Joseph survives the white-board tedium of late July and August, we should emerge from camp with a fuller picture of how the Raiders plan on using their first-round pick and whether he'll fit into the booming Kam Chancellor role that Norton is very familiar with.
Way-too-early season prediction: It's time for this team to win double-digit games. No more excuses, no more drooling over potential. If Oakland does not win at least 10 games this year, it will be a massive disappointment that should be shouldered by the coaching staff. This team has a quarterback well above replacement level, a Pro Bowl running back, one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, arguably the second-best defensive player in football and a rotating cast of fine role players. The division is weak for the first time in half a decade and it is Oakland's to steal.