Now that Raiders training camp has begun, we know a few things. Quite a bit, actually.
We know Derek Carr will be the quarterback, Khalil Mack will be the star on defense and that the foursome of Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson make up four-fifths of what should be a dominating offensive line.
Still, there are several questions facing the Raiders over the next six weeks. Among the most important are these five:
Who will start at right tackle?
Austin Howard is the incumbent, and he’s played well enough over the past couple of seasons to warrant respect. The Raiders were effective running the ball and protecting Carr in 2016, and Howard did his part. But general manager Reggie McKenzie brought in veteran Marshall Newhouse to compete against Howard and younger talent, including Vadal Alexander and rookie David Sharpe. Newhouse likely has a slight edge.
Who will win the middle linebacker job?
Right now, it’s a competition between holdovers Cory James and Ben Heeney, draft pick Marquel Lee and former practice-squad player Tyrell Adams. The Raiders would love Lee to shine in camp and preseason and grab the reins. He’s probably the most talented of the group. If Lee doesn’t do that, McKenzie may pick up a veteran cut loose by another team in August or early September.
Can Marshawn Lynch be an elite running back again?
The odds are against Lynch being what he was from 2011 through 2014, when he was the battering ram who powered the Seattle Seahawks running attack. After an injury-shortened 2015 season, Lynch retired in 2016 and has now returned at 31, an age when even the best running backs decline in productivity. But Lynch is no ordinary running back. He’s an enthusiastic, physical ballcarrier who could still have a couple of strong seasons left, especially after a year without contact. With rookie Elijah Hood available to spell him in power-running situations, the Raiders will have the luxury of being able to keep Lynch fresh. He could be a pleasant surprise.
Will Gareon Conley earn a starting job at cornerback?
David Amerson faltered in 2016 after a terrific 2015, so if Conley can sign his rookie contract and get into camp without missing much time, the former Ohio State standout – the Raiders’ No. 1 pick – could have plenty of opportunity to beat out Amerson. Or, if Amerson’s game rises to his 2015 level this summer, Conley will get a chance to start the season in a more limited role. By the end of the season, however, Conley could start.
What will John Pagano bring to the defense?
Ken Norton Jr. remains the team’s defensive coordinator, but the Raiders braintrust believed the unit needed an influx of ideas and communication skills. So, former Chargers coordinator Pagano was brought in to be a special defensive assistant. The thinking was, Pagano has faced the Raiders and knows their weaknesses, and also is familiar with the AFC West. But how will Pagano and Norton get along? Will it create confusion? Things will be much clearer after the exhibition season.