Rebuilding Raiders Ill Equipped to Weather Early-season Injury Plagues

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Scott Bair

The Raiders had three linebackers get hurt in Sunday's loss at Minnesota, forcing them to find outside help.

One of them is down a while, with Marquel Lee formally placed on injured reserve on Tuesday. It's uncertain how Vontaze Burfict and Nicholas Morrow will come out of these health issues, losing even one more puts the Raiders at a significant disadvantage.

They're already feeling the impact of lost talent at receiver, safety and along the offensive front, with legitimate downgrades at all of those spots. Even losing return man Dwayne Harris is a blow.

The Raiders are floundering at receiver with Antonio Brown out the door and no one proving worthy of his starting spot. He's an elite talent, so it's impossible to come out equal or ahead, but even serviceable has been hard to find without Brown.

It's plain to see that the Raiders miss Johnathan Abram at safety, even with his over-exuberant rookie debut.

Working without guards Richie Incognito for two games and Gabe Jackson for at least four games is a setback. Interior offensive line depth has been better than other spots -- Jordan Devey and Denzelle Good deserve some credit there -- but there's a far bigger issue if Trent Brown's down for any length of time.

The star right tackle entered Sunday with a knee ailment and left with an ankle injury that kept him from finishing the game. Going from Brown's sure-handed play to Brandon Parker would be a major red flag for the offensive front.

The Raiders are not unique dealing with significant injury setbacks. Every team goes through them at important positions.

Their ability to weather these injury plagues is far worse than most. Such is life for rebuilding team.

Impact players can come quickly through free agency and high first-round NFL draft picks but depth is built slowly, through a series of successful drafts. Head coach Jon Gruden has been through two, and new GM Mike Mayock only one.

Mid-round picks and developing late-round prospects generally flesh out depth charts, and that takes time. Roster depth was lost following a series of subpar draft classes starting in 2015, and it will take some time to recover.

The receiver issue was created by Antonio Brown's late exit, just before the regular season's start. It gave the Raiders zero time to find a proper replacement. Brown's off-field issues obviously are troubling and have put him on the street following a short New England Patriots stint, but that was a real blow from an on-field perspective.

Had Brown never been in the picture, they certainly would have drafted differently or upgraded the roster with money earmarked for him this summer.

These significant setbacks are ill timed, impacting the team during a brutal road stretch that includes five straight games played away from home and against legitimate playoff contenders from the NFC North and AFC South.

[RELATED: Could Doss be Raiders' answer to wide receiver issues?]

Injuries are starting to mount and are creating issues on both sides of the ball, leaving them exposed to good coaching and game plans. At this point, the Raiders must cross fingers and hope Trent Brown and Burfict especially can continue on, considering how vital they are to the on-field product.

The Raiders must figure out how to cope without key cogs and prep new players quickly, because a prolonged early losing streak could derail the season quickly.

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