Oakland Raiders

Raiders training camp battle preview — Right tackle

Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Austin Howard (77) waits at the line of scrimmage during the NFL AFC Wild Card game between the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans on January 7, 2017, at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire

There aren’t many positions in flux for the Oakland Raiders on offense.

Although their line is one of the best in the league, the right tackle position has been a weak spot for a number of years. It’s not as if the Raiders have had terrible play at the position, but the AFC West has some of the most feared rushers coming off the right edge. The likes of Von Miller, Justin Houston, Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack could make an average right tackle look like roster cut candidate.

You need a very good right tackle to protect your quarterback in the AFC West, or these guys are going to feast. Manelik Watson showed some potential when he was healthy, but he was injured too often and left for more money to join the rival Denver Broncos.

It’s no secret general manager Reggie McKenzie likes to load up on offensive linemen, which should lead to an interesting battle for the starting right tackle position. This year, there are a good blend of veteran players and young players who will push each other until one emerges as a clear-cut starter.

Veterans with the lead: Marshall Newhouse, Austin Howard

Coach Jack Del Rio said recently that free-agent acquisition Newhouse has a “leg up” as the starter. Howard has been the incumbent starter in Oakland in the last three years and started 11 games for the Raiders until being replaced by Watson. He battled through shoulder issues last year, but he should be healed up and in the conversation.

Newhouse is two years younger, but they both have played eight years in the league. Newhouse is a better pass blocker, but Howard is a better run blocker. We’ve probably seen the best of both players in the league and their ceilings aren’t much higher than what they’ve shown, which is they are serviceable starters.

Young bucks: Vadal Alexander, Denver Kirkland

In 2016, the Raiders added Alexander as a seventh-round draft pick and Kirkland as an undrafted free agent.

Alexander was drafted as a guard but was forced into action at right tackle. He was inconsistent but displayed the tools necessary to becoming a good right tackle. If he has a good offseason of reshaping his body and making his technique more consistent, he could earn the starting right tackle job and has considerable upside.

Kirkland earned his playing time as a sixth offensive linemen in the Raiders’ heavy formations. He was a mammoth run blocker and had some highlight-reel pancakes. However, he did not have enough pass-blocking repetitions to make a judgment on whether he could do it or not. Raiders coaches have a much better idea of whether he can do it because they see him do it more in practice.

Dark horse rookie: David Sharpe

The Raiders’ fifth-round pick might be the best athlete in the group. However, his shoddy technique and fundamentals make him a project that line coach Mike Tice is going to need time to fix. Sharpe played left tackle at the University of Florida, but Raiders coaches believe he could play both. If Sharpe could make quick improvements to his technique, he has the ability to be a dark horse to winning the right tackle job and could even be looked as the left tackle of the future.

While we know what we will get in Howard or Newhouse, Alexander, Kirkland and Sharpe are intriguing because they are younger and have more room for improvement. If one of the young guys could win the competition, the Raiders might not have to worry about the position for the next decade.

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