Heading into Week Two of the NFL Free Agency period, the Oakland Raiders lost a few pieces from last year’s 12-4 team. One of those losses, former starting RT, Menelik Watson signed with Denver. With the rest of the o-line returning for the 2017 season, that leaves Watson’s spot up for grabs. A couple of guys vying for RT are Vadal Alexander, who started five games as a rookie last year, and Denver Kirkland, undrafted rookie from Arkansas who started 4 games early in the season.
Alexander, the 2016 seventh round pick out of LSU, played decent in the few spot starts he made for Austin Howard last year. When Howard suffered an ankle injury, Alexander filled in admirably. Gaining valuable experience early on, but NFL speed caught up to him. As a result, he racked up 10 penalties during his rookie campaign. Alexander struggledagainst Kansas City in Week 14. As a result, Coach Del Rio benched him for Jon Feliciano. Later, he rotated in, playing well in his return. With his ability to play guard and tackle, Alexander will have the inside track to replace Watson, or rotate in on jumbo packages.
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Kirkland began the year on the practice squad, eventually being activated on September 28. He started four games last year, including Week 17 against Denver. Kirkland will compete against Feliciano, along with newcomer Marshall Newhouse, for the right tackle position and reserve spots. When the Raiders wanted to stall the Denver rush, they used a six-lineman formation, featuring Kirkland.
Training camp is key to see how much the game experience from last year, will show on the two young offensive linemen? Kirkland and Alexander, because of their youth and inexpensive qualities, will have roles with the team. The Raiders prepare to pay some hefty contracts and position themselves for long term success. In effect, being young and cheap should keep them around for at least the 2017 season. Both are upgrades over Feliciano at guard and tackle. However, neither can play center, which is a reason why Feliciano stays on the roster.
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