Editor’s note: Insider Scott Bair will highlight one training camp position battle each Tuesday of the preseason as the Raiders depth chart and starting lineup begin to take shape. This week, we take a look at outside linebackers.
Sio Moore (6-foot-1, 240 pounds, 3rd season, Connecticut) vs. Ray-Ray Armstrong (6-3, 234, 3rd season, Miami) vs. Malcolm Smith (6-0, 226, 5th season, USC)
Where we’re at: While he’ll line up at strongside linebacker at times, Khalil Mack could see significant snaps at defensive end this season. It’s a move general manager Reggie McKenzie said the Raiders can make do due to increased linebacker depth.
Sio Moore, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Malcolm Smith are all worthy contenders with NFL starts to their credit. No matter who starts, the odd man out should have a significant role in the defense.
Moore started training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, but missed just one full-squad practice before returning to action…with the second unit. Moore has 22 starts in two seasons, and certainly seems like a likely starter. He played well on the weak side last season after playing on the strong side as a rookie.
He had 4.5 sacks that first year, and could be an option to play that spot when Mack plays up front.
Armstrong and Smith have thus far been the first-unit outside linebackers in the base defense. Nickel linebackers – there are only two – have rotated some.
Moore has been with the second unit while regaining form following significant offseason hip surgery and head coach Jack Del Rio has been tentative in praising his play until he sees more healthy reps.
“This is a new staff,” McKenzie said. “You can’t just say, ‘Remember what I did last year?’ That’s not how it works. This is a ‘What can you do for me now’ kind of league. I don’t think he has a mountain to climb. He just has to get out there and play and show that he can stay healthy for the whole preseason. If he does that, he should be fine. But he can’t rest on his laurels. It’s competitive out here.”
Moore and Armstrong seem to be starting favorites at this stage, but don’t sleep on Smith. He and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. go way back. Norton was his linebackers coach at USC and in the pros with the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll know how to work together, and Norton should be able to accentuate his strengths.