Ailene Voisin

Why Raiders desperately need rookie Vanderdoes to make a push this season

Raiders rookie Eddie Vanderdoes, right, talks with teammate Denise Autry during training camp on Aug. 9.
Raiders rookie Eddie Vanderdoes, right, talks with teammate Denise Autry during training camp on Aug. 9.

Bee columnist Ailene Voisin breaks down five Raiders to watch this season:

Marshawn Lynch, RB

The Oakland native came out of retirement to play for his hometown team, but after a one-year sabbatical, what does he have left? At 31, age is not on his side, either. Then again. This man is a beast and is supremely confident and motivated.

Gareon Conley, CB

Looking to add defensive playmakers, Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie took a chance on the Ohio State cornerback who faced a rape allegation days before the draft. The grand jury declined to press charges, but the Raiders required the Buckeyes standout to pass a polygraph. Of more immediate concern is Conley’s absence throughout training camp with shin splints. He is penciled in for the opener, but until he sees game action, he remains the Raiders’ mystery man.

Donald Penn, LT

Penn anchors a terrific offensive line and is coming off of his best season. Woefully underpaid for someone whose major task is protecting Derek Carr’s blindside, he sat out most of training camp in an attempt to force the Raiders to improve his contract. When McKenzie refused to blink and said he would not negotiate with a player holding out, Penn arrived at camp, putting his trust in management and believing the situation will be resolved to his satisfaction. Also on Penn’s mind? The only sack he allowed last season resulted in the year-ending ankle injury sustained by Carr. Thus, he is doubly motivated to have a great year.

Derek Carr, QB

The Fresno State standout begins his fourth season as the second-highest paid quarterback in the NFL, and with the bigger bucks comes heightened expectations. But Carr seems eminently capable of handling both his bank account and his on-field responsibilities. The Raiders’ unquestioned leader has improved significantly in each of the previous four years, with his quarterback rating peaking to 96.7 last season. Throughout camp he has talked about running more frequently, finding Amari Cooper on more deep routes, and fine-tuning his footwork and conditioning. His stats will be even more impressive if his wideouts hold onto the ball; Michael Crabtree and Seth Roberts tied for the league lead with 12 drops.

Eddie Vanderdoes, DT

Not that the rookie from UCLA needs any more pressure, but none other than Carr said Vanderdoes reminds him of the once formidable Justin Tuck because of his “great hands” and ability to “get skinny and shoot the gap.” The pride of Placer High School has trimmed almost 40 pounds off his 6-foot-3 frame – much of it gained while recovering from a torn ACL in 2015 – and is determined to get in even better shape. The Raiders desperately need his push from the interior.

Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, @ailene_voisin