Oakland Raiders: Ben Heeney’s impact on linebacker camp battle

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20: Quarterback Aaron Rodger
OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 20: Quarterback Aaron Rodger /

Oakland Raiders inside linebacker Ben Heeney will start training camp on the non-football injury list. What does this mean for the linebacker competition?

On Tuesday, the Oakland Raiders placed linebacker Ben Heeney on the non-football injury list, per the team’s official website. He’ll still count on the 90-man roster. In the bigger picture, what does this mean for training camp and the inside linebacker competition?

Right now, Heeney’s designation doesn’t tell us a lot due to undisclosed reasons for inactivity. Though, it’s a concern for the third-year player who didn’t fully participate during the early phases of the offseason program. Furthermore, the Raiders haven’t seen No. 51 on the field since he suffered an ankle injury in Week 4 of the previous season.

The Raiders need healthy bodies competing at a weak inside linebacker position, which leaves Cory James, Marquel Lee and LaTroy Lewis as potential candidates to claim a starting spot next to the weak-side linebacker.

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Before the offseason program started, head coach Jack Del Rio expressed the need for more talent at the linebacker position, per NBCS Bay Area reporter Scott Bair. If Heeney has an extended stay on the NFI list, a pickup may happen sooner than later once the team waives or releases a player on the roster.

As the most experienced middle linebacker among the bunch competing for a starting spot, some felt Heeney would claim the position in his third year. It’s still a possibility, but his inactivity continues with no clear timetable on a return.

Since Heeney still counts against the 90-man roster, the Raiders can’t just sign a replacement with a full head count. At the moment, it’s James’ or Lee’s position to lose. Due to inexperience between both players, it’s likely they’ll alternate first-team reps on the practice field going into the first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 12.

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Oakland waived Neiron Ball on July 7, who at the time listed on the NFI list for undisclosed reasons. It’s too early tell whether Heeney will meet the same fate, but his extended time away from the field gives him a steep hill to climb upon return.

Keep an eye on undrafted rookie LaTroy Lewis as a dark horse in the inside linebacker competition. He signed a three-year deal and may become the next Jalen Richard to rise from tryout to training camp standout to starter.

The Tennessee product carries a bigger frame than Lee and opened some eyes at rookie minicamp, per Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Michael Gehlken:

James took reps with the starters through organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. However, it’s unfair to do discount Lee or overlook Lewis in this position battle before players put on pads.

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If Heeney doesn’t come off the NFI list before the first preseason game, he’ll stand on a fading roster bubble through the summer.