UBIC - Offense
Marcel Reece (FB - #45) For you younger fans, that "FB" abbreviation for Reece's position is "Fullback". Quit scratching your heads; I'll explain it. In days of yore, teams operated mostly out two formations, the "I" or "T". In an I formation, the quarterback was so close to the center it looked nasty, the "halfback" (or HB) was about 3 yards directly behind him, and the "fullback" was another yard or two behind the HB. Many of the best runner in the 40's, 50's, 60's, and 70's were listed as fullbacks, including all-time greats Jim Brown and Larry Czonka.
That positioned evolved and changed over the years and as teams went to T formations (that is when the 2 backs line up 5 yards behind the tackles), the fullback's role changed. Since they were bigger and usually slower and less elusive than halfbacks, FB's found themselves blocking more often than running. Some of you guys in your 20's and 30's (or older...) may remember the guy that used to line up in front of Ladanian Tomlinson and block for him. Every now and then, Lorenzo Neal would be sent out as an outlet receiver or given the tough task of getting a few inches or a yard or two at the goal line, or 3rd and short, perhaps even (gasp!) on 4th and less than a yard when team tried to keep a drive going.
The Raiders have rediscovered the usefulness of having two men in the backfield. Reece is 6'3" and 240 pounds. This means he can take on most linebackers in a blocking situation and keep them off of Latavius Murray, the Raiders featured RB. Having a guy that can "lead block" for a runner through the hole to the second level does come in handy sometimes! This season, Reece has done a lot more than block for Murray though. Here is your bar bet material (good through Sunday and perhaps beyond) - "Who leads the Raiders in receiving TD's through their first 5 games?" That's right, its Reece with 3.
There are not too many guys in the NFL anymore that do what Reece does. Making the team as a UDFA out of Washington in 2010, he was listed as a back-up TE through most of his career. He will be on the field for about 30-50% of the team's offensive snaps, doing a lot of things depending on situation and play call. This can be acting as body guard for Derek Carr, lead blocking for Murray or Helu, and catching a few passes, especially if the Raiders get to the red zone. Think of a larger, less elusive, and slower Danny Woodhead that is not quite as involved in the passing game and that will give you a good idea of what Reece's game is like.
Gabe Jackson (LG - #66) Jackson is quickly emerging as one of the premier interior linemen in the NFL. In fact, PFF has him as their all-pro left guard through week 6. At 6'3" and 335 pounds, Jackson can anchor in pass protection as well as anyone playing his position. He is also powerful enough to move linemen on drive blocking. Chosen out of Mississippi State in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft, Jackson is one of the young Raiders that look like they are going to turn around a franchise that has been awful for the last decade. He and Liuget may provide an interesting battle on Sunday.
UBIC - Defense
Malcolm Smith (LB - #53) Smith is not completely unknown, despite only starting 16 games in his 4 year career prior to this season. Being the MVP of the super bowl won by the Seahawks (in one of the finest displays of donkey slapping ever seen) will get a guy a little bit of press. After 4 years in Seattle, being unable to crack the starting line-up in that defense, Smith left for (greener pastures? Ha!) Oakland. So far, his 2 year, $7 Million contract is looking like a bargain.
Smith leads the team in tackles with 32 and has chipped in another 2 sacks. He has also defended 2 passes and forced a fumble. Smith seems to have found a home in the Bay Area, playing on the left side of the Raiders 2nd level. At 6' even and 225 pounds, Smith is smaller than most linebackers. The former 7th round pick out of USC relies on his speed and technique to get to plays, shed blockers, and make tackles. This has not always been a winning formula for Smith; last season, PFF had him rated dead last among the league's OLB's.
The Raiders have gone to more of a base 4-3 look and it certainly has benefitted Smith to play behind Khalil Mack. So far, he has done a decent job making tackles and being around the ball. Expect to hear his name often on Sunday afternoon.
Travis ("TJ") Carrie (DB - #38) Carrie is another one of the younger players that the Raiders are hoping will overachieve enough for the team to return to prominence. And for us Bolts fans, it is bad news indeed for the rivals to identify talent at the lower end of the draft or not drafted at all. Carrie (like Gabe Jackson) was also drafted in 2014, but the DB out of Ohio had to wait until round 7 to find out where he was going.
Carrie has played slot corner, some safety, and is listed as the starting CB opposite DJ Hayden. At 6' even and 205 pounds, he is another one of those "tweener" DB's that can play a variety of places in the secondary. He has defended 4 passes, forced a fumble and made 14 tackles so far this season. Look for him on Sunday, matched up against many of the Bolt receivers.