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Raiders vs Lions preseason 2014: What to watch for, storylines, position battles

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Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders will have their first home game of the 2014 season tonight against the Lions. Here are a few things to keep an eye on in this game:

Matt Schaub's chemistry set

In the preseason opener, Schaub and his receivers just couldn't get on the same page. Most notably it was he and Andre Holmes and Mychal Rivera. Their timing was way off and there was no evidence of any on-field communication. It led to two-straight three and outs to begin the game, with just one total first down. All the while neither James Jones nor Rod Streater saw a single pass.

Running back battle

At the top, it would appear the team has Maurice Jones-Drew pegged as the primary running back. Then again, it may have been the plan to alternate starts between he and Darren McFadden this preseason. There isn't really a ‘battle' there per se, as they will both likely see their fair share of the rock. The real battle is behind them. Latavius Murray has had the upper hand for the third running back spot and has yet to show any signs of relinquishing it. However, if Kory Sheets can make things interesting, the team could consider keeping four running backs. Jeremy Stewart has done an admirable job as well and he is in the mix mainly because of his special teams prowess.

Tight end wide open

There have been several battles at this position in camp. The top two have been settled but for the wrong reason - injuries. First it was David Ausberry vs Mychal Rivera. Ausberry was lost to a knee injury and is expected to be an option for partial season injured reserve. Then with Rivera taking over as the receiving tight end, the competition was between Briant Leonhardt and Nick Kasa for the blocking tight end. That ended along with Kasa's 2014 season not two drills into the Cowboys joint scrimmage Tuesday. Now the battle will be between undrafted rookies Jake Murphy and Scott Simonson to try and earn that final roster spot. Last week Murphy dropped an easy touchdown and Simonson didn't really do anything. They will need to show up well in this game if the team is to consider going with one of them as the third tight end. If not, they will look to free agency or the waiver wire to fill it.

Denarius (mercury) rising

After a week of training camp, Denarius Moore had fallen to fifth on the depth chart. Since then he has done nothing but show he deserves better. He was the best receiver on the field in the first preseason game and that continued in the scrimmage with the Cowboys this week. Keep an eye out to see if he sees time with the first team in this game.

Little (sky is) falling

One of the receivers ahead of Denarius on the depth chart was Greg Little. He has not shown any signs he earned that spot. He dropped two passes in the game last week and several more in the scrimmage in Oxnard. Little and Denarius should be moving in opposite directions on the depth chart. We'll see if the coaches make that change tonight.

TJ Carrie vs Keith McGill

Last week, the top three corners were Tarell Brown, Carlos Rogers, and Chimdi Chekwa. TJ Carrie came in with the second team defense and McGill was out injured. Now, Chekwa is not expected to play as he is nursing a knee injury of his own. In his absence, Carrie and McGill have both seen some time with the first team. Carrie has shown up big time all off-season, training camp, and the first preseason game. He was the team's seventh round pick while McGill was one of their fourth round picks. So far, McGill has become a forgotten man even since before his injury. Odds are he will make the team, though he has some ground to make up on Carrie for playing time.

Mack Attack back on track

Everyone was looking forward to seeing Raiders fifth overall pick, Khalil Mack take the field and dominate in the preseason opener. For the most part, he was invisible. Chalk it up to his first NFL game experience as we move into his second. He got his second taste of opposing competition this week facing the Cowboys in joint practice and he looked very good both in the pass rush as against the run. The Lions have a pass happy offense which presents a good opportunity for Mack to show off his pass rush skills in tracking down Matt Stafford.

Sio Moore vs Miles Burris

This battle still rages on. Burris took the first team away from Moore in OTA's and Moore has been trying to earn them back ever since. The reason for Burris taking the job was Moore was behind on his transition to the weak side after playing the strong side all last season. From the looks of things, Moore is now up to speed so we'll see who starts and how much a share they each get with the first team.

Maiava in the middle

After sitting out most of training camp with a hamstring injury, Kaluka Maiva is back. The team needs him to be the primary backup middle linebacker and special teams standout. He made a few plays this week in joint practices with the Cowboys and now will look to put that on the field. He has not been able to stay healthy for the Raiders so that will be something to watch for as well.

Shelby fastback

It was a roaring start to Raiders seventh round rookie, Shelby Harris' Raiders career last week. His second play of the game, he got into the Vikings' backfield to strip sack Teddy Bridgewater. He consistently put on pressure the remainder of the game as well. Then came this week when Dennis Allen said he had to get on him about practice habits. Harris came with red flags after several incidents in college that led to his having to transfer schools and later being dismissed altogether. These were all conduct related so Allen having to put his foot down is not a good sign. His talent is evident. His attitude could screw that up if he's not careful. He was with the second team last week. It will be interesting to see if that is the case again this week.