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The Morning After: Defense strong in final dress rehearsal before regular season

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

That's it folks! The 2016 preseason is officially over, the next time we see the Oakland Raiders take the field for a game it will be the real thing. Oakland may have lost this last preseason game 23-21, but they finally played a game with a defense that looked ready for the regular season. When the halftime score is 2-0, either it's been a terrible game or a defensive battle, and this one was definitely the latter of the two options.

By the end of the 1st quarter one had to start wondering why Denico Autry was on the field. Autry played so well throughout that first half that it seemed like he was one of the starter quality players that had no business even playing in the 4th preseason game at all. Autry was truly dominant, tag teaming with Jihad Ward through much of the first half as they stopped a Seattle running game that featured Seahawks starter Thomas Rawls far longer than anybody would have thought.

It was great to see Autry be so difficult to corral, but it was even better watching rookies Ward and Shilique Calhoun play as well as they did in this one. We have already seen quite a bit to be excited about for Jihad Ward who is a very powerful player that is going to be a factor for the Raiders interior defense this season, but Calhoun put on a show that we hadn't really seen before.

Though it was against depth players and people that might not be making the Seahawks team for much of the game, Calhoun was consistently in the backfield making plays. His pass rushing prowess and impressive speed off the edge was on display, finally giving Raider Nation something to be excited about from him after showing a tendency to let himself get eaten up by blockers previously. That tendency still showed in this game some too, but it was a great final dress rehearsal for Calhoun before the regular season.

It was disappointing that despite playing better for much of the game than the Seahawks, all it took was one bad Connor Cook pass to throw it all away unfortunately. Cook had a much better day overall than his stats would have you believe, but his one ill advised throw that turned into a touchdown going the other way changed the outcome of the game.

Cook did a lot of really good things in this game, he had several impressive passes where he knew he was going to be hit on the plays but stood tall and delivered the passes anyway. Unfortunately, that one interception was trying to do just a little too much and he should have just thrown the ball away or taken the sack. It was a great learning experience overall for Cook though, and he definitely looks like a player that has a long future in the NFL.

The biggest position battle going into this game did not cleared up very well at all though, and that was the running backs. Jalen Richard and George Atkinson III are in a heated competition and there might not be a roster spot for both of them. The problem is, who would you want to cut? They have both earned spots on the roster, so much so that the Raiders might legitimately have to keep 4 running backs and 2 fullbacks on the team this year.

If they do decide to cut Richard or Atkinson, you'd have to think some other lucky team would decide to sign them to their active roster instead of letting the unlucky cut get signed to the Raiders practice squad. This is the toughest decision on the roster to make, it will be interesting how it all plays out.

The running back that makes me most excited though is DeAndre Washington, the 5th round selection out of Texas Tech. Washington has shown throughout the preseason to be a great weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, he has great hands, runs nice routes, and has the speed to really capitalize on having open field in front of him. That aspect has been sorely missing for the Raiders for some time so having a back this capable as a receiver is going to add another dimension to the team entirely.

Another rookie who has made the team without question is DT Darius Latham. He played for almost the entirety of this last preseason game and looked good throughout it. Latham has looked so good that it's going to be tough to keep him off the field when the real games start if he continues to play so well. Not too shabby for an undrafted free agent out of Indiana, he clearly should have been drafted and probably should have been drafted in the mid-rounds if not for character concerns in college.

There are many other battles going on that are going to be very tough decisions for the coaches. There are two receivers who are probably outside the bubble in KJ Brent and Jaydon Mickens who both made several plays last night, including a great fingertip grab on a badly thrown crossing route for Mickens. If either one ends up making the team they will have deserved it, but I'd look for one or both of those players to be practice squad players if they are cut and not picked up from another team.

On defense a bubble player who really helped his own cause was #40 Kenneth Durden who was consistently in place to make plays for the Raiders last night. He had two separate plays towards the end of the game where he should have had interceptions, one on a perfectly defended pass that he couldn't quite hold onto and one on a badly thrown pass where he tripped while trying to track the ball in the air. If he makes those plays then he really would have had a chance to make the team, though after this good of a performance he surely should be tapped as a practice squad candidate as well.

The final cuts will be coming soon, the deadline for them to be made is tomorrow by 4pm ET/1pm PT. After that all the attention will be turned to the New Orleans Saints for Week 1 of the regular season on September 11th. Let that sink in one more time, Week 1 starts in New Orleans in 9 days. There is a lot of anticipation and excitement for Raider Nation for this season, let's hope they start it out well in a hostile environment down in the Big Easy next Sunday.