At 7:00pm tonight the Raiders will take the field to face the Cardinals in Arizona. The University of Phoenix Stadium field will act as a proving ground for a lot of players looking to either keep their place on the depth chart, move up, or simply carve out a place on an NFL roster.
These games may not count, but they do matter. Make no mistake, these are real games and a lot is on the line for most of these players. It’s also the first live game action they have seen since last season, so guys are gonna be flying around looking to make a play.
What to watch for:
EJ Manuel has the inside track on the primary backup QB spot behind Derek Carr. Barring an epic collapse, I expect it to remain that way. But the way Manuel fell out of favor in Buffalo and into obscurity, there are many who believe a collapse is forthcoming. Being able to perform well under pressure as he has in practice when no one is allowed to touch him is key.
Likewise, Connor Cook’s play this offseason knocked up below Manuel. If Manuel does do a faceplant under the lights, Cook would also have to seize the opportunity and step up in his second preseason with the Raiders. He was put in a tough spot last playoffs and there is no real sense of urgency for him to suddenly develop into a viable alternative. Right now the coaches just want to see progress and competency.
Still in a holdout over his contract, Donald Penn will be sitting at home in LA watching the game (on tape delay) while the Raiders hope not to get Derek Carr killed fielding replacements at the tackle spots. Marshall Newhouse was signed as the new right tackle and is playing left tackle. Taking Newhouse’s spot at right tackle is last year’s seventh round pick, Vadal Alexander. The only upside to this is the preseason is when testing out players to get a sense of their ability to fill in during the season. Penn probably wouldn’t play more than a series anyway. It’s just that now the Raiders reserve tackles are going against the Cardinals’ starting pass rushers. That’s kinda scary especially considering the last live game snap Derek Carr had, he had his leg broken.
Probably the player Raiders fans are most looking forward to seeing. He has been impressive in training camp despite missing offseason practices due to UCLA graduation requirements. It took all of two days to move up with the first team and he has remained there due in part to Jihad Ward being out with injury. He has given Gabe Jackson all he can handle which is saying a lot considering Jackson didn’t give up a sack last season from the right guard spot.
Mario Edwards Jr
The man, the myth, the legend. He is who the Raiders have been pinning a lot of hopes upon as the savior for their interior defensive line issues. Edwards is most known for run stopping, but can provide some pass rush as well. The Raiders need both. Most of all, they just need Edwards to stay healthy. He has not done much of that in his brief career, including missing the first week of camp on the Non-Football Injury list. Since his return, he has been working with the second team, which means we could see him play a fair amount in the game.
Wide receiver battle
The top four look to be set with Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Johnny Holton also seems to have earned a return, if for no other reason than is special teams prowess. Though he also provides a deep threat and blocks well too. With Holton and Patterson playing a good deal of special teams, I can see the team holding onto six receivers.
KJ Brent is the current favorite to be that sixth guy. After that it’s a battle for a practice squad spot or perhaps to be the next guy to crack the roster in case of injury between first year UDFA Jaydon Mickens, and undrafted rookies Isaac Whitney, and Keon Hatcher. Ishmael Zamora was the guy most fans wanted to see originally, but he has some ground to make up to enter the conversation.
Will he start? How much will we see of him? It’s hard to say. After the first week of camp, he was demoted to second team right up until Thursday’s practice when he was back with the first team. But even with his return to first team work, he stayed on the field with the second team, appearing to fill the hybrid safety/linebacker role Obi Melifonwu would be filling if he were healthy. It will be something to watch whether he sees a short work day with the other starters or if the 9-year veteran plays extended minutes with the rest of the reserves.
Cornerback depth battle
One of the pleasant surprises of camp — for me anyway — has been the play of the cornerbacks fighting to take the 1-2 open spots. The top four spots on the team are likely settled with Sean Smith, David Amerson, TJ Carrie, and Gareon Conley (whenever he returns from whatever his injury is), leaving as many as two spots up for grabs. Breon Borders has stormed the field to jump ahead in that battle, but former 7th round pick Dexter McDonald and 2016 UDFA’s Antonio Hamilton and Kenneth Durden are all putting up valiant fights as well. Keep an eye on how those four perform in the game.