Can you feel it in the air? The autumn winds have started blowing, they are just about here. The howling wind comes later, but the first breeze is tonight when the Oakland Raiders take on the Detroit Lions to open their preseason schedule.
Though this is the starter night for the new football season for the Silver and Black, it is not a night for the starters. Those excited for Derek Carr will have to wait because he won’t be playing much if at all tonight, it will be the back ups time to shine instead. That’s not to say it won’t be worth tuning in to though, it’s our first chance to see the rookie class at work after all.
That is very exciting considering the intriguing rookie class for the Raiders this year. It’s going to be our first views of DT Mo Hurst, edge rusher Arden Key, DT PJ Hall, CB Nick Nelson, and 1st round pick T Kolton Miller among others. If half of the reports coming out of training camp are true then this could turn out to be an excellent draft despite a fair amount of criticism when it first ended.
That is far and away the thing to look forward to the most in the first preseason game. After nothing but rave reviews of Arden Key and Maurice Hurst throughout the off-season, Raider Nation can not wait to see what they have to offer first hand. They have the chance to be a special combination with Hurst being a force up the middle who hopefully will send the QB scrambling right into the waiting arms of the Raiders impressive new edge rusher Key.
Though there is a lot of attention being paid to Key and Hurst, it is even more interesting to see how well Kolton Miller handles his first NFL action. Miller is the first round pick and has the chance to start tonight at left tackle and show whether or not he is capable of manning the position going forward.
Donald Penn is the starter as of now, but with the Raiders asking him to take a pay cut and Miller being a 1st round selection that could all easily change with a great preseason from Kolton Miller. There is also a log jam of competition at the right tackle position so even if Penn isn’t turned off by the Raiders contract request there is still a position that Miller could earn in the starting line up.
The other guy that could compete for some serious playing time with a great preseason is 4th round pick Nick Nelson, even though he had to sit out through much of the off-season due to recovering from a knee injury. Nelson has returned and the reports are that he looks 100%. His name has already been mentioned a number of times as someone who has made significant plays in practice since returning and the nickle position is wide open for Oakland.
As a Badgers fan, I really enjoyed watching Nick Nelson play at Wisconsin for his collegiate career. There is no doubt in my mind that Raider Nation is going to like how he plays too. He is a physical cornerback who has a real knack for breaking up passes.
When it’s all said and done this preseason Nick Nelson could very well earn the nickle position for the Raiders. He is definitely a candidate for the spot despite a heated battle for it with veterans like Leon Hall and Shareece Wright. Tonight might be most important for him over all the other rookies due to the tough competition he finds himself in.
Another rookie to pay close attention to is undrafted free agent rookie Chris Warren, III who signed late to the team this off-season. Despite being new to the roster, he already made his presence known in the practice against the Lions when he ran over a defender with a loud crack of the pads.
If there is one thing that Jon Gruden loves, it’s a physical running back that will take on defenders. He also is the son of former pro bowl RB Chris Warren, Jr. who played 11 seasons in the NFL so he does have some impressive pedigree to live up to as well.
As you can see there are plenty of rookies to keep your eye on tonight when the Raiders play the Lions, I didn’t even mention 6th round pick Marcell Ateman who has had a solid camp or new punter Johnny Townsend who takes the place of the mercurial but talented Marquette King. It should be an exciting night of getting to see what this year’s rookie class has to offer, even if the first preseason game doesn’t always feel like real football yet.