Gruden has already hinted that he thinks the turf in Winnipeg is suspect and therefore he is hesitant to want to risk injuries to his starters by playing them. For that reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a repeat of the first preseason game in which no established veterans and/or starters played in the game. And that means plenty of playing fighting for their NFL lives.
Good guard, y’all
There will be a great opportunity early in the season for a guard to make this team that otherwise may not have. That’s because the Raiders will be without both of their starters for at least the first two weeks. Gabe Jackson figures to miss the first month of the season with an MCL injury and Richie Incognito is suspended the first two games.
Leading the way to fill those spots are Jordan Devey at right guard and Denzelle Good — who just came off PUP — at left guard. Leading the way in the battling to either supplant them or back them up are Jonathan Cooper and Denver Kirkland. Cooper was in line to start in place of Incognito should Good not be ready. And Kirkland stepped in for Jackson initially when he went down and played well at right guard with the second team last week. Keep a close eye on those two in this game.
The other battle on the offensive line to watch is at swing tackle between 2018 third round pick Brandon Parker and 2017 4th round pick David Sharpe. Thus far the 6-8 Parker hasn’t looked great at right tackle and downright horrendous at left tackle. While Sharpe has held his own on either side. The former Florida tackle with one bad eye didn’t make the team out of camp last year, was signed by the Texans, cut, then re-signed with the Raiders. He may be coming into his own entering his third season, while Parker is showing no such indication entering his second.
The lower run of wide receivers on this team have already had plenty of opportunities this preseason to show their stuff. Antonio Brown hasn’t played a snap and Tyrell Williams played just the first series last week before leaving the field. The thing is, they may need the entire preseason to sort this one out.
After the two starters, I would put the order of the receivers like this: Dwayne Harris (for his special teams abilities), JJ Nelson, Ryan Grant, Hunter Renfrow, Keelan Doss, Marcell Ateman, Rico Gafford, Keon Hatcher, and De’Mornay Pierson-El.
One could make a case for most of these guys to crack the roster in the right situation. Hatcher was the preseason star last year who had Gruden saying he would be thrown out the plane if Hatcher didn’t make the team. Then Gruden cut him after the opener to re-sign Martavis Bryant, and signed Hatcher to the practice squad. Gafford spent last year on the practice squad as well, switching from cornerback to wide receiver and he caught a 59-yard touchdown bomb last week in Arizona. He is lightning fast and you saw it on that play. Ateman is a big receiver with sure hands. He was the team’s 7th round pick last year and ended up starting games late last season due to injuries. Doss has put on a show thus far in the preseason and most are not surprised by this. He’s a very talented receiver who should have been drafted.
Those are the guys on the outside looking in. Unless the team kept seven wide receivers, most of them will be cut. Good problem to have.
Maurice Hurst’s spot looks secure as the Raiders’ top rookie last season. As does Johnathan Hankins who played well last season and Gruden said was the Raiders most improved player. After that all bets are off. Justin Ellis is a former starter for the team. He hasn’t played in the first two preseason games and who knows if he will play Thursday night.
Making a play to be part of the interior rotation are several hopefuls. PJ Hall was the team’s second round pick last year. He didn’t make an impact as a rookie and is now fighting for his roster spot. Anthony Rush had a monster first preseason game, but cooled off a bit in the second game. The coaches like him, but the undrafted rookie is a raw talent. Veteran Ethan Westbrooks has made a strong push as well. Returning after missing the first two preseason games with injury is Gabe Wright. He will have a chance to fight back into the competition as well.
And in this corner...
There are three starting cornerbacks on this team — Gareon Conley, Daryl Worley, and Lamarcus Joyner. Doubtful we see any of them in this game. The top fighters stepping under the ropes to duke it out for the remaining two or three spots are second round rookie Trayvon Mullen, veteran Nevin Lawson, fourth round rookie Isaiah Johnson, and 2018 fourth round pick Nick Nelson. Only Mullen is a lock. The others will have their work cut out for them.
Johnson may not even play as he hasn’t been practicing with a concussion he suffered in the second preseason game.
There will be an opening there might not have otherwise been because Lawson is suspended the first four games of the season, which means even if he were to beat out the others, his roster spot will be open until he returns, opening the door for someone else. How nice of him.
That means there is at least one spot and maybe two up for grabs. In this game it will be up to Nick Nelson to outperform undrafted rookies Dylan Mabin and Keisean Nixon along with hopefuls Makinton Dorleant and Joshua Holsey. Of this group, Nixon has made the strongest case to grab a roster spot. He played well in both of the team’s preseason games thus far, so Nelson has to step it up.