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5 Raiders to keep an eye on against Rams Saturday night

Players to watch for Las Vegas’ second preseason game

Las Vegas Raiders Training Camp
Darius Philon
Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images

Coming off the heels of the team’s 20-7 victory against the Seattle Seahawks, the Las Vegas Raiders head down to familiar territory to take on the Los Angeles Rams for preseason game No. 2. The Raiders and Rams held joint practices this week so the players will already have experience squaring off against one another going into the game, which could make Saturday a little more interesting.

Las Vegas’ roster comes closer to being finalized as each week passes during the preseason, especially since the team has to cut down to 80 players by next Tuesday. While everyone listed below isn’t necessarily on the 53-man chopping block, how they perform over the next two weeks will play a factor in how big of a role they have in September and beyond.

Karl Joseph

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders
Karl Joseph
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

After spending a year in Cleveland, this will be Joseph’s first game back in the Silver and Black. He spent the first four years of his career in Oakland and provided some electrifying moments like the interception seen above to seal a victory on Thursday Night Football against the Chargers.

However, his first stint with the organization was plagued with injuries and the former first-round pick has already had some tough luck in that department this time around.

Joseph has been banged up and missed most of training camp. While he’s back on the field now, it will be interesting to see how well he’s picking up the new defensive scheme given the time off.

Schematically, Rams’ head coach Sean McVay uses an offensive system that can put a lot of stress on opposing safeties, since the scheme involves a lot of motion and play action. That will test Joseph’s discipline and grasp of the playbook, which has the potential to lead to some big plays.

Los Angeles also has a couple of tight ends that could lead to some interesting one-on-one matchups with the Raiders’ safety. Johnny Mundt is a five-year pro who is a solid blocker, while Brycen Hopkins was a fourth-round pick in 2020 and won the Big Ten’s tight end of the year award in 2019.

Darius Philon

Seattle Seahawks v Las Vegas Raiders
Darius Philon
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Las Vegas was - and still kind of is - extremely active in the defensive tackle market this offseason. The organization brought in a handful of new players at the position and Philon was one of them.

He made his Raiders debut last week and put together an outstanding performance with three pressures, tied for the third-most among defensive tackles, and the sixth-highest overall PFF Grade at the position. That means expectations for Philon this weekend are elevated, but luckily, he gets to go against an offensive line that lacks depth.

The Rams exclusively used Chandler Brewer at left guard in their first preseason game, and he allowed the most pressures on the team with three. Philon took 15 out of his 17 snaps against the Seahawks on the right side of the defense, so these two should be battling against each other on Saturday. That matchup should favor the defensive tackle.

Marcus Mariota

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders
Marcus Mariota
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, we’ll try this again.

Those who were paying close attention to this column last week saw the early edition had Mariota listed as a player to watch. Well, shortly after the article was published, the Raiders announced he was injured and doubtful for the game so Nathan Peterman stepped in. The good news is Mariota’s aliment was minor and he’s back and expecting to make his preseason debut against the Rams.

The former No. 2 overall pick has been and will continue to be the topic of trade discussions around the league as long as he’s a backup on Las Vegas’ roster. A little while back, he even said he keeps an eye on potential starting quarterback jobs around the NFL. While the Carson Wentz situation seems to be swinging in Indianapolis’ favor, there’s still bound to be another situation down the road where a team is looking for a starting-caliber quarterback.

Even without a clear immediate path to be a starter, Mariota needs to take advantage of these opportunities and put together some quality tape for other organizations to watch. The more his trade value increases, the more valuable he becomes to the Silver and Black.

Damon Arnette

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders
Damon Arnette
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The last several months have been pretty humbling for Arnette. Back in May, the Raiders signed veteran cornerback Casey Hayward, demoting Arnette to the second-string, and his preseason debut last week wasn’t pretty either.

He only participated in 14 plays and was targeted once against Seattle, but it was a big one. Arnette was playing off coverage on third and five, read and converged on a drag route perfectly, but missed the tackle and turned what should have been fourth and short into a Seahawks first down.

While yes, it’s only one play, those are the type of miscues a player can’t have when he’s fighting for playing time and/or to get back in the coaching staff’s good graces. Of course, the 2020 first-rounder will have a chance to bounce back this week but draws a tough assignment as the Rams are loaded at wide receiver.

It’s unlikely that Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and DeSean Jackson will play, but Los Angeles still has Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell to add some depth to the position group. Jefferson can be a tough cover because he’s a shifty route runner, while Atwell can take the top off a defense with his 4.32-second 40-yard dash time. In other words, regardless of who’s on the field, Arnette and Las Vegas’ secondary have their handful.

Andre James

Seattle Seahawks v Las Vegas Raiders
Andre James
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Fair or not, James is going to be under the microscope for essentially the entire season. That comes with the territory of replacing a former All-Pro, especially when doing so as a relatively unknown commodity.

Last Saturday was James’ first test of the year and while he did perform well in pass protection, surrendering zero pressures on 13 snaps, he struggled as a run blocker. His PFF run-blocking grade of 54.2 ranked 35th among centers that participated in at least eight run plays. His ability to create rushing lanes will be tested again against the Rams as they have some depth at defensive tackle.

Rookie nose tackle Bobby Brown III was an absolute force against the run in college. The Texas A&M product would consistently displace offensive linemen and at times, he would wreak havoc even when facing double teams. That’s a matchup that could favor Los Angeles if James doesn’t correct some of his mistakes from last week.

Hopefully, the center gets plenty of reps against Aaron Donald during the joint practices, as that might make going against Brown seem like a cakewalk.