OAKLAND – LaTroy Lewis finished the preseason as a Raiders fan favorite. The undrafted edge rusher from Tennessee showed well in the exhibition slate, with three sacks, four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery returned 65 yards for a touchdown.
Flash plays. They matter to fans. Alone, they won’t earn a roster spot.
Coaches care about everything from practice reps to game play to fundamentals and reads largely invisible to the untrained eye. They also need certain skill sets to fit into specific personnel packages. They need special teams players. In short, making an NFL roster ain’t easy, especially for the unheralded.
Lewis came to Oakland undrafted from the University of Tennessee, determined to defy odds and earn a roster spot. He’ll know on Saturday whether he made it or not.
He could do no more following Thursday’s 17-13 exhibition loss to Seattle, but believes he maximized his audition in silver and black.
“I put together a body of work that I’m proud of,” Lewis said.
Head coach Jack Del Rio said Lewis has “taken advantage of the reps he had,” and put together a solid audition tape.
Lewis entered this experience with a unique mindset. He didn’t carry a chip common among undrafteds. He was thankful for an opportunity to show be could play at a professional level.
“I had to prove it to myself mentally first. Once I gained confidence in the system, I felt like I could perform at this level. I am undrafted but it wasn’t about proving everybody wrong. It was about proving (general manager) Reggie McKenzie right for taking a chance on me. That was my motivation every game, every practice, to prove him right.”
McKenzie and Del Rio have some tough decisions ahead. While most roster spots are accounted for, there’s room to be swayed a few times while forming the 53-man, or building a practice squad of reserves.
Lewis said he’ll stay out of his own head and in touch with family until roster cuts are announced. He isn’t the only one with a tense weekend ahead. Inside linebacker Nicholas Morrow, tackle Jylan Ware and cornerbacks Breon Borders and Antonio Hamilton are sitting squarely on the bubble. So are receivers Keon Hatcher and K.J. Brent.
Brent put together a solid training camp, taking significant practice snaps with the first unit. He improved his all-around game after spending last year on the practice squad, and could have a roster spot if the Raiders go against tradition and keep six receivers. He finished strong on Thursday, with four catches for a team-high 55 yards. It was his best statistical night. Though Brent showed well as a route runner with an ability to catch passes in traffic, whether he ends up on the squad remains uncertain.
“It’s a waiting game,” Brent said. “The anticipation’s pretty high. We all know what’s at stake. There’s no need to get to worried about it. Let the man above handle it. I controlled what I could control tonight. We’ll go from there and see what happens.”