LOS ANGELES -- The Raiders will face the Rams on Saturday in their second preseason game, and then again roughly three weeks later when it really counts.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden isn’t thrilled about it.
“I don’t understand it, honestly,” he said. “I really don’t.”
Exhibition No. 2 typically is an event where starters work deeper into the action, nearing closer to halftime. It’s a time to refine some and get in some good work.
That might not happen in the Silver and Black’s return to L.A. Coliseum. Even if action for the regulars increases over last week’s preseason game, coaches will provide a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
“It’s a preseason game, and we have a lot of really tough evaluations to get through before we start thinking about what play we’re going to call,” Gruden said. “We’re going to really continue to use this as an evaluation, period. You’re going to see a lot of players playing a long period of time that are going to get a chance to show us they belong here. That’s how we’re looking at this game.”
We won’t see regulars for long, but two important debuts are in the cards. Another pair is looking to impress. Here are four players to watch against the Rams.
CB Gareon Conley
Conley was supposed to miss four weeks with a hip injury he suffered during training camp’s first full-squad practice. That might’ve cost him the entire preseason. Conley and the Raiders were thrilled he made it back in two weeks.
Conley expects to play Saturday for the first time in nearly a year, after missing the last 13 games in 2017 with a shin injury that required surgery. He might not stick around long, but he could support the praise heaped upon his potential, athleticism and ball skills.
Showing well this preseason would inspire confidence that he can become a top-flight cornerback.
Conley, for his part, isn’t stressing over another injury issue.
“If you think about it, it’s going to happen. You have to put it out of your mind,” Conley said. “If you don’t, it becomes more mental than physical. Once you think about it, you get hurt again. You can keep going down and down. You’ve got to stay (positive).”
DE Arden Key
The former LSU edge rusher missed last week’s preseason game with a bum ankle, but he's set to make his professional debut in L.A. He should get some solid snaps in this one, and many are anxious to see if he can translate excellent practice work into games.
He has a wide variety of pass-rush moves -- he’d be wise to keep some in the arsenal -- and tremendous agility working against offensive tackles. He’s long with unreal bend, and many within the organization are expecting him to make an immediate impact.
QB EJ Manuel
Connor Cook was the first quarterback off the bench in last week’s preseason game against Detroit, and the Michigan State alum took full advantage. A solid performance didn’t earn Cook the right to back up Derek Carr. Gruden insists that job remains competitive, and that Manuel would get more work against the Rams.
Manuel must capitalize on it to get back in a race he might be losing at this stage. He has worked mostly with the third team in recent practices, and has had an issue with fumbled snaps. Cook had an uneven week of practice, so the window’s still cracked for Manuel to earn the No. 2 job he had last year.
WR Griff Whalen
The Stanford product got more run than anyone expected against the Lions. The slot receiver played 14 snaps of offense with the first and second units, and had a chance to return punts and kickoffs. His work came before Ryan Switzer, who had been the primary slot guy in practice.
That order changed during this practice week, when Whalen continued to work with top units.
“Whalen has stepped up,” Gruden said. “He earned that right. He’s doing some great things.”
He has to keep doing them, because a roster spot is not guaranteed. He was believed to be on the outside looking in prior to the Lions game, and he must prove on offense and special teams in these preseason games to earn a job in a competitive position group.