Raiders

Derek Carr, Raiders' starting offense makes cameo in preseason opener

carrus.jpg
USATSI

Derek Carr, Raiders' starting offense makes cameo in preseason opener

OAKLAND – Derek Carr didn’t play in last year’s preseason opener. No sense in the Raiders' franchise quarterback risking injury in a game that ranks low even among those that don’t really count.

Carr ran through the tunnel Friday night, started 2018’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions and got out no worse health wise.

His drive didn’t include a first down and ended in a punt, but the Raiders tried a diverse play selection in their first game action of the year.

He was 2-for-4 for 11 yards, and should thank Jordy Nelson for breaking up a seemingly surefire interception.

Carr took a deep shot to Martavis Bryant that fell incomplete, found Nelson on the game’s opening play and worked with Amari Cooper in the slot.

The series seemed set to end in a score, but Marshawn Lynch’s 60-yard touchdown was called back due to a holding call against first-round rookie left tackle Kolton Miller. The hold was clear, and sprung the big run.

Carr gave way to Connor Cook and most of the starting offense did not return, save Miller and right tackle Ian Silberman. Both guys need the work, considering neither player has taken a regular-season snap at tackle.

The crew exited without an obvious injury, the only positive that matters this time of year.

Most starting defenders played at least two series, but the defensive debut was productive. The Lions were forced to punt after second-round defensive tackle P.J. Hall sacked Matt Cassel on 3rd-and-5, providing an interior rush lacking in recent seasons.

Also, safety Marcus Gilchrist, cornerback Gareon Conley and edge rusher Arden Key were among the first-team regulars who didn’t participate in the preseason opener.

Raiders camp battles: Several combinations possible at safety

abramjosephap.jpg
AP

Raiders camp battles: Several combinations possible at safety

Editor’s note: We’ll take a look at several Raiders training camp battles leading up to the first full-squad practice on Saturday, and then we’ll update their progress throughout the preseason. Let’s get into the second one, focusing on safeties.

 

The Raiders have taken a first-round safety in two of the last four years. They still paid a veteran top dollar to join the mix their and slot corner. They extended a special teams player with some starts to his credit.

In short: the Raiders have options at safety, lots of them good.

That position will shake out in training camp, which starts this week in Napa.

This year’s No. 27 overall draft pick is already there. Johnathan Abram reported to camp Tuesday with the Raiders rookies, already in good position to snag a starting spot. Coaches love the Mississippi State alum, whom joined the first unit later in the offseason program. He carries unshakable confidence and skill into his work as a do-everything safety that seems pro ready.

He paired with 2016 first-rounder Karl Joseph during the offseason program, who should still be a factor despite the team declining his fifth-year option. The team came away impressed by his recovery from injury and a slow start, when he found his footing in a role tailored to his strengths.

Erik Harris evolved into a defensive role last season, with the size and length to play free safety. He has clearly assumed a vocal leadership role in the back, and will fight for a job either on every down or obvious passing situations. He might end up being a super sub capable of playing anywhere, a valuable commodity in the secondary.

Lamarcus Joyner is the x-factor in all this. He’s clearly the team’s best free safety, but the high-priced free agent signing focused on slot cornerback to this point. That could change during training camp. Time will tell on that front. Coaches could split his focus – he’s fully capable of switching between free safety and slot corner – right away or bring him back to safety at times should one of the aforementioned contenders flop.

Curtis Riley and Jordan Richards are also veterans in the mix, though they’re firmly on the roster bubble.

Early edge: Abram and Joseph at safety, with Joyner primarily at slot CB.

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict provide stability at MLB?

Raiders camp questions: Can Vontaze Burfict provide stability at MLB?

The Raiders have searched long and hard for stability at middle linebacker. They haven’t had much luck recently, no matter who has been picking players.

Let’s call it the curse of Rolando McClain, a wasted first-round pick that exemplifies the team’s issues filling an important position. Only Perry Riley and NaVorro Bowman offered partial-season respites during this middle linebacker drought, and neither player re-signed with the club.

Nick Roach, Curtis Lofton, Ben Heeney, Miles Burris and Derrick Johnson all have tried and failed to stabilize the position. Still-developing Marquel Lee, a rare linebacker drafted to play the middle, was thrust into a starting role but didn't stick and has been used on the strong side. The Raiders haven’t selected a middle linebacker before the fourth round since McClain, choosing largely to go the veteran route inside.

Vontaze Burfict enters as this year’s attempt to get the middle linebacker spot right. Brandon Marshall also is in town and capable of playing inside and out, as the Raiders hope to establish veteran leadership running Paul Guenther’s defense.

Burfict has spent most of his career as Guenther’s field general, and having him here should open previously closed chapters of an extensive playbook. Burfict was helpful running practice reps and meetings during the offseason program, already proving to be a valuable resource to his new team.

He must remain available and productive to stay that way. Burfict has struggled with injuries in recent seasons, which has hampered his effectiveness. Will he be a three-down player inside? Even two would be helpful, considering Tahir Whitehead’s lineup regularity and comfort with the defense.

Marshall also can fill the middle, proving a solid Plan B if Burfict struggles. Having veteran options playing in front of a developing corps including Jason Cabinda, Lee and Nicholas Morrow should be better than previous seasons, where the Raiders never seemed to have a backup plan.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for upcoming Raiders season]

Burfict has been impactful already, but we haven’t seen much of Marshall. The former Bronco missed most offseason practices with an undisclosed injury.

These older veterans have been producers in the league but skepticism is fair until they show old form during the regular season. Can Burfict and/or Marshall succeed where previous players have struggled?

It’s worth keeping a keen eye on the middle linebacker spot and the position group as a whole, which must improve for the Raiders' defense to run well this regular season.