Five Raiders to watch during Canada preseason game against Packers

Five Raiders to watch during Canada preseason game against Packers

The Raiders are playing their third preseason game on Thursday night, which used to be considered a regular-season dress rehearsal.

Frontline starters would play into the second half, enough time to establish a rhythm, experience a halftime break and make adjustments on the fly.

That doesn’t happen much anymore, now that the preseason slate’s only objective is to survive it. The Raiders' frontline starters aren’t expected to play much – most won’t play at all – against the Green Bay Packers at IG Field in Winnipeg.

Most of the starting spots and prominent reserve roles are set at this point, and playing second- and third-unit players against Green Bay’s top unit players suiting up will provide a solid test for those on the roster bubble.

Those are the guys to watch, trying to make a solid post-training camp impression on the Raiders' decision-makers. Minds are largely made up by the time we reach the final preseason game, so this is a real chance to put a lasting memory in Jon Gruden’s brain during a still open competition. That’s why the five Raiders we’re suggesting you keep an eye on are all battling for roster spots and/or roles on the team. This is a great time for them to shine.

DT P.J. Hall

Gruden has shown no hesitation letting second-round picks go early in their rookie contracts. He cut Mario Edwards Jr. (2015). He traded Jihad Ward (2016). He waived/injured Obi Melifonwu (2018). He did all that before his first regular-season back started.

Those guys, however, were drafted solely by former GM Reggie McKenzie. Would he have the same willingness with a second-round pick he was involved in drafting? The answer to that is simple: Heck yes.

That’s why Hall needs to start showing well down the stretch, after he missed some time in camp and new defensive tackles Ethan Westbrooks and Anthony Rush shined. A roster spot’s not a given at this point, even for a talented small-school player with a low center of gravity, a solid power pass-rush moves and a knack for batting passes down.

Some ‘wow’ plays would serve as a reminder that Hall is worth keeping around despite competition for his roster spot.

RB DeAndre Washington

The Texas Tech product seemed set up to be the fall guy in his position group. First-round pick Josh Jacobs would be the bellcow, Doug Martin his advisor and Jalen Richard offering a change of pace.

Washington has proven time and again he’s an NFL-caliber runner, with another strong preseason in the works. He should see more carries early in this game, where he can flash an ability to run inside and make plays in the passing game. He could well take Martin’s spot among the running backs, or force the Raiders to consider keeping an extra guy.

“We think he looks quicker and faster and stronger,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “So, we’ve been happy with how he’s developed so far.”

No matter what, more quality game tape would ensure he’s picked up quickly should a Raiders roster spot prove unattainable. He’ll find a job somewhere, though he’d certainly like to remain with the Silver and Black.

OT David Sharpe

The Raiders made their former fourth-round pick one of last year’s cuts, but he ended up back with the Silver and Black by season’s end. He was a fringe player then, a reserve’s reserve kept as injury protection.

It was tough to find a fit for him on this year’s roster, but he keeps impressing and is in the running to be the Raiders’ swing tackle. The job seemed set for Brandon Parker, who bulked up and seemed ready for a solid sophomore campaign. He has made enough mistakes to leave the door cracked for Sharpe, who is played through several ailments trying to prove his worth.

“David Sharpe has had a good camp,” Gruden said. “I think Brandon Parker has done an excellent job. He struggled a little bit one series against the Rams, but he played very well against Arizona playing both positions. He and David are both flipping sides which is good for their, I think, experience, and their role that they are competing for.”

S Erik Harris

Harris is back in Canada, where his professional football career started. He was with the Hamilton Tiger Cats for three seasons before finally cracking an NFL roster, and still has strong ties to his CFL roots.

CFL fans will be cheering for him Thursday in Winnipeg, happy to see someone from their league truly make it. Harris would love to make some plays for those who remember his CFL days, and to erase a lackluster performance against Arizona last week.

Veteran safety Curtis Riley has come on strong lately, making matters more interesting in that position group. Lamarcus Joyner has exclusively played slot cornerback for the Raiders, but his versatility might make it easier to keep three safeties over four. Harris is believed to have strong odds of making the roster for defensive help and on special teams. He just signed a contract extension this offseason, after all. A solid showing against the Packers could certainly help secure his standing.

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TE Derek Carrier

Gruden said earlier in training camp that it would be hard for someone to take Carrier’s roster spot. He’s a hard worker and a versatile talent with a blue-collar attitude these Raiders like. He could well fall in line behind Darren Waller and Foster Moreau to form a three-man tight end group with enough versatility and special-team prowess to get required jobs done.

Carrier certainly helped his case with an over-the-shoulder touchdown catch in Arizona – as we saw on “Hard Knocks,” that play was designed for Waller – that proved he’s an adept receiver as well as a blocker.

It will be interesting to see how much he plays and when, especially in relation to Luke Willson. If the Raiders keep four tight ends – that’s a big “if” – both guys advance. If there’s only three, the competition will be close.

Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice


Raiders injury report: Josh Jacobs 'looked great' in limited practice

ALAMEDA -- Raiders running back Josh Jacobs was cleared to practice on Wednesday, but head coach Jon Gruden couldn’t guarantee he would play Sunday’s Oakland Coliseum finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He had things to prove to both trainers and coaches during the practice week to gain final clearance. It seems it could be coming soon.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Jacobs looked great in his return to work after missing last week’s loss to Tennessee with a fractured shoulder suffered in Week 7.

“He looked great,” Olson said. “He’s been a pro and obviously he’s shown that he can play with injuries. He’s had different nagging injuries throughout the season, but he’s a tough player and again that’s a part of the reason why we drafted him.

“… we just feel good about him right now.”

The Raiders got another valued rookie back on the practice field, with receiver Hunter Renfrow working for the first time since injuring his ribs and lung in an away loss to the New York Jets.

That doesn’t mean he’ll be ready to go right away. A Week 16 meeting with the L.A. Chargers was previously designated as a return target and might still be the case after limited work on Thursday.

“He was able to go through individuals today and routes,” Olson said. “Just no contact, but he looked great, so it’s good to have him out on the field. Brought a little juice to the offense. They’re excited to see him out there.”

[RELATED: How Guden's bond with Coliseum runs deep]

Right guard Gabe Jackson was a non-participant in Thursday’s work as he continues to battle through a knee injury that has negatively impacted consistently solid play. Right tackle Trent Brown remains out with a pectoral injury, without much to suggest he’ll be ready to play on Sunday.

Brandon Parker will play for Brown, and Denzelle Good will step in if Jackson can’t go.

Raiders practice report

Did not practice
OT Trent Brown (pectoral)
LB Kyle Wilber (ankle)
RG Gabe Jackson (knee)
CB Daryl Worley (neck)
LB Marquel Lee (toe)

Limited practice
WR Hunter Renfrow (rib)
RB Josh Jacobs (shoulder)
C Rodney Hudson (ankle)
CB Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
WR Marcell Ateman (ribs)
S Erik Harris (hamstring)

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

How Jon Gruden's unique bond with Oakland Raiders fans runs deep

OAKLAND -- Jon Gruden walked toward midfield with a tense Raiders victory finally secure, exchanging pleasantries with L.A. Chargers coaches he spent all week trying to beat. He worked that crowd with smiles, handshakes and bro hugs, spending most of his time looking for open space.

The Raiders head coach found some and quickly made a break for it.

Gruden doubled his pace, removed his jacket and headed straight for the Black Hole. The notorious fan section was ready and waiting for another moment with their man, one of their greatest champions.

Gruden got the Elvis treatment over 54 seconds walking Oakland Coliseum’s southern rail, borderline mobbed while trying to make personal connections with this devoted following. He accomplished that mission several times over, reveling in a Week 10 victory with people dressed like gorillas and fighter pilots and other creepy outfits only fit for the Coliseum and Halloween.

Gruden stood before the press a short while later, face paint smudging his cheek and spilled beer on his shoulder, his jacket and visor given away in the crowd.

He was asked, clearly by a reporter unfamiliar with his disposition, if those Black Hole trips were getting a little too rough to repeat.

“No, I never think that,” Gruden said. “Every win, I’m going down there. I get face paint all over me. I get to see some costumes I have not seen before at any football games. It’s awesome.”

Gruden’s bond with the fan base runs deep. That’s especially true in Oakland, still the capital of Raider Nation.

“There’s something about these people,” Gruden said. “They’re nuts. They’re the closest thing to me that I’ve ever seen. We have that in common.”

There is grit and determination, a ferocious bark and bite in Gruden and his followers. And, of course, they share an unwavering devotion to all things Raiders. They are like family in that they can be at times mad with Gruden’s performance while still wishing him well.

That kinship always will stay with Gruden, even as the Raiders transition to Las Vegas in 2020. Relocation’s right around the bend, with but one game left at Oakland Coliseum. That comes Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, which he hopes to punctuate with one more celebration in the Black Hole.

“That’s what I coach for,” Gruden said. “I love people. I love football and they love it more than anybody. People can make fun of me and say whatever they want, but when we win, I’m going down there. And when we lose, usually I stick around the parking lot, hang out with the guys and try to get them ready for the next home game. I like to share my joy with some joyous Raiders fans as much as possible.”

That’s Gruden’s way of saying thank you for ardent support during his days as a 30-something head coach. It’s a thank you for keeping him in high esteem after he got traded to Tampa Bay – the 2002 Super Bowl and a 2004 return to the Coliseum are rare exceptions – and eventually moved into broadcasting. It’s a thank you for patience while he rebuilds the Raiders roster during his return to the Silver and Black.

Gruden earned loyalty from a fanbase starving for a return to greatness. The Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, after 13 seasons and a Super Bowl win in Los Angeles. The second East Bay stint started with three subpar seasons under two head coaches before Al Davis hired Philadelphia’s 35-year old offensive coordinator in 1998.

Gruden entered with a plan and started to execute it well, following two 8-8 seasons with an AFC West title and a trip to the conference championship game.

“Success makes you exciting,” said former Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman, who worked under Gruden from 1998-2000 before retiring to become a pastor. “Him coming in with a new attitude and passion and all those facial expressions made him a popular figure. During that short period of time, there was a lot of winning and overall excitement surrounding the team. Raiders fans were so hungry to win, and he was the face of that new movement.”

Kaufman’s right. Gruden’s personality was an important part of that package. All the dramatic facial expressions and raised eyebrows, all the yelling and the four-letter words let fans know he was giving ‘em hell on their behalf. His commitment to the craft became legend, with the entire East Bay aware he was getting up at 3:17 a.m. to help the Raiders win.

“He brought what I would I refer to as a zest and a zeal that had been missing,” former Raiders CEO Amy Trask said. “He was also just so expressive that fans likened him to Chucky and he embraced that, and it really took off. …The popularity of Jon Gruden grew and grew among Raiders fans.”

That was especially true in 2001, when Gruden won another division crown and was controversially felled by the NFL’s tuck rule in New England. Fans stayed true even after he was traded from Oakland to Tampa Bay for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million. They obviously were upset after he beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII, but time healed that wound.

That was clear when he came back to Oakland Coliseum to broadcast an NFL preseason game between the Raiders and Cowboys. Gruden rarely, if ever, left the press level when covering games, but took a lap before that 2012 exhibition that went just like recent his trips to the Black Hole. Fans lined the rails waiting for a moment of his time or an autograph, proof that their adoration never died.

Neither has Gruden’s connection to this region. He certainly hoped to give it another shot at glory this season but couldn’t keep a midseason hot streak going long enough to remain in the playoff hunt. That sets up an Oakland Coliseum finale that carries few football ramifications but plenty of emotion for Gruden, his family and everyone in the stands.

[RELATED: Carr shares special connection with Coliseum, where QB came of age]

Gruden hasn’t been nostalgic heading into this game, choosing to focus on the preparation required to give these Raiders fans one more win to end this Oakland era. It’s one more chance to salute an area that means so much to him.

“In a lot of ways I was raised here, you know what I mean?” Gruden said. “It was the beginning of my NFL coaching career, at least my head coaching career. I just love it here. I had my first son here and I have a lot of history here. And some of my friends, a lot of my friends are in the Black Hole. A lot of my only friends are here. (laughter) I don’t have a lot of friends except the guys in the Black Hole. I only get to see them six or seven times, and I get emotional talking about it.

“Look, we’re excited about the future in Las Vegas. I don’t want to underestimate that either, but we’re also very respectful of where we come from.”