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.
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.