Four Raiders players to watch in NFL preseason opener vs. Lions

Four Raiders players to watch in NFL preseason opener vs. Lions

OAKLAND -- Raiders starters shouldn’t play much in Friday night’s preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. That’s OK. This game isn’t for them.

It’s a report card for young players trying to carve out a role or a roster spot, to see if they can apply what’s been taught in practice to real games with live tackling. We’ll see come high-profile cameos, several veterans -- this team is full of ‘em -- jockeying for position on the depth chart and members of this draft class trying to prove their ready to make an immediate impact.

Here are four players to watch tonight starting at 7:30 at Oakland Coliseum:

P.J. Hall

We haven’t seen as much of the Raiders second round defensive tackle as others this summer. Hall started training camp on the physically unable to perform list with a pectoral strain, was activated a week or so later and eased into steady work.

Fifth-round defensive tackle Maurice Hurst as gotten more run during the offseason and in camp, but Hall as been hard to handle in practice and gotten steady push on the inside. That would help an defensive interior lacking production in recent seasons, especially in a rotation with Hall, Hurst and Mario Edwards Jr.

There was some thought the Sam Houston State product would need more time to develop making the jump from small school competition. Preseason games will be key in deciding if that’s the case.

“He’s a hard guy to block,” Gruden said. “He’s what we thought he was. He’s a powerful guy. He doesn’t look like the biggest defensive tackle in the league, but he’s a powerful, stout, quick, penetrating inside presence that we need here. We have not had enough inside pass rush. Hopefully, we get to full strength on the outside and improve inside and we might have some.”

Chris Warren III

Odds are great you’ve seen the hit heard ‘round wine country by now. The undrafted rookie delivered it early in Tuesday’s joint practice with Detroit, when he leveled linebacker Jarrad Davis running off right tackle.

It came just moments after head coach Jon Gruden yelled at Warren, demanding he lower his pad level. He did exactly that, and showed great power coveted coming out of the University of Texas.

The undrafted rookie has a chance to make this 53-man roster – or the practice squad, as Plan B – if he shows well in games. His size and skill would provide a unique option down on the depth chart.

He should see significant carries this preseason. He has to make the most of them, and prove more than just a bruiser.

Martavis Bryant

Bryant might be the most physically gifted receiver on the Raiders roster. He has ideal size, great speed and a penchant for making big plays down field. That didn’t prevent Gruden’s shot across Bryant’s bow last week, when the head coach demanded more from the former Pittsburgh Steeler. Gruden prefers his receivers able to play every position and run every route.

Quarterback Derek Carr sensed urgency in his recent preparation, because it has impacted his practice reps. Bryant’s been locked to the second unit, without many 11-on-11 reps early in camp. He got some in Wednesday’s joint practice and made the most of them. He caught two long touchdowns and corralled a tipped pass for a big gain.

Look for Bryant to be tested on routes shallow and deep in the preseason to prepare him for a regular season where he’ll clearly have an important role.

“Martavis is not a good talent, he’s a great talent, and we’re going to continue to work him into our offense,” Gruden said. “Today showed I think what he’s capable of doing. We have big plans for him.”

Kolton Miller

The Raiders first-round left tackle has taken most every first-unit practice rep in training camp. He has made some rookie mistakes, as one would expect from an athletic prospect in need of some seasoning.

Miller’s being prepped for a possible Week 1 start, though Pro Bowler Donald Penn is on the mend and should still be Plan A if he comes back physically strong.

The rookie has learned from practice mistakes, but he’ll have to avoid similar slip-ups in games. A significant blunder could destroy a play or, even worse, get a quarterback hurt.

Miller could inspire confidence with his preseason play. Struggles could give Penn some leverage saying no to the pay cut Raiders brass want him to take.

The UCLA product understands this preseason’s importance, and plans to take advantage of the opportunities provided.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of time in pads to this point, so opportunities to do so are really important,” Miller said. “These padded practices and games are like gold to us.”

Why Raiders will play five straight games away from home in 2019 season

Why Raiders will play five straight games away from home in 2019 season

The Raiders got screwed.

That’s the easiest conclusion to make following Wednesday evening’s NFL schedule release, where Oakland was granted a brutal start to their season.

The sentiment is rooted in reality, considering the Raiders play their first two games at Oakland Coliseum but don’t return home until Nov. 3.

They play five straight games away from home over a stretch that plays out this way:

Week 3: at Minnesota
Week 4: at Indianapolis
Week 5: vs. Chicago (in London)
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: at Green Bay
Week 8: at Houston

That daunting stretch is what the Raiders are up against early next season. Here are some reasons why it played out this way, after talking to those with knowledge of a situation that has some Raiders -- and their fans -- a bit perturbed.

“On schedule release day, everybody’s reaction is emotional,” said Mike North, NFL vice president of broadcast planning, who is on the scheduling committee. “After you digest it and understand a little bit about the math and factors that may have contributed to it, you don’t feel that much better but at least you understand it.

“All 32 teams get equal consideration. There have been some times where (the Raiders) got a favorable schedule and things didn’t work out well for them, and others where they were upset about their schedule and had great success.”

Let’s start with this: The Raiders’ delay in securing an approved stadium lease for 2019 didn’t factor into the schedule or its release date because the league started scheduling under the assumption the Silver and Black would be playing in Oakland.

If the Raiders decided to play at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara or University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. -- venues considered that already house NFL teams -- then that would have created headaches.

The team staying put did not complicate things further, though sharing Oakland Coliseum with the A's creates a tighter framework than schedulers have with other teams.

The A's are on the road from Sept. 9-15, giving schedule makers a window to have the Raiders play a Monday night opener -- West Coast teams are almost always featured in the second portion of the opening night doubleheader -- and a Sunday afternoon game in Week 2.

The Raiders had to go on the road in Week 3 with the A’s playing at home and were consequently shipped to Minnesota against the Vikings. The A’s are away in the NFL’s Week 4, but the Raiders requested a game farther east before heading to London to battle Chicago in Week 5 (as a side note, international dates are generally decided in advance of the regular schedule).

They ended up in Indianapolis in Week 4, one of just two Raiders road opponents from the Eastern Time Zone.

The bye always comes after a game in the U.K., so the off week was locked into Week 6.

There were no direct conflicts against coming home for Week 7 or Week 8 -- the Raiders play at Green Bay and Houston, respectively -- but the A’s made the playoffs last year and so there's a chance of a postseason conflict again this season.

The Raiders experienced one such conflict in 2013, when their game against the Chargers had to be postponed into the night due to an A’s playoff game and the subsequent time required to rearrange the stadium for football. The odds of that happening again are slim, but schedulers had to be cognizant of that when fitting the Raiders slate together.

Even still, Weeks 7 and 8 are a spot where the NFL could have worked a home game into the mix and kept their fingers crossed to avoid an A's conflict. 

Coaches, players, and fans can find further gripes with the slate, including the tough competition that is featured in their brutal start and seven kickoffs at 10 a.m. PT.

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Prolonged road trips are an issue the NFL hopes to avoid. Along with the Raiders, Tampa Bay also plays five straight away from home. Additionally, Oakland's AFC West-rival Chargers play four straight away from Carson.

It’s no coincidence that all three have international home games, undoubtedly a complicating factor when trying to create a schedule. Even so, the NFL doesn't like teams playing more than three straight away from home and it's something they'll work to avoid in the future, where possible. 

NFL rumors: Raiders are 'super impressed' with QB Dwayne Haskins


NFL rumors: Raiders are 'super impressed' with QB Dwayne Haskins

The Raiders will have some decisions to make next week during the NFL draft.

With four picks in the top 35, the Silver and Black have the ability to restock their franchise with top-tier talent should they make the right decisions. Most experts expect the Raiders to draft a defensive cornerstone like Quinnen Williams with the No. 4 overall pick, but after that things could get interesting.

If the Raiders stand pat, they could add a cornerback at No. 24, perhaps running back Josh Jacobs at No. 27 and a wide receiver or a tight end at No. 35. But with sufficient ammunition to move around in the draft, don't count out the idea of Raiders general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden electing to try and select a quarterback early on. 

And we aren't talking about Kyler Murray, although he reportedly also could be an option.

Before Murray spurned baseball for football, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins was seen as the top quarterback in the class, and the Raiders reportedly have been "super impressed" with the Heisman finalist, according to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

In his latest insider notes column, La Canfora reported he has heard the Raiders like Haskins a lot and he could see them passing on him at No. 4, but packaging the Nos. 24 and 27 picks to move back into the top 15 to take the former Buckeye.

Derek Carr currently is expected to be the Raiders' quarterback when the season begins, but Mayock has left the door open for the Silver and Black to make a change if he sees fit. 

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Whether or not the Raiders elect to move up in the draft likely will be tied to how the draft shakes out after they pick at No. 4.

If a few players they like appear to be slipping into the 20s, don't be surprised if the Raiders hang on to their picks and try to restock a defense that needs help at all three levels.

Quarterback can always wait, right?