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.”

Raiders camp report: Rookie DTs Hurst, Hall proving disruptive up front

Raiders camp report: Rookie DTs Hurst, Hall proving disruptive up front

NAPA – P.J. Hall created pressure in the Raiders’ offensive backfield during Tuesday morning’s practice, with Maurice Hurst collapsing in from his left flank.

Jon Gruden was pleased. He singled out both rookie defensive tackles after the play, praising their hustle in making life difficult up front.

Hurst and Hall found a spring in their step, but tried to avoid overt signs of excitement. They simply slapped five and went back to work.

The pair played well in the preseason opener against Detroit. Hall had a sack, a batted pass. Hurst had two quarterback hits.

“First play P.J. came in, he got a sack. He batted a ball down, so he was disruptive,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “I thought Maurice had some really good rushes. He didn’t get a sack, but he got home. Yeah, I was pleased with it. I think it’s an area that we’ve gone out to try to improve and we have a long way to go. But, there were some good signs.”

Both guys made an impact, which fits well with how they practice.

Gruden knows Hurst and Hall could be regular fixtures in the defensive line rotation and wants them ready to go for the regular season, so he’ll continue to push and prod and ask for better.

Hall and Hurst enjoy the high expectations, and relish the opportunity to go through the rookie experience with another talented lineman.

“It's awesome,” Hurst said after the Lions game. “There's not a better way to have it, having another guy out there in the same position as you. Getting to go through growing pains together."

Calhoun pushing for a spot?

Shilique Calhoun showed well in the Lions game and continues to create pressure up front, giving the Raiders another option when looking for depth rushing off the edge. He was an afterthought last year, released before the regular season and then added to the practice squad after being selected in 2016’s third round. He has had a resurgence of sorts under Gruden’s staff, but has to improve throughout the preseason to earn a roster spot.

“We’re just looking for more consistency and more out of him,” Gruden said. “He’s a guy that has had an interesting career here. He’s been on the practice squad, he’s been brought back, he’s paid the price in the offseason, but he’s on our radar now.”

Injury update

Cornerback Daryl Worley didn’t practice the day after a random collision with fellow cover man Rashaan Melvin. His injury status is uncertain.

Receiver Martavis Bryant remains out with headaches. Receiver Seth Roberts was also out, and has been since before the preseason game. Safety Marcus Gilchrist (foot) and offensive linemen Jordan Simmons and Breno Giacomini remained out of practice.

Jon Feliciano left practice early for an unknown cause.

Safety Obi Melifonwu has been out a week now, and The Athletic reports he will see a specialist to further evaluate his health and a possible to link to hip surgery he had last season.

Donald Penn was activated off the physically unable to perform list, but practiced a lot for his first session back. He had good moments and bad at right tackle, a new position for him.

Donald Penn in right frame of mind to tackle position switch: 'I just want to win'

Donald Penn in right frame of mind to tackle position switch: 'I just want to win'

NAPA – Donald Penn had played 24 snaps at right tackle in 12 NFL seasons. That came in a pinch, when injuries to Menelik Watson and Vadal Alexander in the 2016 regular-season opener at New Orleans left the Raiders without someone to man the post.

Kelechi Osemele was able to make a move to left tackle, but not across the line. Penn made a sacrifice and moved right. That’s no easy switch, especially on the fly.

It proved successful. The Raiders won with a late offensive flurry made possible by solid line play. The switch, however, was temporary.

Penn went back to his natural spot, and completed a career year that earned a Pro Bowl honor. He got another one last season, but the Raiders still looked toward the future in the NFL draft.

Makes sense. Penn is 35, and doesn’t plan to play much longer.

He’s also rebounding from Lisfranc foot surgery last December. Rehab kept him on the physically unable to perform list until Tuesday morning, when he was able to practice and…play right tackle.

Penn said the prospect was broached during talks to restructure his contract – a new deal was done Monday evening -- but the Raiders formally asked him to play on the right before Tuesday’s practice.

“I told them I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help this team win,” Penn said. “If you guys feel like this is going to be in the best interest of the team, I’ll do it. Today it felt very awkward and rusty, but I need time to develop. I don’t know if that’s going to be a permanent thing or not yet, but it is something we’re testing out. I told them I’m all for it.”

The transition will have some hiccups. Footwork that’s so natural from the left is now backwards. He has to de-program certain instincts including, it seems, where to stand in the huddle.

“I was standing by (left guard Kelechi Osemele) in the huddle and he was like, ‘Hey bro.’ and I was like, ‘Oh (shoot), let me go over here,’” Penn said. “It’s little things like that. One time I got in my left-handed stance on accident, and I actually had to switch real fast.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s tough. One thing that I’ve been, I’ve been a good athlete. I’m a good athlete, so I think me being athletic can make that transition a little easier and smooth. I don’t know if it’s going to be permanent or not, but we have a good thing going here. I just want to help us win. I’m not playing too much longer. I just want to win. If this is going to help us win, I’m all in for it. I just want to win.”

Offensive line play will be integral to winning efforts. The Raiders have issues at offensive tackle, especially on the right. Breno Giacomini has missed most of camp with a knee injury. A bum ankle has kept third-round rookie Brandon Parker out of the mix until recently. David Sharpe is in the mix, but must be more consistent to be counted on.

Miller played on the right at UCLA but the results weren’t always great and coaches seem set on him playing left tackle. That left Penn to consider a switch that could help strengthen the line.

It won’t be easy, but Penn’s going to give it a shot. He’s learning a new position while mastering Jon Grduen’s often complex scheme – Penn only participated in walk-throughs and individual drills during the offseason program – and finding true football shape.

Penn’s at his playing weight and in solid cardiovascular condition. He’s working hard to master the scheme and the variables within in it.

Penn’s open to counsel Miller, as he has during downtimes in practice and the preseason opener.

"When I was coming up, I had some good vets that did the same to me,” Penn said. “I’m not stupid, I’m not dumb. I’m 35 years old. I don’t want to play football too much longer myself. I understand what’s going on here. I’m just trying to help as much as possible because when I do leave here, I’m going to leave friends here. Me and Kolton, we’re developing a good friendship. I want to have him ready so when he goes out there he can succeed. It’s not like I’m over here jealous or mad. I’m trying to help the kid out so the kid can be as good as possible because it’s going to help us out as a team.”

Penn has been healthy most of career. The 2017 finale was the only regular-season game he has missed in a dozen years. Being a step removed from the practice grind tested his patience, especially when a return got closer and closer. While Tuesday’s story focused on a possible position switch, Penn was just happy to be practicing again.

“I had a lot of down days where I had to pick myself up and go,” Penn said. “This was my first injury and it was a major one. … It was tough, and I just kept fighting. I had a great support system. Good coaching staff. One thing I do like about them, they were upfront with me. They told me a lot of stuff. They weren’t trying to hide stuff. They’ve been like that ever since they got here, so I can really respect that, especially being an older veteran guy. So I knew what the plan was. I knew what direction they were going in with me and other things.

“The rehab process was hard. I started 170 straight games until this. It was the first time missing all of this time. It was very hard. I’m happy this is behind me.”