Raiders

Future in question, Raiders need hyphy Marshawn in final home game of 2017

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AP

Future in question, Raiders need hyphy Marshawn in final home game of 2017

OAKLAND – Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington were headed for the field when Marshawn Lynch held them back. The young Raiders running backs weren’t sure why their position group’s elder statesman would do so, especially before starters were announced to the Oakland Coliseum crowd.

Lynch wanted Richard and Washington to run out with him. Questions ran rapid fire through Richard’s mind: Are you sure you want company? This was, after all, the proud Oakland native’s homecoming game. Won’t that mess up your big moment in the sun? Is this even allowed?

Lynch wasn’t worried about any of that. Lynch rolled three deep into the Week 2 home opener against the New York Jets, flanked by young protégés he has advised all year. His big moment was theirs, too.

”That was my first time going through the tunnel,” Richard said. “The first time, I didn’t think they were going to let us do that. But Marshawn said it was fine, and brought us with him. It’s a different feeling running out the tunnel all three of us, through the smoke and onto the field. It lets you know you’re in the league.”

That was a true Marshawn moment. So was a tackle-breaking touchdown run during the game, and when the scoreboard broadcast him getting hyphy on the sideline. The entire stadium partied with him that day, his first regular-season game as a Raider at Oakland Coliseum.

Lynch has brought Washington and Richard with him each time he comes out of the tunnel, a moment when the hometown crowd praises their favorite son.

“You definitely feel the energy,” Washington said. “He’s a hometown guy. Marshawn wears this city on his back. There’s a roar when they announce his name. It’s been a fun experience throughout the year.”

Sunday night's clash with the Dallas Cowboys is the final home game this season, unless, of course, the AFC West completely and shockingly turns on its ear and the Raiders host a playoff game.

That fact begs this question: Will Sunday be the last time Marshawn plays in Oakland?

The answer remains uncertain, with several factors at play.

Lynch remains under contract next season, with a $4 million base salary and incentives and bonuses that could pay an additional $2 million. None of that money is guaranteed, so the Raiders could cut him without dead money attached.

Lynch could also retire like he did right after Super Bowl 50. He didn’t miss the game in a year away from it, and the enigmatic personality may decide one season in Oakland was enough. He came back to show kids in the community he champions firsthand that someone from their neighborhood could bring attention to Oakland before the Raiders leave. Will an encore season further that goal?

The Raiders signed Lynch for two reasons: to boost their backfield and offer an olive branch to Oakland after being approved to relocate to Las Vegas. The Raiders won’t move until 2020, and having Oakland’s most popular person in Silver and Black helps keep butts in the seats.

He has practiced all year save a few rest days and has been a quality locker room presence, though he rubbed some the wrong way getting ejected and then suspended for defending good friend and rival Kansas City Chief Marcus Peters in an on-field scuffle. Coach Jack Del Rio said he practiced and played with extra zest after serving a one-game suspension. Stats bear that out.

His production lulled before midseason – he struggled to meld with the Raiders scheme and offensive line – but has picked up that pace significantly in the second half.

Lynch had 100-plus yards from scrimmage in two home games preceding last week’s loss in Kansas City, where he had 64 yards on eight touches.

He has averaged 4.2 yards per carry, and his 2.68 yards per carry after contact ranks sixth in the league. Lynch still has it at age 31, and might hit the ground running next season behind a familiar line.

That’s then. The Raiders still need him now, against a No. 11-ranked Cowboys run defense. Local fans would love to see him succeed in person one more time this year, which might mark the end or the halfway point of his tenure playing for the Raiders in Oakland Coliseum.

Raiders rally back, but fall short in preseason loss to Rams

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USATSI

Raiders rally back, but fall short in preseason loss to Rams

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES – The Raiders hadn’t played in Los Angles Memorial Coliseum since they returned to Oakland after the 1994 season. A loyal, passionate part of Raider Nation showed up for their team’s grand return, painting the stadium silver and black.

They didn’t get much of a show. Most understudies struggled mightily, producing a stinker even by the preseason’s incredibly low standards.

Head coach Jon Gruden sat 15 offensive players, including every member of the first unit. He sat six healthy defenders. That’s 21 impact athletes glued to the sideline.

Gruden was right to do so.

There’s no point giving firsthand looks to a team the Raiders play in Week 1. Gruden was flummoxed by the Rams scheduling, with a Monday Night Football game against them just three weeks after Saturday’s preseason game.

A 19-15 loss to the Los Angeles Rams didn’t say much about the Raiders as a whole. Too many headliners out for that.

Gruden used this time to evaluate players down the depth chart fighting for roster spots. Backups got long looks they won’t receive next week against Green Bay, when starters are expected to play a half, maybe into the third quarter.

Chris Warren III capitalized on extensive snaps. The former Texas running back likely cemented his roster spot after another productive day, with 110 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He’s a tough runner that Gruden likes, and could develop into a productive option in 2018 and years after that.

He could be the only undrafted rookie save kicker Eddy Pineiro to make the squad.

The Raiders starting secondary played early on, with Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin working at outside cornerback with safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph.

That group looked good, with Melvin especially strong in coverage. Conley was fine in his first game in almost a year, and will surely knock off rust as the preseason progresses.

Connor Cook and EJ Manuel rotated into the game throughout, though neither passer played particularly well. Cook started the game, struggled in the first half and was 6-for-12 passing for 49 yards and a wonky lost fumble that sure looked like an incomplete pass.

EJ Manuel wasn’t much better. He was 10-for-16 passing for 89 yards and lost a fumble trying to scramble for yards. He threw a late touchdown to Griff Whalen that kept the score close.

The crowd erupted then and at several moments, seemingly set on getting their money’s worth. Most stayed to the end, and enjoyed late-game drama when the score got close.

That will happen when a team returns after more than 20 years.

Four Raiders players to watch in Saturday's preseason game vs. Rams

Four Raiders players to watch in Saturday's preseason game vs. Rams

LOS ANGELES -- The Raiders will face the Rams on Saturday in their second preseason game, and then again roughly three weeks later when it really counts.

Raiders coach Jon Gruden isn’t thrilled about it.

“I don’t understand it, honestly,” he said. “I really don’t.”

Exhibition No. 2 typically is an event where starters work deeper into the action, nearing closer to halftime. It’s a time to refine some and get in some good work.

That might not happen in the Silver and Black’s return to L.A. Coliseum. Even if action for the regulars increases over last week’s preseason game, coaches will provide a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

“It’s a preseason game, and we have a lot of really tough evaluations to get through before we start thinking about what play we’re going to call,” Gruden said. “We’re going to really continue to use this as an evaluation, period. You’re going to see a lot of players playing a long period of time that are going to get a chance to show us they belong here. That’s how we’re looking at this game.”

We won’t see regulars for long, but two important debuts are in the cards. Another pair is looking to impress. Here are four players to watch against the Rams.

CB Gareon Conley

Conley was supposed to miss four weeks with a hip injury he suffered during training camp’s first full-squad practice. That might’ve cost him the entire preseason. Conley and the Raiders were thrilled he made it back in two weeks.

Conley expects to play Saturday for the first time in nearly a year, after missing the last 13 games in 2017 with a shin injury that required surgery. He might not stick around long, but he could support the praise heaped upon his potential, athleticism and ball skills.

Showing well this preseason would inspire confidence that he can become a top-flight cornerback.

Conley, for his part, isn’t stressing over another injury issue.

“If you think about it, it’s going to happen. You have to put it out of your mind,” Conley said. “If you don’t, it becomes more mental than physical. Once you think about it, you get hurt again. You can keep going down and down. You’ve got to stay (positive).”

DE Arden Key

The former LSU edge rusher missed last week’s preseason game with a bum ankle, but he's set to make his professional debut in L.A. He should get some solid snaps in this one, and many are anxious to see if he can translate excellent practice work into games.

He has a wide variety of pass-rush moves -- he’d be wise to keep some in the arsenal -- and tremendous agility working against offensive tackles. He’s long with unreal bend, and many within the organization are expecting him to make an immediate impact.

QB EJ Manuel

Connor Cook was the first quarterback off the bench in last week’s preseason game against Detroit, and the Michigan State alum took full advantage. A solid performance didn’t earn Cook the right to back up Derek Carr. Gruden insists that job remains competitive, and that Manuel would get more work against the Rams.

Manuel must capitalize on it to get back in a race he might be losing at this stage. He has worked mostly with the third team in recent practices, and has had an issue with fumbled snaps. Cook had an uneven week of practice, so the window’s still cracked for Manuel to earn the No. 2 job he had last year.

WR Griff Whalen

The Stanford product got more run than anyone expected against the Lions. The slot receiver played 14 snaps of offense with the first and second units, and had a chance to return punts and kickoffs. His work came before Ryan Switzer, who had been the primary slot guy in practice.

That order changed during this practice week, when Whalen continued to work with top units.

“Whalen has stepped up,” Gruden said. “He earned that right. He’s doing some great things.”

He has to keep doing them, because a roster spot is not guaranteed. He was believed to be on the outside looking in prior to the Lions game, and he must prove on offense and special teams in these preseason games to earn a job in a competitive position group.