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.