Top 10 Raiders to watch in preseason game against Cowboys
Starters will get a longer look
DALLAS – Raiders starters will play more Saturday night than at any point this preseason. The third exhibition is generally reserved for top talents, acting as a dress rehearsal for the regular season. That’s how head coach Jack Del Rio will treat the upcoming contest at Dallas, despite the fact he plays the Cowboys later this year. It’s time to get the regulars in sync before backing off in order to get healthy for the regular-season opener. Some starting jobs remain open, and snap allocation and play at AT&T Stadium will help solidify those roles. Here are 10 key Raiders to watch against the Cowboys.
10. QB Connor Cook
The backup quarterback job remains open after the second-year pro outshined veteran EJ Manuel last week against the Rams. Cook wasn’t perfect, but made some nice throws, including a touchdown strike to Johnny Holton. He might not see much time, but his performance and his snap count will be vital in his quest to jump over Manuel after falling behind in training camp. Cook is more of a gamer than a practice player. This offers a real chance to make his mark heading into the preseason’s final week.
9. LB Nicholas Morrow
The undrafted rookie has a chance to be a great success story if he can prove reliable and make the 53-man roster. He comes from Greenville College, a Division III school in North Carolina without much pedigree. He played a hybrid safety/linebacker role, which makes him uniquely suited for a similar position in Raiders sub packages. He has flashed in practice and last week’s game, earning some work with the starting unit. That might not continue with Obi Melifonwu healthy again, but Morrow will have opportunities to make an impact. He must continue doing so to make the 53-man roster. Right now, that remains uncertain.
8. LB Tyrell Adams
Adams was a first-team inside linebacker during the offseason program, but lost that spot to Marquel Lee at the start of camp. He’s been stuck on the second unit ever since, and stayed there last week even after Lee was pulled following the first series. He is a solid special teams contributor and could provide injury protection on the 53-man roster, but Adams wants more. Dynamic production could put him back under consideration for a starting spot as the preseason winds downs.
7. LB Jelani Jenkins
Jenkins has more experience than any other Raiders inside linebacker, with 34 starts to his credit. That didn’t earn first-unit work until the Rams game, when he stepped in after Marquel Lee was removed after one series. The Raiders’ only defensive free-agent signing played well in his spot, with two key tackles for loss. Experience remains his biggest asset as he pushes for a starting job next to Cory James. How many first-team snaps will he get? How will he fare against a potent Dallas attack? This is a pivotal moment in his quest for playing time.
6. LB Marquel Lee
The rookie fifth-round pick started training camp atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. That spot’s less stable after two seemingly shaky preseason games, where his inexperience has showed. It’s difficult for a rookie to step in and play middle linebacker, and Lee’s been learning on the fly. Will he be ready to play in the base defense – he has consistently been removed in sub packages – when the regular season starts? Saturday will provide a progress report. How much he plays will indicate where he stands on the depth chart. If Lee’s learning curve hasn’t improved and backups remain unsatisfactory, the Raiders could well look outside the roster for help inside.
5. RT Marshall Newhouse
Donald Penn is back with the Raiders. The Pro Bowl left tackle will play a few snaps on Saturday, which will allow Newhouse to play on the right side in a game for the first time. He was glued to the left while Penn held out looking for a new contract and played well on that side, but he was signed in free agency to play right tackle. He’s always been the frontrunner there, even with Vadal Alexander playing well throughout training camp. Newhouse playing on right tackle with Penn back will give fans the first glimpse of the regular-season’s starting offensive line.
4. DL Jihad Ward
Last year’s second-round pick missed training camp recovering from foot surgery, and was taken off the physically unable to perform list on Monday. He has three practices and two walk-throughs under his belt, enough work to see limited action against the Cowboys. Ward is an athletic interior lineman who should work into a rotation behind Eddie Vanderdoes and Mario Edwards Jr., but can certainly earn more work during the season by showing well after a rocky rookie year.
3. CB Sean Smith
Eyes have been on Smith all summer after he lost grip on a starting spot, worked different positions in the secondary and was charged with felony assault and battery a few weeks back. Smith hasn’t spoken to the press, so it’s uncertain whether his legal woes have impacted his play. TJ Carrie struggled last week versus the Rams, leaving the door open for Smith to reclaim his old job. AT&T Stadium is an important proving ground, especially with first-round cornerback Gareon Conley still on the shelf.
2. LT Donald Penn
The 34-year old blindside protector returned Wednesday from a contract holdout, leaving plenty of time to get ready for the regular season. Penn will see some snaps against Dallas, giving him game action to re-acclimate with his linemates. Don’t expect to see much rust on Penn. He’s in great physical shape, and knows well how to play his position. Keep an eye on him and how the line fares with the starting five properly assembled.
1. S Obi Melifonwu
Melifonwu hasn’t practiced much this summer. He got hurt early in camp, suffering an undisclosed injury that kept him sidelined or extremely limited. His activity has increased recently, giving him enough prep time to make his Raiders debut. Head coach Jack Del Rio is looking forward to it. Fans and teammates feel the same. The Raiders don’t need him to start at safety – Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph have that responsibility -- but have carved out an important role in sub packages. He’ll play a hybrid linebacker in dime packages, chiefly responsible for covering tight ends and running backs on passing downs. Playing so close to the line of scrimmage is new for Melifonwu. We’ll catch a glimpse of how he’s adjust against the Cowboys.