SEATTLE – Most Raiders roster spots have been decided already, before Thursday’s exhibition finale against the Seahawks kicks off.
There’s a mountain of practice tape and game film to evaluate an 89-man roster that must get slashed by nearly half on Saturday afternoon. Performance in a game that will feature precious few contributors on either side will tip the scales.
Athletes will still be playing to realize a dream, however faint it might be. There will be some spots to keep an eye on. Here are four players or positions to follow as the preseason schedule comes to a close.
QBs EJ Manuel and Connor Cook
Derek Carr obviously isn’t playing this game, so backup quarterbacks who have underwhelmed this preseason will have one last chance to finish on a high note. It’s hard to say who has the edge here, though Cook has always been the first reserve in the game and Manuel has struggled with turnovers, a cardinal sin in Jon Gruden’s book.
The Raiders head coach said last week it’s possible Carr’s backup isn’t on the roster. Gruden should monitor the quarterback market both in free agency and trade. If Cook and Manuel struggle again Thursday against a significantly decreased level of competition, that’s a sign the Raiders might have little choice but to do something unwelcome and bring a new passer and teach him Gruden’s system on the fly.
WR Seth Roberts
Roberts played a ton last week against Green Bay, and Gruden said he might get Roberts in this game as well. After all, Roberts missed the first two exhibitions. Whether that’s to increase trade value or evaluate a slot receiver who isn’t entirely out of the mix remains unknown.
The slot has undergone some upheaval in recent days, with Ryan Switzer traded and Griff Whalen headed to injured reserve.
Roberts has been the Raiders’ primary slot receiver the past two seasons, and could get a longer look there if Gruden wants experience working inside. Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson can fill that role as well – tight end Jared Cook can play there – but Roberts isn’t all the way off the roster yet. He hasn’t played special teams and that doesn’t bode well, but he’s an excellent run blocker and has made some clutch catches (and drops) in his day.
DEs Fadol Brown, Shilique Calhoun, Frostee Rucker
Each member of this trio could make a case for a roster spot. Brown has proven the most explosive on defense. Calhoun has shown great improvement rushing off the edge, and can play on every special teams unit. Rucker could bring experience to a young position group.
All three making it is a pipe dream, even if Khalil Mack stays away beyond Saturday as expected. Two guys could hit the highway despite some deserving play. It will be interesting to see which guys play in this game, and how much they do.
Kicker Mike Nugent
The 36-year old was signed to help rookie Eddy Piñeiro get through his first preseason, and provide advice from 13 NFL seasons. Gruden said a kicking competition existed after Giorgio Tavecchio got cut, but it wasn’t truly open. The Raiders love Piñeiro’s accuracy, power and makeup.
A groin injury has thrown a wrench in the original plan. Piñeiro has been out since the last week of training camp, and Gruden hasn’t given an exact recovery timetable.
The head coach considered it possible Nugent could be the Raiders kicker in Week 1. Competition doesn’t matter in Nugent’s position. It’s all about accuracy and power. He has converted 3-of-4 field goal attempts, though his touchback rate is low. The Raiders can live with that if Nugent inspires confidence with accuracy on Thursday, showing he’s able to kick to start the Raiders season.