Heading into a season engulfed in doubt, the Oakland Raiders have numerous questions they must answer before anyone takes them and their league-worst roster seriously.
The first step in earning themselves a bit of respect is showing during preseason action that they can compete with the rest of the NFL, even if their second and third teams will be on the field for the majority of the time.
Still, the point of the preseason is to give teams the opportunity to work out the kinks. The Raiders have plenty of them, but can rehab their image as an NFL laughing stock by putting up a fight each and every week. So here’s what to watch for during the Raiders’ four preseason bouts.
The first thing to watch is the competition at quarterback, which appears to be all but over after a strong showing from Matt Flynn solidified him as the starter. The rest of the depth chart, though, is still a question mark. While Terrelle Pryor has shown marked improvement, real game play will give us a better idea of how his progress is coming along. We’ll also get a chance to see where rookies Tyler Wilson and Matt McGloin are, especially after the Raiders dropped Wilson, a 2013 fourth-rounder, to fourth on the depth chart.
We won’t see much of the injury-prone Darren McFadden during the preseason, so the focus will instead be on figuring out who will be his backups. Rashad Jennings was signed during the offseason to provide experienced backup, but could fall to Latavius Murray if the rookie ever gets healthy enough to see the field. Jeremy Stewart and Deonte Williams will also be vying for a spot on the roster.
The wide receiver position also offers some intrigue, especially on the backend of the depth chart. Several youngsters – Andre Holmes, Sam McGuffie, Conner Vernon, Brice Butler – will be fighting for a roster spot. Meanwhile, pass-catchers such as Juron Criner and Josh Cribbs will battle for positioning on the depth chart behind the Raiders’ top two receivers.
One big question mark exists at the tight end spot, where there is currently an ongoing four-way battle for the starting gig. Although David Ausberry is penciled in as the starter, three other players could push their way into the top spot with a strong preseason showing. Keep an eye on Richard Gordon, Nick Kasa and Mychal Rivera throughout the next month of action.
The Raiders struggled to make any significant improvements to their offensive line this offseason, adding only second-rounder Menelik Watson to the mix. The rookie was just activated off the PUP list, and might not see significant action until later in the preseason, which could open a door for Khalif Barnes or Alex Barron. The other position to watch is left guard, a battle that will come down to Lucas Nix and Tony Bergstrom. Both are unproven talents and will need to impress during the preseason to earn the top spot on the depth chart.
Lamarr Houston made the move to right end and will be the leader of the rebuild defensive line group. The other end spot should be manned by Jason Hunter, but could lose his job if someone like Andre Carter or Jack Crawford put together a strong preseason showing. While Vance Walker will hold down one defensive spot, the other one could be up for grabs if Pat Sims can’t get back on the field. Look for rookie Stacy McGee or sophomore Christo Bilukidi to push for the other starting spot.
Oakland appears fairly set at linebacker, with Kevin Burnett, Nick Roach and rookie Sio Moore primed to start when the regular season rolls around. Kaluka Maiava was expected to push for a starting gig, but off-field issues could force him out of the picture. The Raiders will also be looking for youngsters Miles Burris and Kaelin Burnett to prove their worth during the preseason.
The Raiders’ strongest defensive group should be the secondary, where three cornerbacks and both safeties appear to be locked into their roles. Seeing where first-round cornerback D.J. Hayden is in his recovery will be big, especially since he has yet to be cleared for contact and might miss a significant part of the preseason. Expect veteran cornerbacks Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter to battle hard for the other starting job – or both if Hayden isn’t cleared in time. With Charles Woodson back in Oakland, it’ll be exciting to see how big of an impact the aging veteran will have for the Raiders.
The other battle worth watching is at punter, where veteran Chris Kluwe and intriguing project Marquette King will face off for the starting job.
Preseason Week 1: August 9 vs. Dallas Cowboys
Preseason Week 2: August 16 at New Orleans Saints
Preseason Week 3: August23 vs. Chicago Bears
Preseason Week 4: August 29 at Seattle Seahawks
The Raiders face an intriguing preseason schedule that should give them a solid test of just how much (or how little) they’ve improved since last season. All four teams could be considered contenders in 2013, so a couple wins – even during the preseason – might give the Raiders the confidence they need heading into the regular season to start an upward trend.