Linebacker Marquel Lee
Game day is upon us; and I couldn't be happier.
For what has felt like a painfully slow and long seven months, football is back, and the Oakland Raiders are ready to hit someone other than themselves.
Tonight, the Silver and Black will face off against the Arizona Cardinals in Glendale, Ariz., at University of Phoenix Stadium, in what should be an interesting game in terms of watching the rookies make their NFL debuts.
While a majority of the usual starters won't see the field much, or at all, evaluating the remaining players on the roster during the preseason is a crucial part of preparing for the regular season, and also an important time for players to show what they're made of.
Not only am I excited to see how some of the rookies handle the speed of the pro level, but I've got a couple other players on my radar as well.
Here are five guys I'm going to keep an eye on in tonight's matchup:
Wide Receiver K.J. Brent
Don't get me wrong, a lot of players on the team have had outstanding training camp performances this year, but Brent has put on a show time and time again in Napa, Calif. The 24 year old out of Wake Forest has the size and speed to be an NFL wide receiver, and throughout camp he's shown that he has the hands for it too.
Last year, Brent spent the entirety of the season on the practice squad, doing what was asked of him to help make the team better in any way he could. Now, he's taking it upon himself to show he can hang with the best of them, and I think tonight could be the perfect chance to do that.
Linebacker Marquel Lee
Another Wake Forest Demon Deacon, Lee has the build of your prototypical linebacker. He's 6'3", weighs 240 pounds, and put up 25 reps at 220 pounds on the bench press during the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine.
The Raiders selected him in the fifth-round (No. 168 overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft and he has been in the mix with the ones and twos on defense during camp. At the moment, there isn't a clear indication of who will be the team's starting middle linebacker come Week 1, Lee could use the next four games as an opportunity to get his foot in the door.
Defensive Tackle Eddie Vanderdoes
On the outside edge of the defensive line, the power-rushing combo of linebacker Bruce Irvin and reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack is a daunting task for any offensive line. While having a strong presence on the outside is good, you need one in the interior as well.
In the third-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Silver and Black selected former UCLA Bruin Eddie Vanderdoes to help provide some more pass rushing in the middle. Judging from an outside perspective, it seems as though Mack and Irvin have taken him under their wing throughout camp, and he's opened a lot of eyes on the field in the process. Mack and Irvin likely won't play this evening, but you could see flashes of their game in their new protégé.
Offensive Tackle Vadal Alexander
Let me start by saying that Alexander will be worth watching for weeks to come, and I'm not the only one who feels that way. Earlier this week, Raiders Pro Bowl left guard Kelechi Osemele sat down with Raiders.com and said Alexander was one of the guys he was keeping an eye on, due to his will to be great and improved performance over the last year.
The Raiders are strong across the board when it comes to offensive lineman, and Alexander could fill out the group with consistently strong performances, which he's proved he can have. Last season, he started in five games, and held up just fine. With a little coaching from Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice, and some advice from his Pro Bowl offensive linemen, Alexander could be a dominant force on the right side.
Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing
Obviously Downing isn't a player, but as the offensive coordinator he plays a crucial role in their success. The reason why he's on this list is because this will be his first season as an offensive coordinator, and I'm curious to see what he's got up his sleeve. With that said, expectations should be tempered merely because he's not about to give away his playbook in the preseason.
After serving as the quarterbacks coach for the team the past two years, Downing seems ready, and eager, to kick this high-powered offensive into drive. Again, as I said previously, he certainly won't give away a lot, but I'm excited to see his touch on the offense.