Safety Karl Joseph
The first week of the preseason is behind us, as the Oakland Raiders fell to the Arizona Cardinals 20-10 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. Sure, the Silver and Black would've preferred a different outcome, but the battle in the desert showed us a lot. Preseason is a time for evaluation and reflection, to tighten up loose screws, and really nail down any miscues.
A point of emphasis this offseason for the coaching staff was making sure the defense improved its communication, and while it's a work in progress, there were certain aspects of the game Saturday where they made some strides.
Following the first week of action, here are five players who impressed me in the preseason opener.
**Safety Karl Joseph
In 2016, Joseph was still rehabbing a torn ACL, which occurred while he was at West Virginia University, and he was in the process of still learning his new set of defensive schemes. His rookie season showed flashes of his potential as a hard-hitting dynamo, and quality playmaker in the Raiders secondary.
Saturday, No. 42 took the field briefly, forcing three tackles, one for loss, and delivered a wallop of a hit on Cardinals star running back David Johnson. Head Coach Jack Del Rio has said all camp that he believes Joseph will have a big year in his second season, due to the fact he came into camp healthy, and has a full year of experience under his belt.
Post-game, Joseph met with the media to recap how it felt to be back on the field, and how his performance was.
"Felt like I was a lot more confident," said Joseph. "What I was doing, the way I was moving, wasn't thinking about it, wasn't hesitating. It felt good to be out there, man, it's the first preseason game, but felt good to knock some of the dust off."
Joseph and Co., will be back at it again next week as the Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
Safety Shalom Luani
After Joseph called it a night, it became the former Washington State Cougars time to shine. From the moment Luani stepped on the field, it looked as if he was shot out of a cannon. Time and time again, the rookie was flying around the field trying to make plays.
One play that distinctly stood out was when a pass thrown by Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert was soaring through the air towards the end zone, and out of nowhere Luani leapt off his feet, and got his finger tips on the pigskin, nearly hauling in what would've been a highlight reel interception.
The American Samoa-native finished the outing tied as the Raiders second leading tackler alongside linebacker Marquel Lee (six), had a pass defensed, and also recovered a fumble. Luani showed from the moment he lined up in the secondary that he was going to leave it all on the field. I'm anxious to see what Luani does with his opportunities going forward.
Quarterback E.J. Manuel
In his first game donning the Silver and Black, Manuel rarely missed his marks as he completed 10 of his 12 passes for 107 yards, and had a rating of 103.8, also completing his first six passes without an incompletion. As any player who joins a new team will tell you, picking up the terminology and learning a new playbook is always a challenge, but fortunately for the newest signal-caller in the Raiders quarterback room he has the aid of a former coach to help him.
Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing was Manuel's quarterbacks coach in Buffalo, and their familiarity with one another seemed to help No. 3 look more comfortable in his first outing as a Raider. Throughout training camp, the former Florida State quarterback has built up quite the rapport with wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, and the two connected on two separate occasions Saturday.
Even though Manuel was unable to find pay dirt during his time under center, he appeared poised in the pocket, and spread the ball around nicely.
Linebacker LaTroy Lewis
Over his four seasons at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Lewis totaled four and a half sacks, but in his NFL debut, Lewis tacked on two sacks in one game alone.
Throughout his college career, Lewis was listed as a defensive lineman, but has spent a majority of his time on the Raiders at the linebacker position. Listed at 6'3", and 254 pounds, the 23 year old from Akron, Ohio, provides a solid presence in the middle of the field.
Lewis described his feelings before the game as "anxious," as opposed to being nervous. The excitement of wanting to hit someone other than his own teammates was the main thing he was looking forward to.
The former Volunteer believes he's put his best foot forward at camp, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more things to come from No. 46.
Defensive Tackle Treyvon Hester
When he's not suited up in pads, off the field Hester is a soft-spoken individual, who always seems to have a smile on his face; however, Saturday night he was all business.
Nearly identical to Lewis' stat line, Hester finished the game with four tackles, two for loss, and two sacks, making his presence felt in the middle of the defensive line. Throughout camp a lot of people have been drawn to the rookie, and feel as though he's building a strong case to be an integral piece on the defensive interior.
Coming out of the University of Toledo, the 24 year old went undetected on many people's radars, but was snatched up by the Silver and Black in the seventh-round of the draft. General Manager Reggie McKenzie walked away with the AP Executive of the Year award in 2016, and for good reason. It was only the first preseason game, but it seems like McKenzie might have found another diamond in the rough with Hester.