Raiders.com Mailbag: Talking Obi Melifonwu And The Return Of Donald Penn

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We're officially halfway through the 2017 preseason.

On September 10, the Oakland Raiders officially kick off the 2017 campaign at Nissan Stadium, as the Silver and Black throw down against Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans.

However, let's not look *too *far down the road, and instead focus on the team's next opponent – the Dallas Cowboys.

Head Coach Jack Del Rio's team is in the Lone Star State ahead of tonight's game, and with a plethora of storylines to keep an eye on, here's another edition of the Raiders.com Mailbag.

From Willy S: Will Donald Penn play against the Cowboys?

EP:After returning to the team's Alameda, Calif., facility Wednesday afternoon, No. 72 was quickly reinstated to the active roster, practicing both Wednesday and Thursday in advance of tonight's preseason game. The veteran tackle missed all of Training Camp 2017, and with just over two weeks until the opening of the regular season, it stands to reason that Penn would get some run tonight against the Cowboys. Now entering his 11th NFL season, Penn likely doesn't need a ton of time/live reps to get back in the swing of things, but I would assume that Del Rio and his staff would like to give the veteran lineman a little bit of action prior to Week 1. The other thing to watch with Penn's return is how it effects the rest of the line. The thought is that Marshall Newhouse – who has been working on the left in Penn's stead – will flip over to the right side, giving Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice a little added flexibility with his group. Make no mistake about it, the Raiders line is better with Penn in the mix, so keep an eye on him to see how much action he gets tonight.

From Darcus P: Is this the week we finally see Obi Melifonwu?

EP:It sure sounds like it. The versatile safety practiced all week, and Head Coach Jack Del Rio said during his Thursday afternoon press conference that he's looking forward to seeing Melifonwu hit the field Saturday night. If we do indeed see No. 20 this evening, his addition will add another dimension to the Raiders defense, the secondary in particular. It's no secret that in recent history, the Silver and Black have had their issues shutting down the opposing tight end, and the hope is that with Melifonwu in the mix, that problem will be remedied in 2017.  Look, the addition of the athletic safety back into the mix defensively won't make or break Ken Norton, Jr.'s group – I don't think you'll find many people who would argue otherwise – but having another quality player who can take away an offensive threat is always a good thing. Melifonwu, along with rookie cornerback Gareon Conley, are just the newest pieces to the swelling youth movement in the Raiders secondary, and I'm looking forward to seeing the former UConn Husky finally hit somebody. Also, over the past few months, we've heard so much about how freakishly athletic Melifonwu is, and I don't know about you, but I want to see that athleticism on full parade. Well, I at least want to see a sneak peak of what we can expect to see over the next few months.

**From Chief W: With Donald Penn back, what does that mean for Vadal Alexander? I think he's played well this preseason.

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EP:You're right, he has played well throughout training camp and the first two weeks of the preseason, operating primarily at right tackle. Now, we won't know for certain – and I wouldn't read too much into what we see tonight as far as personnel goes – how the starting offensive line will look come Week 1 for a few weeks, but one would assume that if Penn indeed returns to left tackle, Newhouse will return to the right, and battle it out with Alexander for the starting role. If that's actually how it goes down, that right tackle battle now becomes increasingly interesting; like I said above, Alexander has been strong throughout the preseason, but so has Newhouse protecting the quarterback's blind side. With six years of NFL experience under his belt, Newhouse is a tried and true NFL pro, but don't sleep on Alexander either. The former LSU Tiger appeared in nine games, making five starts last season, and at 6'5" and 326 pounds, he no doubt boasts prototypical NFL size. To make a long story short, and get back to your question, regardless of what happens on the left side, I still anticipate seeing Alexander battle it out to see significant time at right tackle. And let's not forget, even if he isn't anointed the starter, depth is the name of the game in the NFL.

From Drew B: Are you worried that we'll lose an advantage against the Cowboys since we play them again in the regular season.

EP: Drew, I get the concern, I really do, but don't worry my friend, Head Coach Del Rio won't be showing the Cowboys anything on either side of the football that he thinks will put his team at a disadvantage Week 15 when the two teams square up at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Think of it this way too; Jason Garrett and his staff are in the exact same position as Del Rio and his are, they won't want to show their hand at all either. The end result of this schedu

ling oddity is that I'm assuming both teams will keep their schemes pretty vanilla, and not get too creative as far as play calling is concerned. The third preseason acts in many senses as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, but at the end of the day, the score doesn't matter. That won't be the case December 17, so I think that both coaching staffs will have that date circled as just a little more important than tonight.

From Nicholas V: How long will Derek Carr play?

EP:Head Coach Del Rio was purposefully vague on exactly how much Carr and the starters would play tonight, but the expectation is that they'll make it into the second quarter at the very least. Del Rio said that the starters will indeed get their reps, so my guess is that he has a ballpark idea of how long he'd like to see each player on the field, and when that number is met, their night will end.  To be honest, at this point in his career, there's really no reason to run Carr out there for more time than you have to in the preseason either. The big date for "DC" and the rest of the starters is September 10, not tonight.

From J. Silva: How many skittles does #BeastMode eat this season?

EP:Well, I don't have the answer to that right now….Looks like you're just going to have to watch a lot of Raiders football this season to find out.

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