And we're back!
After the long offseason, the Oakland Raiders officially get back on the field tonight at University of Phoenix Stadium to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 of the preseason.
With the Silver and Black set to return to the gridiron, you understandably had some burning questions. Well, now, we have answers.
Here is this week's edition of the Raiders.com Mailbag.
**From Brian D: How much will Derek Carr play against the Cardinals?
EP:Brian, you've asked the million-dollar question; well, at least the question that everyone wants an answer to. As far as how much action Carr, and the rest of the Raiders marquee players see against the Cardinals, we'll have to wait until tonight to find out, as Head Coach Jack Del Rio has been purposely vague regarding his plans. But even if they do strap on the pads, don't expect to see Carr and Co., for more than a series or two at the most. The harsh reality of the NFL is that players get hurt, and the risk simply doesn't outweigh the reward to have your top guys play for very long in the first game of the preseason. Now, any time that Carr may or may not see on the field is in no way any indication of where he is health wise. "DC" was a full participant in the Offseason Workout Program, and hasn't missed a beat in training camp, so if for some reason he doesn't play tonight, it's simply precautionary. Long story short, as much as we'd like to see Carr, Khalil Mack, and the rest of the Raiders starters get a lot of run tonight, that most likely isn't in the cards.
From Melissa W: Which rookies are you excited to see get a lot of playing time tonight? Go RAIDERS!
EP:Melissa, I'll give you two, one on each side of the football. Offensively, I'm excited to see what Elijah Hood can bring to the table. It's hard to get an accurate gauge on running backs without seeing them in live action, but I've been intrigued so far by what the former North Carolina Tar Heel has shown during camp. I know this is high praise, and it's way too early to make any type of meaningful comparisons, but physically,* *Hood looks like a younger version of Marshawn Lynch, which makes sense, since he listed Beast Mode as one of his football influences. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot of Elijah Hood over the next couple of weeks, so I'm excited to see what he does with the opportunity. Defensively, I think all eyes will be on rookie linebacker Marquel Lee. Lee was listed as the starting middle linebacker on the first depth chart of the preseason, and while that situation is unquestionably fluid, Lee figures to see a lot of action tonight at University of Phoenix Stadium. Lee's development throughout the season – not just the next four weeks – will be a major storyline to watch unfold, and the first chapter begins tonight.
From Lenny K: Do you think our secondary will be improved from last season? There are a lot of good receivers in the AFC West, and we need to be able to guard them.
EP:Yes, I do think the secondary will be a better unit top to bottom than it was just a year ago. I'll say this, in watching the group work for the better part of three weeks at training camp, it's become clear that the players in the secondary are getting more and more comfortable with each other each day. It's no secret that comfort typically breeds good things on the football field, and I'm looking forward to seeing the cornerbacks and safeties get to work in a live game situation. As far as the cornerbacks are concerned, TJ Carrie has had a stellar training camp thus far, raising more than a few eyebrows in the process. The versatile defensive back has been a fixture on the Raiders defense since 2014, but he's really come out of the gates strong over the past month. Karl Joseph now also has a year of experience under his belt, and likely more importantly, he's healthy headed into the 2017. Also, the addition of Assistant Head Coach – Defense John Pagano is hard to overstate; so to get back to your original question, yes, I think the Raiders secondary will be an improved group in 2017.
From Dave G: Has any player surprised you so far in training camp?
EP:Life is full of surprises, Dave, and as far as the 2017 Raiders are concerned, one big, surprise has been the play of K.J. Brent. The rangy wide receiver spent the entirety of his rookie season on the practice squad, but through the first few weeks of training camp, Brent has looked like far more than a practice player. With Amari Cooper missing a few days of practice here and there, Brent has made the most of his opportunity, and it seems like each day he has made one play or another that catches my eye. As talented as the Raiders wide receivers group is, there are certainly jobs to win a little lower on the depth chart, so I'll be keeping a close eye on big No. 80 over the course of the next four games. James Cowser told me the other day that for a lot of players, their performances throughout the preseason either make or break their bid to make the final roster, and I feel like that statement might be true for Brent. Brent is a big, strong receiver, and I'll be interested to see how Offensive Coordinator Todd Downing utilizes that size, particularly in the red zone.
From Andrew D: What does Ishmael Zamora need to do to make the team?
EP:Well, first of all, he's going to have perform well over the next month. The Silver and Black certainly don't suffer from a lack of talented wideouts; not only do they boast one of the best tandems in the NFL with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, but as we discussed earlier, top to bottom they have a very strong group. That being said, there are certainly jobs to be won, likely to be the fifth, and maybe even sixth, wide receiver. Zamora found the end zone eight times as a Baylor Bear in 2016, and making reservations for six a few times throughout the preseason would be a step in the right direction for him.
From Bo P: If Derek Carr doesn't play a lot, which quarterback will play most of the game?
EP:After Derek Carr's evening ends – which I anticipate being on the early side – I'd expect that we'll see EJ Manuel get the first chance to run the Raiders offense. The veteran signal-caller is technically listed as the second quarterback on the depth chart, but he's going to have to put some good plays on tape to keep it that way. Head Coach Del Rio has made a point to say that the battle to be Carr's backup is a fluid one, and watching Manuel and Connor Cook go toe-to-toe this preseason is something I'm really looking forward to seeing. To get back to your question though, after Carr departs for the evening, I'm thinking we'll see a pretty even split in playing time from Manuel and Cook.