Twenty more days until the Oakland Raiders appear on primetime television.
On September 10th the Silver and Black will host the Los Angeles Rams at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for a showdown on Monday Night Football. It's approaching quickly, and while the coaching staff and players are focused on defeating this week's preseason opponent, the Green Bay Packers, the real goal is to come out of the game healthy.
Towards the end of training camp, the Raiders saw a handful of players experience minor injuries that kept them out of practice, one of them being safety Marcus Gilchrist; however, he's rejoined the team and is back participating in team activities.
"Feeling good," Gilchrist said Tuesday regarding his status. "Wasn't able to practice for a bit, but always mentally there. Taking mental notes, mental reps, so feeling good from that aspect."
The former Clemson Tiger was targeted by General Manager Reggie McKenzie and Head Coach Jon Gruden this offseason, and his decision to join the team in free agency provided the secondary with another veteran equipped with a wealth of information.
Over the span of seven seasons in the NFL, Gilchrist has started in 82 games, played in 107, and totaled 11 interceptions, 32 passes defensed, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, four sacks, and 447 combined tackles in that time frame. For a veteran of his caliber, Gilchrist understands the importance of getting reps in the preseason.
"It's tremendous value going out there and being able to play for an extended amount of time," he said when asked about this week's game against the Packers. "Really getting a feel for playing a long time, before you know it Week 1 is rolling around. Guys get to play together even more, so just not even in practice, just being able to play with a guy in the game format definitely does tremendous things for us."
Gilchrist might not get those extended reps this Friday, but he's surrounded by talented younger players who haven't seen and experienced all that he has. The Raiders' staff is still evaluating the position groups, but Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther is pleased with what his unit has shown through Organized Team Activities, Minicamp, and Training Camp.
"I've been really kind of concentrated on getting ready for this ball game, and really evaluating the guys we have at safety," Guenther said. "I like our safety group, I mean we've got a lot of different kind of abilities back there: guys who can cover, guys who can hit, and guys who can play the middle of the field. So I'm really focused on getting those guys better."
It took the Raiders defense 11 games to haul in its first interception of 2017, but through two preseason games in 2018 the team has already accomplished that, courtesy of linebacker James Cowser. From the defensive line to the safeties, McKenzie and Gruden have overhauled the defense, and the unit looks like it's making strides under Guenther's supervision. As the regular season approaches, and roster cuts start occurring, versatility, and staying healthy, will be the name of the game for players trying to make the roster.
The Raiders will take the field at 7:30 p.m. PDT this Friday against the Packers.
Monday, Gruden also provided an update on second-year safety Obi Melifonwu.
"No, I don't [know when he'll come back]. He's still being evaluated."
Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes still remains on the active/physically unable to perform list.