John Lund is the co-host of The Wheelhouse and the Raiders Opening Drive on the Raiders flagship radio station, 95.7 The Game. Each week this season, John will offer his insight on what's happing with the Silver and Black.
On the Bubble
You think it's the worst of the preseason games, the fourth preseason game. "Let's get this thing over with and get the regular season going," I hear you groan. "Just don't get anybody hurt," you grumble.
For Raiders rookie seventh-round defensive end David Bass, young veteran tight end Jeron Mastrud, who is on his 4th NFL team in four seasons, or eight-year veteran punter Chris Kluwe, this game could be the difference between making it in the National Football League or making plans for another career. Imagine working your entire life for one shot, on one night, in one game, on one play. If you're in sales and blow the big presentation one day, you live to sell again the next day. Not always in the NFL. Lay out and make a finger-tip grab, you make a roster. Miss a scrambling quarterback by those same finger tips, while he skates away down the sidelines for a touchdown? You're selling life insurance on Monday for your uncle Ed in Des Moines.
Raiders second-year wide receiver Rod Streater came into camp in 2012 as an undrafted free agent from Temple. His senior year for the Owls in a run-heavy offense he caught an underwhelming 19 passes. The Raiders had four receivers who would assuredly make the roster: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, and Juron Criner, the team would keep five on the final roster. The team had 11 wide receivers in training camp at the start in Napa. Jacoby Ford injured his foot in the preseason and would miss the year. Veteran Derek Hagan was added before the season opener. It meant there was one position available in the wide receiver corps and Streater literally grabbed it, snatching 18 passes for 165 yards in the preseason. He started the regular season opener at home against the Chargers and finished the year with 39 catches for 584 yards and three touchdowns. He's on solid ground and has a bright future with the Silver and Black.
"It's a crazy feeling,'' Streater said. ''I thought football was over for me. I was just looking at getting a job. Then you come here and the game's on your hands. It's a lot of pressure and then it's not. It's what you prepare for. It's what you want to do as a kid growing up. It's a good feeling.''
One of the greatest Raiders of all-time, Hall of Famer Willie Brown, entered pro football as an undrafted free agent and Oakland's lone 2012 Pro Bowler, fullback Marcel Reece, climbed the NFL hill the same way.
John Middlekauff, a former NFL scout who joins my show "The Wheelhouse" weekly in the Bay Area on the Raiders flagship radio station 95.7 The Game, told me while it is unlikely a player can go from long shot to a roster spot in one game, he can get himself noticed enough to stick on the practice squad. He can be the first guy up in case there is an injury or get a chance to show a coaching staff more in practice during the season.
"What if a guy goes down?" Middlekauff said. "There are one or two spots available right now (on an eight-man practice squad), and you're one play away from being added to the 53-man roster."
You may think the fourth preseason game is meaningless, but for guys on the NFL bubble, this final contest before the regular season could be the difference between NFL life and death.
*FIVE POSITION BATTLES TO WATCH: *
- QUARTERBACK: Right now the Raiders signal callers are playing musical chairs for three spots The starter has yet to be determined as has the final QB spot on the roster. Terrelle Pryor completed 7 or 9 passes for 93 yards and one touchdown and rushed four times for 37 yards, including a score against the Bears last time out. The performance earned Pryor his first preseason start in Seattle. Matt Flynn will not play due to tendonitis in his throwing arm. Rookie free agent Matt McGloin has been the number three quarterback through camp. Fellow rookie Tyler Wilson was a fourth round pick with a big arm and a big pedigree from Arkansas. I think one rookie will make the team, one could be on the practice squad, on another team or out of the league.
- OFFENSIVE LINE: The line has been set back by injuries in camp but is starting to get healthier. Rookie second round pick Menelik Watson will start at left tackle after spending his career at right tackle in college. Seattle is loud and the crowd known as the "12th man" counts false start penalties like fans count K's at baseball games. If Watson holds up well, he could be in the mix to start in the regular season. There are also position battles at guard and for depth.
- TIGHT END: Each of the Raiders six tight ends has shown flashes in camp and in preseason games. Jeron Mastrud started vs. the Bears and might be the Raiders best blocker at the position. Richard Gordon has appeared in 27 games the last two seasons for the Raiders and is considered a solid blocker, rookie 6th-rounder Mychal Rivera has played the most snaps at the position in the preseason and fellow rookie 6th-round pick Nick Kasa caught a seam route for a touchdown versus the Bears from Terrelle Pryor. Rookie free agent Brian Leonhardt is also in the mix. I believe the Raiders will keep three.
- PUNTER: Chris Kluwe the veteran or Marquette King the young guy with the bazooka leg? Not only is it important the Raiders keep up the tradition of distinguished punters like Ray Guy and Shane Lechler, but don't forget whoever wins the job holds for kicker Sebastian Janikowski. "That will have something to do with the decision we make." Head Coach Dennis Allen said this week.
- PASS RUSHERS: Whoever can heat up the quarterback can not only make this team, but get some playing time once they secure a spot. The Raiders have three quarterback sacks in three preseason games. Last season the team had 29 sacks in the regular season. Second-year defensive end Jack Crawford (one sack and a fumble recovery in preseason), rookie seventh rounder David Bass (one strip-sack in preseason), and free agent defensive end Ryan Robinson (scoop and score touchdown in the second preseason game versus Saints), could greatly increase their chances of Raiders employment with a sack or two in Seattle.