I think we can all agree that we're ready for the regular season to start, and after tonight's game against the Seattle Seahawks the Oakland Raiders will begin their preparation for their Week 1 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. The Silver and Black are just a few hours away from kickoff at CenturyLink Field, and even though the starters won't see any action, there are plenty of players still fighting for roster spots.
The competition between Connor Cook and EJ Manuel for the backup QB spot is still undecided, but we'll see if one of them can separate themselves tonight in the preseason finale. Before the game gets underway, here are three things you should keep an eye on.
Who will serve as the primary returner?
Earlier this week the Raiders traded wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Pittsburgh Steelers ,and released fellow wide out Griff Whalen from the Reserved/Injured list via injury settlement. Both Switzer and Whalen had been rotating as the Raiders punt and kick returners, but now with both gone it begs the question; who will be the team's primary returner in 2018?
Well, currently wide receiver Dwayne Harris is listed as the top kick and punt returner on the depth chart, but I'm sure Head Coach Jon Gruden and Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia will test someone else back deep against the Seahawks. Here's a mind-blowing stat for you, the Raiders haven't had a kick return touchdown since 2010 — the team is due for one at this point — we'll see if the team can break the cold streak this season.
The Backup Quarterback Battle
In Week 1 of the preseason Connor Cook looked like a dynamo on the field, throwing for 141 yards and one touchdown. Since his impressive performance against the Detroit Lions though, both he and EJ Manuel haven't been able to get much of anything going offensively. Last week against the Green Bay Packers, Cook and Manuel were a combined 14 of 27 for just 159 yards.
When asked about the play at backup quarterback following the game Friday, Gruden said the offense as a whole needed to play better, and that it didn't fall completely on the shoulders of Cook and Manuel. It's clear he wants to see more from his signal-callers, but mainly the offense altogether. We'll see who can piece a full performance together Thursday night.
The 2018 Draft Class
The preseason has showed us that you should never read too far into things, but it's also revealed that the trio of defensive linemen General Manager Reggie McKenzie selected this year mean business. Maurice Hurst Jr., P.J. Hall, and Arden Key have been on a mission this preseason, each registering their first NFL sacks, and I expect their momentum to carry over into the regular season. Truth be told, I'm not 100 percent positive just how much the trio will play in Seattle, but there are plenty of other players in this year's draft class that can make an impact.
Wide receiver Marcell Ateman has showed promise the last few months, building a rapport with Derek Carr, and receiving some work with the first team. Defensively, cornerback Nick Nelson has been a stand out in the preseason forcing several pass breakups. Tonight's game will allow these players to go a full 60 minutes, and I'm excited to see what they do with the opportunity.