The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders had to wait the longest to get their first taste of live game action in 2012, but the day has finally arrived and the two teams will be on national television. It’s a good time for the Raiders to show the world that the new era doesn’t have to start slow, and that there is plenty of young talent in Oakland to fill out the depth chart.
Preseason games are a different animal than regular season games; the starters will only be in for a series or two, and then the rest of the 90-man roster will have an opportunity after that. For players that are competing for a roster spot in Oakland or are simply camp bodies, they have the chance to put up good tape for other teams.
Carson Palmer will play a series or two, but Dennis Allen wouldn’t say exactly how much the starters would play. Allen is hoping to avoid a situation where his starters check out mentally.
If the Raiders want to make a statement, they will have Palmer use his feet. Palmer’s athleticism has been widely discussed because of the mobility demands of Greg Knapp’s offense.
Matt Leinart will relieve Palmer and should play a good portion of the game. Leinart has a good grasp of Knapp’s offense and, at times, has even looked sharper than Palmer during training camp. Leinart also will have two exciting rookie receivers to throw the ball. Don’t be surprised if Leinart produces above average passing statistics.
At some point in the second half, Terrelle Pryor should get his chance to shine. Preseason is the type of situation where Pryor could explode. There’s no doubting that Pryor is an amazing athlete and he can make all the throws. He’ll probably be the best athlete on the field playing with the No. 3 offense and defense. The problem is consistency from Pryor and even if the consistency issue comes up, there is no guarantee the No. 3 defense will be able to take advantage.
Don’t expect a lot of carries for Darren McFadden, but he will get at least one series and potentially more. Dennis Allen and Greg Knapp will be mindful that the fate of their season could ride on McFadden’s back.
McFadden’s backups, Mike Goodson and Taiwan Jones, will miss the game. Both will probably be back next week, but it’s disappointing that the Raiders and the fans will not get a good look at them. The concerns about McFadden’s injury history and if the Raiders have a viable backup will endure until they play in a game.
With Goodson and Jones out, Lonyae Miller will get a lot of work. Miller is auditioning for a job elsewhere as his chances of sticking on the roster in Oakland without a significant injury are slim. Miller has been executing the zone blocking scheme well in practice, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he had an above average outing.
Rashawn Jackson will likely see carries as well, and he’s in the same boat as Miller. Jackson has struggled at times during training camp, particularly with ball security and a good outing could certainly earn him more practice reps.
Marcel Reece could also get carries as a tailback in this preseason game, although the team will probably only give him a few carries to limit the injury risk.
Brandon Myers is the starter at tight end, but he’s nursing a sore shoulder and will not play. Richard Gordon will start in Myers’ place. Gordon is already the best blocking tight end and seems to be getting better in the passing game. He also needs to seize his opportunity to run with the No. 1 offense while he can.
David Ausberry and Troy Humphrey will see action with the No. 2 and 3 offense and both have looked good at times in the passing game. Consistency will be key for Ausberry as well as how well he is able to block.
Marcel Reece will continue to be used in the passing game with the No. 1 offense, but could see some carries as a fullback. It would be surprising if Reece was used as a lead blocker, as he hasn’t practiced the position much during training camp.
Owen Schmitt will be the starting fullback as a lead blocker, and then Manase Tonga will relieve him at some point.
The Raiders will be without dynamic wide receiver Denarius Moore, but they have plenty of receivers to help fill the void. Darrius Heyward-Bey had a breakout season in 2011 and could be Palmer’s favorite target with Moore out. Jacoby Ford slides over from slot receiver to flanker with Moore out of the lineup.
Rookie Rod Streater has been lining up as the slot receiver, so don’t be surprised if you see him playing with the No. 1 offense.
When Matt Leinart comes in for Carson Palmer, Juron Criner and Rod Streater will be his wide receivers. Pryor’s receivers will be Travionte Session and Derek Carrier, Brandon Carswell and DeAundre Muhammad.
Juron Criner and Rod Streater are the two to watch and have been making the most plays during the offseason program and during training camp.
Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell will start. The two veteran corners came in on one-year deals and are McKenzie’s stop-gap solution to the cornerback position.
Spencer might have started a little slow, but he’s been able to string together several good practices, and it doesn’t look like DeMarcus Van Dyke is going to challenge for his job.
Van Dyke had a rousing start to training camp, but has made fewer plays as a part of the No. 2 defense. He’s still a player to watch, as the team usually needs a third cornerback during the course of the season to play in nickel and dime situations.
Pay close attention to who plays opposite Van Dyke; for the majority of camp it was Chimdi Chekwa, but for a day or two Pat Lee moved up and played with the No. 2 defense.
At safety, it will be Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff, but Mat Giordano will also come with Michael Huff rotating down to cornerback in some situations much similar to the way they did in 2011.
Mike Mitchell will play with the No. 2 defense at strong safety. He’s healthy for the first time in a long time and has had a little trouble holding back his enthusiasm during practice. The chains will be off and he’ll be itching to make a play.
Jack Crawford has flashed his ability during training camp and will play despite a sore foot. Crawford’s ability to rotate at the defensive end position is what will keep Desmond Bryant at defensive tackle. Bryant will start in place of the injured Richard Seymour and should be a good rotational defensive end once Seymour returns.
Lamarr Houston is down to 285 pounds and looks explosive. If he can turn some of his quarterback pressures from 2011 into sacks in 2012, the Raiders will be in good shape.
Matt Shaughnessy returns to action for the first times since last September; he’s healthy and disruptive. Dave Tollefson will see time both as a defensive end, and standing up as a jack linebacker with Tommy Kelly, Houston and Shaughnessy, the down lineman.
Cristo Bilukidi is a very active defensive tackle and he’s currently in the lead to be the Raiders fourth defensive tackle. He’ll play a lot tonight, and needs to perform well to solidify his role and spot on the 53-man roster. Hall Davis should also see playing time and needs to beat out Bilukidi.
By far the most interesting position group are the linebackers in Oakland. Rolando McClain enters his make-or-break year alongside Philip Wheeler, one of the Raiders' key acquisitions in free agency, and Miles Burris, the rookie linebacker out of San Diego State.
Aaron Curry is currently nursing a sore knee and has been unable to practice, leaving the Raiders void of much depth at the position.
Carl Ihenacho will play behind Wheeler, Travis Goethel behind McClain and Chad Kilgore behind Burris. The No. 3 defense consists of Nathan Stupar at middle linebacker with Kaelin Burnett on the strong side. Expect Burris and Kilgore to play most of the game, because there aren’t any other weak-side linebackers on the team.
Watch how the Raiders use their linebackers, both in coverage and to pass rush. It’s likely to be a vanilla version of their actual defense, but there will be elements of the new defensive that are very noticeable.