Young Raiders Defenders Lone Bright Spots in Ugly Preseason Opener

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Young Raiders Defenders Lone Bright Spots in Ugly Preseason Opener
USA Today

The Oakland Raiders didn’t score until less than two minutes were remaining in the fourth quarter of a preseason game. The good news is that the game didn’t count, and the Raiders still have time to correct the errors that led to an ugly debut.

Penalties were a big problem in Friday's 10-6 loss, and the starters on both sides of the ball didn’t look sharp, but we are dealing with very small sample sizes of a much larger product. The preseason is like a sample of cold cheese that will be used to make a hot pizza.

After decades of losing, even an ugly exhibition loss is disappointing to Raiders fans, but there were a few bright spots. Oakland’s second-team defense mostly shut down the Minnesota Vikings' first-round pick—quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

The Raiders may have improved their starting units with veterans this offseason, but they still need young players to play key roles in 2014—especially at cornerback, where former first-round pick DJ Hayden is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. On Friday night in Minnesota, cornerbacks TJ Carrie and Chimdi Chekwa both carried over their strong training-camp performances into the preseason game and made their case for bigger roles going forward.

Chekwa is going into his fourth year with the team after being one of Al Davis’ final draft picks. After initially finding himself on the practice squad under the new regime, Chekwa has put himself in position to lock down a key role on defense.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Chekwa had tight coverage all night.

“Chimdi’s a guy that’s fought his way into a role in the nickel defense,” head coach Dennis Allen said Tuesday after practice. “I’ll be excited about seeing him go out and play against a different group of receivers and see how he does.”

Allen should be pleased because Chekwa’s performance was easily one of the best of the night for the Raiders. Chekwa had consistently tight coverage and was able to break up a few passes. He also chipped in a couple of tackles.

Carrie, one of the team’s two seventh-round picks in 2014, also impressed. Unlike Chekwa, who only plays outside and some special teams, Carrie plays inside in nickel packages and outside and is also competing to be the team's punt returner. He has continued to get better since organized team activities and has been one of the most consistent young defenders in training camp.

“I’m hoping that I’m going to continue to see him get his hands on the football and be productive for us,” Allen said of Carrie on Tuesday. “He’ll have multiple roles in a game, and I feel confident that I’m going to see a lot of the same things that I’ve seen in practice.”

Carrie didn’t get both hands on a football, but Allen should still be pleased with his performance. Carrie was able to break up a couple of passes and only allowed one short reception, plus he was able to make a solid tackle. Carrie's four tackles on the night demonstrate his willingness to play physical football.

Shelby Harris, another seventh-round pick in 2014, also had an impressive performance. The Raiders brought in Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley at defensive end, but the depth behind them has been a question mark. Harris sacked and forced a fumble on Bridgewater that resulted in a 12-yard loss and ultimately kept the Vikings out of the end zone near the end of the first half.

Second-year linebacker Sio Moore also put his best foot forward in the competition with Miles Burris for the starting job at weak-side outside linebacker. Moore had a sack on third down that forced a punt at the start of the second quarter. On the following drive, Moore stuffed running back Jerick McKinnon for a loss of three yards on 2nd-and-8, and the Vikings punted after failing to convert on 3rd-and-11 a play later.

Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press
Sio Moore was able to drag down Bridgewater for a sack.

Linebacker Kaelin Burnett also played well and had a sack and a team-high six tackles against the third-team offense. Defensive back Jansen Watson dropped two interceptions, but that overshadowed the fact that he was in position to make two big plays. Defensive lineman Ricky Lumpkin and Torell Troup split a sack nullified by a penalty, and C.J. Wilson was getting good pressure on the quarterback.

Oakland’s first-round pick Khalil Mack was one of the few young defenders who didn’t make a big impact. Mack had just two tackles and may have been responsible for coverage on tight end Kyle Rudolph on a 22-yard pass that set up a Minnesota touchdown.  

Then again, Mack was the only young player playing with the first-team defense who didn't play well. As units, Oakland’s second- and third-team defenses only allowed three total points. Those units were also only responsible for two of Oakland’s 13 penalties.

Despite an ugly start to the preseason, the Raiders have positives they can build off starting at practice Sunday. As far as the negatives, the Raiders can just be thankful they happened in an exhibition and they have a chance to make corrections before the games start counting.

The Raiders will return to Napa, California, for two days of practice before breaking training camp Monday and heading to Oxnard, California, to scrimmage with the Dallas Cowboys. The Raiders look to clean up their errors and be sharper next Friday against the Detroit Lions at O.co Coliseum in Oakland.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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