What to Look for When the Oakland Raiders Face the San Francisco 49ers
I'm not here to promote the Bay Area rivalry.
It's too late for that one.
The Oakland Raiders didn't take care of business when they faced the San Francisco 49ers in the regular season last year. Tomorrow's game will get personal at times but this is a preseason game that players get looked at by their teams.
There will be players in the game playing for roster spots and others playing to earn an important role on the team in 2011. Then there will be players that are playing to keep an important role on the team for the Raiders in 2011.
I have my eye on the players in all those categories because the Raiders' season will depend on them.
Turn the page to see who and what I'm looking for.
Left Tackle Jared Veldheer
Jared Veldheer looked like that guy last week in limited action for the Raiders last week. I couldn't believe how fast he got out of his stance and into his kick-slide to protect the quarterback with ease.
Tomorrow will be a test of consistency as he gets a chance to do it for two weeks in a row. He will also get a chance to see if he can protect against against multiple styles for pass rushers.
The 49ers run a 3-4 defense so Veldheer is sure to see rookie first round outside linebacker Aldon Smith of the edge on blitzes. Justin Smith is the 49ers best pass rusher on the defensive line and he's a power rusher that lines up right over the tackle.
This will be a good test for the young Veldheer.
Corner Demarcus Van Dyke
Demarcus Van Dyke got his baptism by fire as he was cooked by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. On the play Van Dyke actually blanketed Fitzgerald and a better play on the ball would have at least broke the pass up.
Fitzgerald went back at Van Dyke right away on another deep back and Van Dyke didn't allow it to happen again. Tomorrow, he will see Ted Ginn Jr. and Braylon Edwards to try to improve his cover skills.
The good thing about this situation is Van Dyke isn't going to see a receiver better that Fitzgerald. But there might be a little pressure there because starting Raider corner Chris Johnson is out for who knows how long.
The importance of Van Dyke is related to the depth the Raiders have at corner after losing Nnamdi Asomugha to free agency.
Receivers Derek Hagan and Nick Miller
Denarius Moore has shown what he can do in the punt return game as well as running routes and catching the ball. Derek Hagan showed that he is a big-bodied wideout that can get deep and make tough catches.
Chaz Schilens in the big-bodied player Raider's owner Al Davis loves but he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Nick Miller is a fast little receiver with punt return ability but like Schilens, he hasn't been able to stay healthy.
Moore's success will have a direct impact on Miller because he has proven he can return punts successfully, which is an aspect of Miller's game. The Raiders could decide to keep Hagan and let Miller go. If Moore doesn't return punts for the Raiders, they can decide to keep Miller and let Schilens or Hagan go.
Schilens is hurt now and Hagan is having a great camp so it will be interesting.
Corner Chimdi Checkwa
Chimdi Chekwa is probably one of the most important nonstarters on this Raider team. That's because the Raiders need to know what they have at corner after Chris Johnson and Stanford Routt.
The organization seems to be okay with the progress of DeMarcus Van Dyke but their depth was still exposed last week. It could be because Checkwa has been out with a shoulder injury for the last couple of weeks.
How he plays tomorrow will give the Raiders a good idea of how deep the Raiders are at corner. Michael Huff is excellent in coverage but the Raiders would rather he play corner on occasion rather than having to stay there as a result of an injury.
Outside Linebacker Quentin Groves
Quentin Groves looked to be an improved player last week against the Arizona Cardinals. He played more snaps than any other Raider did so he could get those reps in as this is his second year playing outside linebacker.
I'm looking to see how Groves performs because the Raiders are under the salary cap and may use the money to get an outside linebacker. Groves is a freakish athlete at 6'3", 265 pounds so the Raiders are giving him every chance to make the weak side linebacker spot his this preseason.
Tomorrow is a good start to taking the next step.
I believe that Denarius Moore will continue to light it up in his quest to play a prominent role on this Raider team. The reason why I'm watching him is because he is an exciting player and I can't wait to see what he will do next.
I'm glad the other teams didn't take Moore's quarterback play at Tennessee into account when evaluating him before the draft. Raider nation now has another reason to "get their popcorn ready" when the Raiders are on offense.
I guess I can watch him to see how soon he will become a starter.
Tight End David Ausberry
Kevin Boss was brought in to take the place of Zach Miller after he defected to Seattle. Boss has already displayed that he is a better fit for the Raiders' offense as he uses his superior height and speed to go deep.
He is also a better run blocker.
But David Ausberry will have the ultimate say in if the Raiders have upgraded the tight end position. Ausberry is a former collegiate receiver that ran a electronically timed 4.46 40-dash at his pro-day.
He has the hands to go with that speed too but the question is his run blocking.
He can already go out there on passing downs as a weapon but I want to see how far away he is from becoming an every down tight end.
The kid is going to be a phenom but I will look closely at how he blocks tomorrow.
Guard Bruce Campbell
Word out of Raider nation is that Bruce Campbell has looked good since he started to practice this week. He's going to play in tomorrow's game as his knee has healed from an offseason injury.
His performance tomorrow will tell me how soon Campbell will take over at right guard for the Raiders. Raider head coach Hue Jackson told the Contra Costa times, "We're in year two of the contest with Campbell. There's something great here. What he needs to do is go play now. He's practiced, he's getting healthier, he feels good about where he is now."
I'll really have my eyes on him tomorrow.
His performance will tell me where the Raiders are in regards to building that "bully" on offense.
Right Tackle Joseph Barksdale
Going into the draft, many scouts had Joseph Barksdale as an underrated tackle prospect. One of the big questions about him was his competitive fire of lack there of.
So far in camp and against the Cardinals, Barksdake looks like he was an underrated prospect. Barksdale got into a fight in camp too so the competitive fire doesn't seem to be a big question these days.
Khalif Barnes is the No. 1 right tackle right now but it is completely up to Barksdale if he starts.
How can I not watch this one closely?
Center Stefen Wisniewski
Stefen Wisniewski was Raider born, Raider bred, and going to be a Raider until the day he's dead. But Jackson isn't just going to give him anything and had him taking first team reps at guard until Samson Satele got hurt.
Wisniewski obviously blocks well as he's been entrusted to play guard but he has had trouble with snaps. Snapping the ball wrong could lead to turnovers so that is much more important than any blocking assignment.
Satele's injury gives Wisniewski a chance to start at center tomorrow if he handles it, the Raiders have reason to go ahead and start him at center. Stephon Heyer killed last weak at left guard and started getting reps with the first team there so when he returns, the Raiders will have their starting five on the offensive line.
It will look a lot like a bully too.
The Raiders could be the most underrated football team in the NFL.
There are so many players that aren't household names yet but could become that in 2011. Most of the players that I'm watching for tomorrow could very well take a major step toward stardom with a good performance.
The best thing about it for the Raiders is that these are positions that they need good players at. Therefore, if these youngsters step up, the Raiders will instantly become a playoff contender.
So instead of worrying about a win or loss tomorrow, I'm looking to see how these guys do.
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