What To Watch For In Tonight's Raiders vs 49ers Game

alex chavezCorrespondent IAugust 8, 2008

Remember Art Shell's catastrophic coaching comeback with Oakland?

If you don't, congratulations on your ability to detach painful memories from your conscious.

However, if you do recollect this unfortunate year, you'll remember that the Raiders began their preseason with a "We're Back!" 4-0 record.

So while preseason records are completely meaningless, there are a few smaller-scale items we can focus on to help foresee upcoming pain or glory.

Here are my top seven targets Raider fans can focus on and study during this Friday night's otherwise meaningless scrimmage.

1) Drew Carter

While Al Davis points to Javon Walker as the most important piece to the team this season, it is Drew Carter that will need to make teams pay for focusing on Walker or Darren McFadden.

At 6'3", 200 pounds, impressive straight-line speed, and average to above-average hands, Carter is the team's best deep threat. As Russell continues to develop his play-action fakes, Carter will find himself running fly routes one-on-one, as safeties focus on the Raiders' running attack.

How well Carter makes opposing defenses pay for that will be a large factor in Oakland's scoring success in 2008. Take this game to see if Carter bursts off the line well enough to make defenders give him a large cushion. This will open up lots of quick slants and quick-snap passes.

Also check how well Carter gets off bump-and-run coverage if the opposing corner presses him. Success in either of these two areas could be a sign of good things to come for the Silver and Black's vertical attack.

2) Michael Bush

Bush will get a large number of reps while Oakland limits the injury-risk on McFadden and Justin Fargas. Many of the early reports from camp stated that Bush was hesitant when hitting the hole (I'm not touching that one).

If we continue to see this during Friday night's game, we can place Bush next to Mario Henderson in the "third-round overhyped busts" receptacle.

However, if he continues his late-camp surge and pounds the rock hard between the tackles, we may have finally found our Zack Crockett Elite—one with better hands, speed, and elusiveness.

3) Defensive Tackle Play

Oakland has not tasted meaningful December football games since John Parrella, Sam Adams, Darrell Russell, and Grady Jackson were plugging the middle of the field. The single-biggest factor for this Raider season will be whether Terdell Sands, Tommy Kelly, and Gerrard Warren can keep the Raiders' run defense in the top 20 of the NFL

If they can, the team has a great chance to go 9-7 and taste a playoff run.
Watch the first three defensive series and see if those names are getting a push up the middle.

If they are, we will see lots of free roaming and tackling by Kirk Morrison, Thomas Howard, Ricky Brown, and Gibril Wilson. If the big boys don't get much push, it may be an indicator of another long, frustrating season.

4) Offensive Tackles

The middle of the Raider defense is average, which is good enough with the talent at QB and RB. Robert Gallery, Jake Grove, and Cooper Carlisle are going to open up running lanes and give JaMarcus Russell enough time to throw.

We know the question marks are out at the edge with Kwame Harris, Cornell Green, and Seth Wand, so observe if these guys are playing with power and confidence. If they are, Zach Miller will be free to become Russell's No. 1 target all over the field.

5) Todd Watkins and Johnnie Lee Higgins

Face it, there's at least a 25 percent chance that Javon Walker, Drew Carter, and Ron Curry are either injured or ineffective during a good portion of the season. That would mean that Watkins and Higgins have a reasonable shot at playing meaningful football for us this season.

Watkins has been the talk of camp, as he has combined athleticism with production at an eye-opening level. While we've had our share of preseason wide-receiver hype (Carlos Francis and Jonnie Morant), Watkins showed up to camp with little fanfare and has actually produced against a very talented secondary. 

He combines 6'3" size with 4.3-forty speed. Of course, he's shown questionable hands throughout his career. This is why he dropped to the seventh round of the draft and why Arizona and Atlanta have both let him walk.

While he's a notch above the Francises and Morants, he will need to get to at least a Doug Gabriel-level of production to team up with Higgins and Drew Carter, and give the Raiders a solid core of young receivers.

Watkins needs a near-perfect preseason to make this team, and Friday night is his first chance to showcase himself vs. a defense-oriented head coach.

Higgins is in a different, yet more important position. He demonstrated great hands in his limited opportunities last season. Quick routes and separation from defenders was another staple of Higgins last year.

His next goal is taking the step from potential to known commodity. Higgins can have an impact this year. While he won't see many passes thrown his way, due to a run-heavy offense that also throws the ball to its backs and tight end, opposing defenses will be focusing on McFadden and Walker, giving Higgins plenty of opportunities to make a difference.

This Friday night is a chance for us to see if Higgins has prepared himself to be our version of Brandon Stokley.

6) DeAngelo Hall

Facing a Mike Martz offense, Hall will see plenty of action, even in limited time. Scouting reports from both NFL personnel and fans alike are all over the map with this guy. Is he at least one of the top 10 corners in the AFC? That's all he has to be to be worth the second rounder we traded for him.

Observe Hall and notice if he's playing soft with plenty of cushion between himself and his receiver. Hall's been beaten a handful of times on deep throws during Oakland's training camps. If he has lost some confidence, it will show up in the way he's covering receivers.

Of course, if he simply continues to give up deep balls, despite playing tight coverage, we have another possible headache rupturing before us.

7) Jay Richardson

Has his sudden increase in pass-rushing ability come about due to Oakland's lack of talent at the left tackle position? Or is Richardson making the jump that many defenders make between their first and second full seasons?

If he can develop into an adequate pass-rusher, he will become one of the team's better-rounded defenders and allow Oakland to cut a backup DE and take a chance on a DT or WR that a team cuts in the coming weeks.

I won't place a lot of focus on studying Michael Huff at free safety, yet. This is his first NFL season at the position, and preseason games three and four will be much better indicators as to whether or not he's ready to be a difference maker.

There also won't be much time to check out Russell or McFadden, who will likely receive two series of offense before calling it a day.


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