Raiders football is back.
Friday’s preseason opener against the Lions may not feature many regular starters, but do Oakland fans really care as long as Jon Gruden is roaming the Coliseum sidelines again?
“They’re all the same to me and Raider fans,” Gruden said. “You got to understand that preseason games, postseason games, pick-up games in Oakland, it’s all the same.”
The Raiders and Lions kick off at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Here are five things you’ll want to watch.
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Backup quarterback competition
Connor Cook was slinging dimes all over the field in Wednesday’s joint practice with the Lions, one day after EJ Manuel tossed three interceptions in the first combined session with Detroit. Cook currently has a leg up on the backup job, but Manuel is the one who aptly filled in when Derek Carr went down last year.
The Raiders certainly hope neither plays a single snap in 2018 because it might get ugly if it comes to that. Yet backup quarterbacks are here for the worst-case scenario, and Friday’s preseason opener will feature both as Gruden sifts through his depth chart.
Carr will play, according to Gruden, but don’t be surprised if No. 4 only sees one or two drives.
“I don’t have an official count but this game is not about Derek Carr, not yet,” Gruden said. “It’s about finding the right 53 men. I think you saw today we’ve got a lot of contenders. There are a lot of guys that have put themselves on the brink of making this football team and we got to make sure we give them every opportunity to showcase their skills.” Might that mean the Raiders only keep two quarterbacks? I guess we’ll see.
Sorting through a crowded wide receivers group
The Raiders currently roster 12 wide receivers, and about half of them will fall by the wayside in three weeks.
This game obviously isn’t time for Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant and Ryan Switzer to state their claim for the roster. But for the likes of fringe wideouts Seth Roberts, Isaac Whitney, Marcell Ateman, Johnny Holton and others, Friday’s game against the Lions begins their tryout.
Griff Whalen looked solid during Wednesday’s joint practice, Whitney has improved, Ateman has made a bevy of highlight-reel grabs and Raider fans already know what Roberts and Holton can (or can’t) do. Might Dwayne Harris prove he can be more than a returner? Could Keon Hatcher and Saeed Blacknall come out of nowhere to open some eyes?
Carr said this is the deepest receivers group he’s had at his disposal in five years, and the next couple weeks will reveal who survives the crowded room.
“I’m kind of excited to see certain guys, the success that they’ve had in practice, now when the lights come on,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “When the lights come on, basically do it the same way you’ve been building up to it in your preparation.”
Protecting Derek Carr’s strong side
Oakland’s interior offensive line is set. Left tackle is inching closer that way, with rookie Kolton Miller impressing and veteran Donald Penn still sidelined while recovering from December foot surgery.
Right tackle is the big(gest) question mark in 2018, and Ian Silberman, Breno Giacomini, Brandon Parker and maybe even David Sharpe are all in the mix.
Giacomini and Parker have been sidelined the last couple days with Silberman getting first-team reps. Friday’s opener will provide the first look at whether Silberman could be the answer on Carr’s strong side, or if Gruden needs to keep shuffling to find the right fit.
“I’m playing next to those three interior guys … the standard goes up already,” Silberman said. “I just want to show the coaches that they don’t have to worry about anything on the right side.”
An eye on the anthem
The national anthem controversy hasn’t exactly faded with regards to the NFL, and Friday begins another season for the Raiders in which the anthem may be a talking point.
Almost the entire team demonstrated during the anthem before a Week 3 game in Washington last season, and running back Marshawn Lynch sat for the anthem before every game.
We know Gruden will stand for the anthem. The only question mark remains Lynch, who hasn’t addressed the media since after a Week 2 win against the Jets last season. Will he stick to sitting on the water cooler surrounded by Raiders staffers? Friday night will let us know.
“I have not yet, but I’m proud and I’m going to stand and I’m excited for the national anthem,” Gruden said when asked if he had discussed the anthem with his team. “I’m excited to play on Friday night.”
Can Eddy Piñeiro lock up the kicking job?
Piñeiro already has a firm hold on the Raiders’ starting kicking job. Mike Nugent was brought in to mentor and challenge the rookie, more so the former than the latter.
Gruden said preseason games would serve as competition ground for Piñeiro and Giorgio Tavecchio, but the incumbent starter failed to make it to Friday’s opener against the Lions. As long as Piñeiro kicks decently during the preseason, the job will be his.
But if he inherits a serious case of the jitters and chokes, could the Raiders possibly go with Nugent? It’s unlikely, but nonetheless Piñeiro’s NFL debut will be something to watch as his right leg tries to live up to the hype.
Asked if he’s kicked off dirt yet, since the Oakland Athletics’ infield is still down, Piñeiro chuckled: “No, net yet. It sounds like it’s going to be fun, though.”