Written for Salute Magazine; original here
The last time the Oakland Raiders saw actual game action was seven months ago when they lost in the wild card round of the playoffs to the Houston Texans, a contest they played without Derek Carr. Now, the franchise QB is back and fully healthy, ready to step on the field for the first time since he sustained a broken fibula as the team takes on the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Here are the five biggest things to watch as the Raiders head to Glendale.
1. Reshuffled Offensive Line
Donald Penn‘s holdout has thrown the wide open battle at right tackle into disarray. Marshall Newhouse was expected to get the first crack, but he now has to step in at left tackle to replace Penn, with Vadal Alexander jumping up to starter on the right side. Arizona’s pass rush, headlined by Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, will most certainly present a difficult task. At the very least, Penn’s absence will give the two plenty of time to show their stuff, along with immediate backup rookies David Sharpe and Jylan Ware.
2. Rookies Ready To Roll, Albeit Without the Top Picks
Sharpe and Ware won’t be the only first year players getting significant reps. Third rounder Eddie Vanderdoes will get the start at defensive tackle, while fifth rounder Marquel Lee has the nod at middle linebacker. A good portion of time will be given to seventh round pick Shalom Luani and undrafted free agent Breon Borders as well. Unfortunately, the first two picks, Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu, will be out due to injury.
3. Carr’s Back, But Fellow Elites Aren’t Beside Him
Carr isn’t expected to receive much more than one or two drives, but it’s great to see him back behind center again. However, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack aren’t quite ready to go quite yet; Cooper’s been in and out of training camp with a calf issue, and Mack has missed most of this week’s practices with an unknown malady. Hopefully the two can join their QB next week.
4. Defense Will Be Tested
The Raiders’ defense was one of the most inconsistent aspects of the team last season. Steps were made during the offseason to address some of the holes, but there are still plenty of questions. How the team performs in limited time against the three headed monster of Carson Palmer, David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald will be a big indicator of whether or not improvements have been made.
5. Backup QB’s Have The Green Light
With Carr expected to make a cameo appearance, the battle for the No. 2 job between Connor Cook and EJ Manuel will be the focal point for the offense. Manuel has taken the lead during camp, but a solid performance from Cook could narrow the gap.