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Oakland Raiders

Raiders missing starters but preseason opener still important

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Oakland Raiders defenders Bruce Irvin (51), DJ Hayden (25), Khalil Mack (52) and Sean Smith (21) during action in an NFL game against the Carolina Panthers on November 27, 2016, at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, CA. The Raiders won 35-32. (Photo by Daniel Gluskoter/Icon Sportswire)
Daniel Gluskoter/Icon Sportswire

Oakland Raiders football is back on Saturday night at Arizona. Instead of focusing on the high expectations for this team again, instead focus on how this team could use this glorified practice to get better and answer questions.

Derek Carr might not play and if he does, it’ll likely only be for one drive. As a fourth-year quarterback with his third year in this system, he doesn’t need these reps as much as he did early in his career. Also, not having his starting left tackle (with Donald Penn’s holdout ongoing) significantly heightens the unnecessary risk for an injury.

Oakland’s first two draft picks, Gareon Conley and Obi Melifonwu, along with Amari Cooper, will likely sit this game out as well. However, there are still plenty of things to look for against the Cardinals:

Don’t be too concerned about run game if it’s not explosive right away

The Raiders are working in two new tackles and their scheme involves a lot of double teams that require communication and timing. Those things haven’t tested out in a live game situation yet.

Front four pressure

Interior pressure was sorely lacking last season and it absolutely has to improve if the Raiders expect to contend for a Super Bowl. Yes, the Raiders will likely blitz more in the regular season, but they might want to conceal their blitzes in the preseason and just rely on the front four to create pressure. Mario Edwards Jr. is back and it would be a boost for the team to see him return to his 2015 form. Rookie Eddie Vanderdoes has been a breakout player in camp and coaches are likely eager to see him bring it in a game.

Young linebackers

The Raiders did not invest a lot of capital into the linebacker position. They didn’t sign any big free agents and didn’t spend high draft picks on what was arguably their weakest position group in 2016. Instead, they trusted the coaching staff to develop second year-player Cory James and fourth-round rookie Marquel Lee. James showed some promise in his limited snaps last year. Lee is an intriguing prospect with some good physical traits. The Raiders are giving this young duo a chance to start and the two will look to prove that they could hold down the second level for this team for the foreseeable future.

Rookie tackles

David Sharpe will be playing right tackle and has an outside chance of winning the job. He has a lot to work on from a technical standpoint but he is a mauler. Jylan Ware, listed at 6 feet 8, 295 pounds, is much more athletic and moves so effortlessly for a man of his size. He’s going to make some mistakes and will have some trouble sustaining blocks in the run game, but watch to see how well he pass protects. Once he adds more size and has more time to develop, he could be the Raiders’ left tackle of the future.

Sean Smith vs Larry Fitzgerald

There are reports that cornerback Sean Smith has been working in the slot and even playing a hybrid linebacker role to cover tight ends in camp. This could be in preparation for Conley to follow the opposing team’s fastest receiver outside if necessary. Smith has the size and physicality to be effective against tight ends or big slots. If Fitzgerald plays, he could be a great first test for Smith in this new role.

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