The Raiders host the Arizona Cardinals today at 7 p.m. at O.com Coliseum in Oakland. When the team takes the field for the first time in 2011, they will be led by Hue Jackson. It will be Jackson’s first game as the head coach.
Jackson will use the preseason as time to get the hang of his responsibilities as the head man.
As for the players, judging the preseason is complicated. Louis Rankin routinely makes preseason highlight reels, but he has hardly been able to stick on a roster in his career.
Besides estimating the Raiders season ticket base from the preseason attendance, you should be watching special teams closely.
The fringe roster players will not make the team if they can’t perform on special teams. When deciding on a the last receiver, linebacker, or safety to make the roster, the coaching staff is going to choose the guy that performed the best on special teams.
The only position on the offensive line that appears cemented is Jared Veldheer at left tackle. The remaining four positions on the line remain open for the top performer.
Nothing is going to be decided this early, but it is now clear Stefen Wisniewski isn’t going to be handed a starting job just because his uncle is one of the coaches. Wisniewski will get first-team reps at center and left guard, but his reps at left guard are simply so he can be the primary backup at a position with very little depth. He’s being pushed, but he should ultimately win the starting center job over Samson Satele.
There are three players pushing for the starting job at right tackle, veteran Khalif Barnes, rookie Joseph Barksdale and acquisition Stephon Heyer. Hue Jackson wants a bully, expect the most physical player to end up being the starter at right tackle. Barnes has the edge, but Barksdale and Heyer could press him quickly.
Nickel and Dime
The Raiders don’t yet know who their nickel and dime corners will be. There are four candidates for the spots. DeMarcus Van Dyke, Chimdi Chekwa, Jeremy Ware and Walter McFadden. Chekwa is out with an injury, leaving the light to shine on the other three. By nature of his draft position, the nickel job is Van Dyke’s if he can hold it. Ware and McFadden need to shine to make the coaches think twice.
Darryl Blackstock and Jerome Boyd are both backup outside linebackers. There is no depth behind starters Quentin Groves and Kamerion Wimbley. It’s very thin and the Raiders are hoping someones, anyone jumps out during the game.
Travis Goethel will get plenty of playing time behind Rolando McClain at middle linebacker. Don’t be surprised if he plays well. It’s very possible he will move to the weak side once the season starts. Groves has something to prove or Goethel will snatch his starting job away.
Boller or Edwards?
Considering the Raiders lack of overall talent, continuity, and depth of the offensive line there is a pretty good chance the backup quarterback will need to step in and play at some point this season.
Kyle Boller and Trent Edwards will duke it out in the battle of former starters. For Boller, he needs to make good decisions and protect the football. Edwards needs to work on his timidness in the pocket.
Hue Jackson and Al Saunders are as good as any at helping out their quarterbacks, but expect them to push these backups as hard as possible during the preseason. The time is now to find out which one can play should when they are needed.
The passing game is the one area on offense the Raiders must improve. It’s a delicate balance of pass blocking, route running and ball spinning. The Raiders must improve in all these areas. Jason Campbell and his young receivers need to continue to build chemistry. The make-shift offensive line needs to keep Campbell off his back. Jury is out on if any of these areas are actually improved in 2011.
This defense is known for its inability to stop the run. Last year it was the big play that killed them. Pay close attention to how the backup defensive lineman and linebackers do at filling gaps and tackling. Just one or two missed assignments on any given play can result in disaster.