Raiders-Cowboys: Three stories to follow - Flynn, run game, Defense
Given that it will be a focal point of Greg Olson’s offense, an effective ground game will be crucial, even at this early date. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
While Greg Olson's system may look functional in practice, no back has been tackled yet. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Matt Flynn will play 2-3 series against the Cowboys and, more than points, he needs to show command in the huddle. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Editor's note: Training camp is underway. For all the latest news on the Silver and Black, check out our Raiders training camp page
This Raiders preseason means more than most. There are so many new players on a roster overhauled this offseason that the staff hasn’t had a chance to evaluate most of them in games.
Friday night offers the first opportunity to do so. The Raiders open the exhibition season against the Dallas Cowboys at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, giving fans the first extended look at a team in transition.
“There are certain guys on the team that we’ve got a pretty good idea of where they’re at, but there are a lot of young guys that we’ve got to get an evaluation on,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “Really, there are a lot of new veteran players that we’ve got to get a good feel for. We’ve got a lot of change, a lot of turnover on this football team. We’ve never been to battle with a lot of these guys, so we want to put them in situations and see how they respond. So this, for our football team, this preseason, is a big deal as far as the evaluation process.”
This is an opportunity for coaches and fans alike to evaluate for severaltight position battles, especially at left guard, tight end and receiver. Here are five more things to keep an eye Friday night:
See how they run: Offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s new run-blocking scheme will debut on Friday night. The offensive lineman love the new system, which is based on gap creation and gap control, because it allows them to be both aggressive and physical. It also fits well with how the Raiders backs like to run. Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Latavius Murray are all downhill runners capable of fighting for yards after contact. While the system may look functional in practice, no back has been tackled yet. That’s why Friday’s exhibition will showcase the run game in it’s purest form for the first time. Given that it will be a focal point of Olson’s offense, an effective ground game will be crucial, even at this early date.
[RELATED: Oft-injured McFadden will play in preseason]
“D” playing together: The Raiders could have as many as nine new starters. That’s right. Nine. That’s unheard of at the NFL level, but that’s the Raiders predicament after overhauling the roster. They have new players in leadership roles too, so it will be important to see how middle linebacker Nick Roach and free safety coordinate the pre-snap defensive adjustments. Blown coverage and missed assignments are a sign that the Raiders haven’t come together yet. A solid effort in that regard, even if points are conceded during the 2-3 series expected from the first team, will show what practice has alluded to, that the defense has been progressing well.
Quarterback play: Matt Flynn will start Friday’s game and, lets be honest, the regular season opener too. He’ll play 2-3 series against the Cowboys and, more than points, he needs to show command in the huddle. The Raiders must believe in Flynn, and a strong on-field presence and a couple tight spirals will help cement the leadership he’s shown during practice. The real drama will unfold after Flynn leaves the game. Terrelle Pryor will unveil his new throwing mechanics, which the team hopes will lead to greater accuracy in games. Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson should split the second half in an unexpected position battle. McGloin has been better than expected and Wilson has been slow to progress, which should force the Raiders to choose between them before the preseason ends.
[RELATED: Matt Flynn's second opportunity]
Sio the starter: The Raiders are counting on rookie Sio Moore to start at strongside linebacker, a tall task for a player who hasn’t taken a professional snap. He’ll play with the starters early, but could stick around a bit longer to gain experience and extend his game tape. He’s proved to be solid against the run and a decent pass rusher when called upon, although he doesn’t play in the nickel package. He’s shown well, but game play is different. Above all else, Moore needs to be a strong tackler. There’s plenty of time to work on everything else.
Look who’s catching passes: The Raiders don’t have many established wide receivers. With Jacoby Ford nursing a sore knee, Denarius Moore and Rod Streater are their best options. The team has young talent in Brice Butler, Andre Holmes, Conner Vernon and Greg Jenkins, but only has roster spots for one or two. The group is bunched together, without a clear favorite. Game play should create separation, starting on Friday night.