The Vikings will begin their two-year excursion at TCF Bank Stadium Friday night against the Oakland Raiders. The first preseason game is usually limited action for many of the top stars for both teams while those fighting for roster spots will see most of the action.
However, the Raiders – like the Vikings – have a lot of new faces and may give their players a little more playing time than would be typically expected in the opening preseason game.
The biggest question mark may be at quarterback. The Raiders traded for Matt Schaub to be the short-term answer and he is expected to be the starter when the season begins, but his job is far from safe. Rookie Derek Carr was the second-round draft pick in May and is expected to be given a shot to win the starting job – a process that will officially begin Friday. The No. 3 spot on the roster is expected to be a battle between second-year pro Matt McGloin and veteran Trent Edwards. Neither is guaranteed a roster spot, so their competition should be fierce.
The same competition will be underway at running back. When the Raiders drafted Darren McFadden in 2008, he was billed as the “Next Adrian Peterson.” He has failed to live up to those lofty expectations and has been more of a disappointment than a bell cow in the backfield. Injuries have derailed him in each of his six seasons. He has never played more than 13 games in any season, has just one season with more than 750 rushing yards and has missed 29 games in six seasons – an average of five games a year. Frustrated by his inability to stay on the field, the Raiders signed Pro Bowler Maurice Jones-Drew to compete for the starting job. While much of the workload Friday will be handled by backups like Latavius Murray, Jeremy Stewart and Kory Sheets, the battle between Run DMC and MJD will be the battle that will be waged in the preseason, as both are motivated to stake a claim to the starting spot.
The same can be said at wide receiver, where the Raiders have added outside talent to the organization to compete with the in-house options. Oakland already had full- and part-time starters in Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Juron Criner – all decent receivers, but none a viable No. 1 go-to type. To that group, the Raiders made a big free agent splash by signing former Packer James Jones, as well as picking up former Cleveland leading receiver Greg Little. With 11 wide receivers in camp, the Raiders will try to give them all a long look, but it will be the top guys who will be competing for starting jobs and they may see a little more playing time as a result as the coaching staff attempts to determine a pecking order among them.
One of the few strengths of the Raiders is their offensive line, but it is going to have a much different look this season. The team lost left tackle Jared Veldheer in free agency and are replacing him with Donald Penn, who signed a two-year deal in the offseason while the Raiders hope second-year pro Menelik Watson will eventually replace him. Third-round rookie Gabe Jackson is going to push for a starting job, but he will have to beat out veterans Khalif Barnes and Kevin Boothe, who was an offseason free agent signing. The Jets also signed a new right tackle in former Jet Austin Howard. As a group, these players could make for an imposing offensive line, but, with no experience working together, it could take a little time for them to jell as a group, so they may see a little more than the standard series or two most starting O-linemen get in the first game.
Change is also in the air on defense for Oakland. When the regular season starts, Oakland expects to have three new starting defensive linemen – former Steeler LaMarr Woodley and former Giant Justin Tuck at defensive end, and former Texan Antonio Smith at defensive tackle. The only expected starter that was on the team last year is nose tackle Pat Sims, who helped the Raiders finish 13th against the run in 2013. With rookies Justin Ellis and Shelby Harris looking to work their way into the mix, there will be plenty of competition for roster spots in the new-look Raiders defensive front.
A player to keep an eye on is the new addition of linebacker Khalil Mack. The fifth pick of the draft, Mack is a pass-rush specialist who some draft experts projected going with the first pick of the draft and was a gift at No. 5. He is expected to be a frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year and is projected to be a game-changer.
The Raiders continue to add veterans to their secondary while hoping for young players to develop. Last year, the team reunited with future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson and signed former 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. This offseason, they went across the bay to pilfer another 49ers D-back, adding Carlos Rogers to the mix. They hope those veterans will help develop their three secondary draft picks – fourth-round corner Keith McGill, seventh-round CB Travis Carrie and seventh-round safety Jonathan Dowling. They expect their veterans to be the short-term solution, but hope the youngsters who represented three of their eight draft picks in May, will be a long-term fix to solidifying the Raiders defense.
The Raiders have a lot of new faces that are looking to be the centerpiece of the franchise. As a result, it may not be business as usual Friday night. A lot of teams will only let the projected starters play a series or two. With so many roster spots looking to be filled by new players, the Raiders might give their projected starters and key backups a much longer look than a typical preseason opener.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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