It’s the battle of Los Angeles!
There was a point when this matchup would have represented the battle for Southern California, but now that we’re 23 years removed from both teams’ departures, it’s back to being a strange inter-conference matchup (even though the Rams have since returned to Los Angeles).
Stranger still, these teams will meet for real in just a few weeks, as both teams open against each other on Monday Night of Week 1. Regardless, here are five things to watch on Saturday night:
1) First-String Touchdown?
Last week, the Raider starters couldn’t put the ball in the end zone, but will that change this week? Marshawn Lynch did have a 60-yard touchdown run that was called back on a penalty, but in the end, Derek Carr’s only series ended with a punt. In addition to the penalty, Carr also missed Martavis Bryant on a deep ball that would have been trouble for the Lions, so this unit was far from flawless.
While it was a different coaching staff a year ago, in the second preseason game last season (also against the Rams), Derek Carr saw three series worth of action — playing into the second quarter — so it will be interesting to see if Jon Gruden gives him the same type of rope.
2) Donald Penn, RIGHT Tackle
As soon as news broke that Donald Penn had restructured his contract and moved guaranteed money into next year, I had a feeling that the next domino to fall might be his move across the line. Sure enough, the next day, Penn was taking snaps at right tackle. It didn’t make sense to keep him around for two years unless it was on the right side, so it will be interesting to see how that transition goes against a live opponent. If Penn can successfully make the move, it only makes the Raider offense that much more formidable.
3) Connor Cook 1.0 or 2.0?
If there was one takeaway from last week’s game against the Lions, it was that Connor Cook might actually be decent. Cook finished last week’s game 11-of-19 for 141 yards and a touchdown, although even those numbers fail to do some of his throws (and decisions) justice. Then again, by all accounts, this week’s practices have since brought him back down to earth, so we’ll see.
If Gruden and Co. can transform Cook into a legit NFL backup, it’ll be a major win for a team that has seen their starter go down with an injury two years in a row.
4) Rookie impact
Last week, I wrote about how this draft class had the potential to be franchise-altering and so far, all has gone according to plan. Second-rounder PJ Hall got a sack on his first-ever snap, Maurice Hurst looked the part of a projected first-rounder and even Kolton Miller (penalty aside) had some bright spots last week.
If there’s one thing the preseason is good for, it’s getting more and more tape on rookies, so watch to see if these guys can flash again and continue the momentum. (Not to mention that rookie Arden Key, another training camp standout, didn’t even get to play last week)
5) Gareon Conley in real life?
The last time Conley suited up for the Raiders was September 24, 2017 and nearly a year later, might we see him back in uniform? If you ask him, the answer is ‘yes,’ but with just five practices under his belt, we’ll probably have to wait and see.
Of all the unknowns floating around Raiders camp, I’m not sure any is more critical to 2018 success than Conley, so an appearance on Saturday would go a long way towards ramping up expectations for this season.