Thursday night, at the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, the Oakland Raiders host the Dallas Cowboy in both clubs pre-season opener. The Silver & Black lead the pre-season series 16-9; as their history dates back to 1972. As with any opener, both teams will evaluate and assess the depth on their roster in order to make their initial cuts and get a look at many players who are considered to be long shots.
JaMarcus Russell’s highly inconsistent start to training camp has to be frightening to the coaches and the type of opening Jeff Garcia needs to slide into the starting role if the 24-year old is not ready to step it up in 2009. Early on, he has not shown touch on his tosses, is erratic from session-to-session and until proven otherwise, his ethic and leadership will be questioned.
“At times, he ripped it,” Tom Cable said Tuesday. “He had that streak where he really targeted well and all that and then he got on a roll where everything was overthrow and overthrow.”
Garcia is not healthy enough to put the heat on Russell yet, but with the fiery mind-set the former 49er plays with and his ability to adapt quickly to schemes, it will be a quick plug on the former number one overall pick if he can’t show that he is ready to become a productive player on this roster.
What to expect:
Oakland wants to build chemistry along the trenches and solidify an offensive line that will have new components in 2009. Expect the Raiders to run often in order to give the big bodies in the trenches some confidence in blocking for the best unit on this team – the running backs.
As the pre-season moves on, and Russell gets more reps, they’ll open up the passing game and help get the pass blocking schemes some lengthier looks against live opponents.
Cable stated that quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and Charlie Frye will play significantly versus the Cowboys, as Oakland will likely settle on one to be their third stringer.
With a new coordinator at the helm, the defense will look to be more disciplined and accountable for being where they need to be in order to lessen the problems versus the run they have had since 2003.
John Marshall is preaching gap control and better communicating, as he feels that the talent is there to get the job done in 2009. “I’ve certainly seen it get better,” Cable stated recently. “We’re starting to squeeze things, have people overlapping gaps where we’re supposed to be. But we’ll find out starting Thursday. Dallas is a big, physical team, likes to run in it, too. So we’ll find out pretty quick.”
A key to the run defense is linebacker Kirk Morrison, and he is realizing some of the faults and seeing some change so far in camp. “I think a lot of times last year, sometimes you get frustrated when you see guys in their gaps and a run hits us here and a run hits us there and everyone’s trying to make the play instead of saying, ‘Hey, let’s trust what we’re doing and we can’t make every play, let’s make sure we’re in our gaps and the guy who is supposed to make that play needs to be there.’”
What to Expect:
With the trade of Derrick Burgess, Oakland will try to look for new ways to generate a pass rush; whether by blitzing or finding a gem along the line that can help fill some of that void.
Schematically, Oakland has said they will change and be more on the attack than they were under Rob Ryan, but cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha wants to see it before he believes it, stating “That’s like a wait-and-see type of thing.” He continued, “because even in camps previously we were doing a lot of blitzing and doing multiple things defensively and then we got into games and we were pretty basic.”
Life without ‘T.O’ has been good for Dallas. The revamped offense will feature a tough ground game, more double tight end sets and more importantly, free-up Tony Romo as a passer, without the worries of trying to pamper a diva wide receiver throughout the game.
Offensive coordinator Jason Garret will have his full complement of weapons tomorrow night after some of his key weapons sat out of practice on Tuesday due to injuries (Felix Jones and Martellus Bennett).
Wide receiver Roy Williams stated this week, “We just want to be productive. We might not score, but we might drive it down and kick a field goal. That’s productive. Just don’t turn the ball over. That’s one thing that, if we want to be in the playoffs and want to win the Super Bowl, you can’t turn the ball over.”
What to Expect:
Dallas will try to pound away at the Raiders front seven with their ground game. And when Romo does drop back to pass, expect him to move around in the pocket and find targets down the field, as they want to stretch the field to prove that this offense will be better without Terrell Owens.
Cornerbacks Terence Newman (groin) and second-year defensive back Mike Jenkins (ankle) will not see action on Thursday.
Head coach Wade Phillips will have his hands all over this defense in 2009, and this many people believe will have a steady influence on what happens on the field.
“With my expertise, I can help even more by basically doing it myself, along with our coaches on defense,” Phillips said. “I just feel like that’s a little strength of mine.”
He continued: “I think we have improved defensively in the last two years, certainly.
There are some areas that we have even gone to No. 1 in the league in. But we’d like to get even better on defense, and I think I can help us do that.”
What to Expect:
Attack, attack, attack… the Cowboys want to suffocate the Raider offense and plug every gap on running downs. They want to play fast this season, and with Phillips’ job on the line and many big name head coaches available next off-season, his work with this defense will determine whether he is employed in Dallas in 2010.
NEWS & NOTES:
- Linebacker Jon Alston (foot) and Safety Michael Huff missed time in practice on Wednesday. Huff stated he’d play with the first unit during the opener.
- Don’t be surprised if rookie Safety Mike Mitchell also sits on Thursday, as a hamstring injury has the coaches concerned. At this point, there is no need to push the first year player and further the extent of the injury.
- A report linked the Oakland Raiders and free-agent linebacker Derrick Brooks. With his lack of speed and the scheme the Raiders utilize, don’t expect too much interest on either side.
TV & RADIO
Greg Papa and Tom Flores, alongside Jim Plunkett, will simulcast the game on the Raiders Radio and Television Network. Raiders Legend George Atkinson will serve as the broadcast’s sideline analyst next to the host of the broadcast, popular radio personality JT the Brick. This week’s game will be televised locally on tape-delay on KICU Action 36 Cable 6 on Thursday, August 13th at 10:00 p.m. There will be an encore showing of the game on Friday, August 14th at 8 p.m. on KICU Action 36 Cable 6. The game will air on Raiders Radio originating on KSFO 560 AM, the Silver and Black flagship for the multi-state Radio Network. Papa and Raiders two-time Super Bowl wining head coach Tom Flores will man the booth for the 12th straight year. The radio pregame and postgame shows will feature Raider Legends Atkinson and David Humm along with KGO’s Rich Walcoff. (Broadcast information cited from the official Oakland Raiders web site)
Contact Author: Victor Cotto – SB Report Columnist