INDIANAPOLIS – After a preseason marred by injury and clouded by intrigue at the quarterback position, the Raiders say they’re ready to start the regular season.
The 2013 campaign begins with a tough test against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Injuries tore the defense apart, but time healed wounds and put it back together again. The same can’t be said of the offensive line, with three likely starters out with injury.
How the Raiders respond following a preseason that didn’t go according to plan will determine their fate in the early going.
Many players drink from a glass half-full, believing these trials brought an overhauled roster closer together.
“Things didn’t always go the way we planned, but each experience was a different test,” Raiders cornerback Tracy Porter said. “We learned a lot about the scheme and playing together during the preseason. I believe we’ll be a better team for it.”
The Raiders will have a chance to prove Porter right against the Colts. Here are five things to watch in the Raiders season opener:
Pryor starts the season: Allen refused to name Terrelle Pryor the starting quarterback this week despite reports and overt signs that he will. The worst kept secret in Oakland will be confirmed at long last on Sunday.
Allen kept quiet for competitive reasons, but that won’t decide the Raiders fate. Pryor the athlete will have far more to say about that. He has the physical tools to succeed at the NFL level. His decision-making remains a wild card. His supporting cast does too. There’s little doubt Pryor is the best quarterback for the roster as currently constructed, with a suspect offensive line and deep threats at receiver.
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Coordinator Greg Olson will try to give Pryor easy reads, especially early on, to build momentum. If the Raiders gain confidence from that and Pryor makes some magic, anything can happen. That includes an upset nobody saw coming.
Take McFadden’s leash off: Raiders running back Darren McFadden has been held back this preseason--as he normally is--in order to keep him healthy.
Mission accomplished. McFadden is healthy, energized and ready to start a big season off right. The sixth-year veteran enters a contract year with something to prove. Steady production will help the Raiders retain possession, generate manageable third down situations and keep Colts skill players on the sideline.
We haven’t seen how McFadden will work with Pryor under center. McFadden hasn’t played since the young quarterback's emergence, but Pryor’s rushing ability and run fakes included in the Raiders offense should open holes for McFadden between the tackles.
If he can find space, McFadden becomes a home-run hitter. His style requires patience and a commitment to the run game. If he gets enough carries, the big runs will come.
Taming a young Colt: Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck is difficult to handle because he does everything well. He can scramble for extra yards and make virtually every throw on the run, yet operates well within a clean pocket.
Just because he can scramble doesn’t mean he will. Luck is tough, willing to take a big hit for a chance at a big play. That, in turn, makes his actions hard to predict.
[RELATED: Pryor provides template for defending Luck]
Defenders must be on assignment and stave off frustration when he makes plays or prolongs drives. The key is to minimize points and take advantage of his confidence wherever possible.
Luck will take a wallop for a big play and tries to complete passes in tight coverage. He threw 18 interceptions last season, and an ill-timed turnover could turn the tide. Even if he’s down, never count Luck out. He orchestrated seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime as a rookie.
Next men up: Allen doesn’t stop to mourn injured players. No time for that in the NFL. Lose a key piece and Allen expects his reserve to play like a starter.
That’s become difficult at left tackle, where the Raiders are down to their fourth option in Khalif Barnes. The veteran slides over from right tackle with Menelik Watson ruled out with a knee injury. He’s been asked to make a difficult transition in three days, no easy task considering he hasn’t played the position since 2008.
Tony Pashos, signed on Monday after spending the preseason with Washington, must fare well at Barnes’ old spot for Pryor to stand a fighting chance. Even mobile quarterbacks can’t scramble on every down. He needs time to throw if the Raiders are to move the ball at all.
More will be asked of rookie tight end Mychal Rivera and reserve linebacker Kaluka Maiava, who is the first man up at all three linebacker spots. He may end up starting on the strong side with Sio Moore questionable with a foot injury. The Raiders are taxed and being tested at key positions. Without proper support, upsetting Indianapolis on the road becomes a difficult prospect.
Pump up the pressure: Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver has been holding back this preseason, using an ordinary scheme during the preseason to avoid tipping his hand.
Tarver knows generating quarterback pressure with four players will be difficult, and has some creative blitzed up his sleeve, ready to unveil this season. He can afford to bring the house at times because his secondary is a strength, and can cover for missing members of a zone who are attacking the quarterback.
Tarver plans to uses all the weapons at his disposal, including safeties Charles Woodson and Tyvon Branch and outside linebacker Sio Moore. How those plays fare will have a major impact against the Colts. Tarver doesn’t mind giving up yards. His goals are to keep points off the board and make game-changing plays. If his defense can execute well and secure takeaways, they could surprise people in this game and this season.