SEATTLE – The final preseason game typically matters little, a throwaway affair played by those headed for the unemployment line.
The objective is clear for talented rosters. Just keep ‘em healthy.
The Raiders have a bit more to take care of Thursday against the Seahawks. They need to find a starting quarterback. They’re experimenting with a left tackle. They’re trying to align the secondary and see if a veteran linebacker is healthy enough to contribute.
“We’re going to use the fourth game as an evaluation process,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “I don’t think that evaluation process ends for a lot of teams. I think a lot of guys want to continue to evaluate, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to play these guys, and then after that game we have to get down to 53. We’ll have to make sure we pick to right 53 guys.”
Allen needs to pick the right starters, and Thursday’s game tape will have a major impact on those choices. Here are five things to look for in the final preseason game:
Terrelle’s tryout: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor has practiced with the first unit all week, a reward for Friday’s at-times spectacular performance against the Chicago Bears. It’s part necessity, with Matt Flynn resting due to right elbow tendinitis.
It’s a window for Pryor to take hold of the starting spot, and this game will weigh heavily in that quest. Pryor needs to be himself in this game. He needs to run with confidence, keep plays alive, make smart throws and, most importantly, take care of the darn ball.
Pryor will play longer than his first unit to get a clearer picture of what he can do. The biggest knock against him is that he hasn’t produced against a first unit. The Seahawks aren’t expected to play their first unit long, which adds importance to Pryor’s early series.
A solid performance should cement Pryor as the starter. A poor showing will complicate matters and give Flynn second life.
[RELATED: Raiders offense can cater to Pryor]
The Watson experiment: Menelik Watson has practiced just five times this preseason, once in pads. Not much preparation for a start at left tackle – a position he’s never played – against Seattle’s defense in the NFL’s loudest stadium.
It’s a difficult assignment for anyone, let alone a rookie. The second-round pick is excited about the prospect, which was thrust upon him after Jared Veldheer’s triceps injury, despite the difficult circumstances.
The Raiders are desperate to find an adequate replacement, and Watson has the talent to play there. He doesn’t have the experience to deal with veteran pass rushers.
He’ll play extensive snaps, likely into the second half, trying to prove he’s an upgrade over veteran Alex Barron. Barron has struggled as a run blocker, although he’s improved protecting the passer.
D.J.’s second game: First-round draft pick D.J. Hayden will play his second game since being cleared for full contact, and the stakes are high. They’d like to move Tracy Porter to nickel back, but can only do so if Hayden is ready to start.
He’ll play more defensive snaps than most, and hopes to play with more consistency in coverage. He’s clearly comfortable in man coverage, where talent can shine quickly, but seemed out of place in zone coverage. He gives considerable cushion, which is fine if he tackles well and keeps short passes from turning into big gains.
If Hayden isn’t ready, then Porter will stay outside and reserve safety Brandian Ross will drop into the slot. The Raiders certainly hope the rookie is ready to contribute.
Containing the run: Setting an edge in run defense, pushing running backs back inside, was a point of emphasis during this week’s practice. Problem is, it was a point of emphasis last week too. Just didn’t help much.
[REWIND: Run defense gutted in loss to Bears]
The Raiders have been exposed on the outside, and have been particularly vulnerable to counters and to running backs sneaking through cutback lanes. The Raiders have to play together against the run, and they haven’t played together much at all due to injuries in the front seven. With the regular season around the corner, they have to show progress heading into a regular-season game week. If you can’t stop the run, the defense stands zero chance. Improvement has to be evident, or the Raiders are in big trouble.
Punting battle wages on: Marquette King and Chris Kluwe have engaged in a close fight to be the Raiders punter. Each player has moved ahead a various points in this preseason, and Thursday offers the final chance to make a lasting impression.
Allen has said holding is important, as are the technical aspects of the job. Kluwe is ahead in those areas, but King’s leg strength can’t be discounted. In a position battle this close, a successful preseason finale could be what puts a punter over the top.