Any Given Monday: Wake Me Up! Is it the Regular Season Yet?

hayden nadolny any given monday chris warren III

Any Given Monday Hayden Nadolny Silver and Black Today

Our man from Down Under is back with his popular look inside Raiders football and more – Any Given Monday.

New Raiders coach Jon Gruden has infamously expressed his desire to bring football back to 1998. Little did we know he and former protege Sean McVay would punish us with a two-week time warp to the last week of preseason with a dog of a game that resembled Week 4, not Week 2.

Yes, that ugly final preseason game fans endure every year, where the starters are in gym shorts, and, if you’re playing in the fourth quarter, you’re probably getting cut soon. Saturday’s 19-15 loss to the Rams replicated a dreadful final preseason encounter, and it could have been even more vanilla given the teams face off again in just three weeks on Monday Night Football. Many starting spots are locked in, but Saturday showed there are a slew of backup positions that will undergo intense competition over the next few weeks.

On offense, backup quarterbacks Connor Cook and EJ Manuel both struggled. Cook had a questionable fumble (it could have easily been ruled an incomplete pass) and didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. Manuel made a few nice throws, but missed a number of timing routes and made some odd decisions. In particular, his frequent attempts to check down as he was being brought down for a would-be sack was maddening. Oh, and he turned the ball over for the second straight week.

It’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done behind the esteemed starters on the offensive line. Neither Ian Silberman nor David Sharpe looked the part, which reinforces the decision to move Donald Penn to right tackle for the time being.

On defense, there is intense competition at all three levels. Last week was PJ Hall’s turn to show up with a sack. This week, it was Maurice Hurst. Hurst’s release Saturday was at least a half-step quicker than anyone else. It will be extremely surprising if both rookie interior linemen don’t get significant playing time early this season.

At linebacker, Marquel Lee continues to shine and is putting pressure on Derrick Johnson, while Nicholas Morrow had extensive playing time and played well, for the most part. Morrow has shown a tendency to be in the right place at the right time, although he can be hesitant to finish a play. His finishing should see an improvement with the size he put on in the offseason. Morrow is a dark horse to take snaps away from veteran Emmanuel Lamur, although Lamur has the upper hand, having spent many years in coordinator Paul Guenther’s scheme.

any given monday la rams oakland raiders

The Raiders defensive backs continue to improve and show fundamental strength.

Antonio Hamilton had a solid game in the secondary, except for his ridiculous body slam for an unnecessary roughness penalty. It’s a credit to the coaches how far and fast Hamilton has come given he looked beyond dreadful last season under Jack Del Rio, Ken Norton Jr. and Jon Pagano. Rookie Nick Nelson also showed some moxie on the outside, but will need to track the ball better on deep routes. He’s not as bad as DJ Hayden was, but there’s still room for improvement.

Creating a competitive environment keeps players on edge, and that’s healthy for a group that needs to push forward and improve. Given Friday’s game is a starters’ dress rehearsal, getting playing time early might suggest the aforementioned players are doing more than just pushing the players ahead of them.

Rookie Watch

Chris Warren III

A throwback to old-school football, Warren is a hard-nosed young runner when he gets his pad level down, and showed great progress in that area. He needs to avoid wanting to make the big play by jumping outside the tackles, and should focus on taking the yards in front of him. There’s enough tape on Warren that it’s highly unlikely the Raiders will stash him on the practice squad, as someone will inevitably claim him on the waiver wire. It will be interesting to see how the running back room takes shape in the coming weeks with DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and Warren fighting for just two roster spots.

Veteran Watch

Gareon Conley

Conley’s finally back on the field and looked the part of a solid starting corner. He saw limited action early, but had perfect coverage on the one pass targeted his way. The Raiders have an undisputed first-round talent in Conley. They just need to keep him on the field.

Quote to Remember

“We’ve got a good thing going here. I just wanna help us win. I’m not playing too much longer. I just wanna win.”

Donald Penn, on why he agreed to a potential move to right tackle after spending his entire career at left tackle.

A Tweet of Amusement

Third-and-7

3 Predictions:

1. Friday’s game against the Packers will be a good benchmark for where the Raiders are going into the regular season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will get plenty of time with the starters, which will be the first true preseason test for the Raiders defense.

2. Receiver Seth Roberts didn’t play again last week due to a concussion. Once he gets through the concussion protocol, it’s unlikely he’ll see much of the field anyway, as the Raiders will shop him before final cuts are made. Keeping Roberts off the field will minimize injury risks.

3. The depth chart behind quarterback Derek Carr won’t be settled until Week 1 of the regular season. Cook and Manuel looked shaky, at best, against the Rams, missing multiple throws while often showing poor pocket awareness. Gruden will want them to step up in the coming weeks.

Seven Things I Think:

1. Penn’s potential move to right tackle highlights his maturity as an aging vet reaching the twilight of his career. A few years ago, I asked people connected with the team if Penn would consider moving to right tackle at a time when a few media pundits were unsure how free-agent signing Kelechi Osemele would fit in. Every response was hell would have to freeze over before Penn would consider such a move.

2. Should the move be permanent, rookie Kolton Miller will be in charge of protecting Carr’s blindside. The Raiders feel the bookends of Miller and Penn are the best option, and it was easier to move Penn than Miller, who said he struggled at UCLA when asked to switch.

3. Penn’s restructured contract has guaranteed him $2.75 million in 2019, even if he is cut. It’s a worthy development given his previous contract could have seen him cut with no dead money. The guaranteed money is a small amount by NFL standards, but could indicate the Raiders see Penn as a part of their plans next season.

4. If the Raiders keep Penn as a starter at right tackle, Brandon Parker will likely have spent the first two years of his four-year rookie contract as a backup swing tackle. Obviously, the Raiders would like a bigger return on their investment for a high third-round draft pick they traded up to get.

5. Penn’s restructure frees up a little over $3 million on the 2018 salary cap. The extra space could be used to help structure defensive end Khalil Mack’s probable new deal to be more salary-cap friendly.

6. Speaking of Mack, he is not getting traded. It’s just not happening. Penn’s contract holdout was 26 days last year. Mack is getting close to that. Expect Mack’s holdout to last at least another week, although I’d be surprised if he hasn’t reported to camp by the end of preseason.

7. The NFL has begun tapping into the enormous Australia-Pacific talent market by creating its first international combine in search of its next international star. There will be testing days in Fiji, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia before the top 75 attendees are invited to the Gold Coast (Queensland, Australia) in October to be assessed by NFL scouts. From there, up to five of the combine attendees will be invited to attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to develop their skills. Now, if only they would play a regular-season game or two at the 80,000-seat ANZ stadium in Sydney.