NAPA — The Raiders are playing a football game on Friday night. Not a 11-on-11 “team” period during training camp. Not a joint practice against the Detroit Lions, like the ones that took place on Tuesday and Wednesday. But an honest-to-goodness meaningless game played in an actual stadium.
We are all very excited for it.
An NFL preseason contest may be nothing more than a glorified exhibition, but this one will be the first game coached by Jon Gruden since Dec. 28, 2008, when his Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the (checks media guide) Oakland Raiders. Gruden’s hiring was one of the biggest coups of the 2018 offseason, and it has added some serious spice to the Raiders’ summer preparations.
But there are plenty of questions about this team on the eve of Preseason Game 1. Of course there are.
Can Martavis Bryant be a major contributor?
Bryant looked like a bargain when the Raiders acquired him from Pittsburgh for a third-round draft pick on April 26. Oakland would have a jet-fast wide receiver to take the top off of defenses and create space for Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson.
Sure, Bryant brought along some baggage, including poor relations with former teammates and a drug suspension that wiped out his 2016 season. But who better than the charismatic Gruden to mold a talented but moody athlete?
The bloom is leaving the rose, though. Over the weekend, Gruden acknowledged to reporters that he wasn’t 100 percent satisfied with Bryant’s performance in camp. “He’s got to get out here and play better,” the coach said. “… He’s in a competitive situation, and right now, a lot of other receivers have had a nice camp. He’s just got to learn the offense.”
This week, former NFL wide receiver James Jones, now an NFL Network correspondent, doubled down. Jones said he had spoken to Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and that, “They said he’s not picking up the playbook, and that’s the reason of a little frustration right now because they want to get him on the field but he’s not able to grasp the playbook yet.”
Ouch. On the other hand, Bryant made a couple of big plays against the Lions during Wednesday’s practice. On one route, he stayed with a ball that was tipped by Detroit cornerback Darius Slay, caught it in stride and took off untouched. He also hauled in a long completion on the field opposite me; I didn’t have a great angle on the play, but the crowd loved it.
Bryant is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and can run and leap like Baryshnikov. Gruden’s comments were meant to shake him out of his complacency, but you can bet the Raiders aren’t ready to give up on him.
Is Kolton Miller ready to start at left tackle?
The Raiders’ playoff hopes rest on quarterback Derek Carr, and Carr’s health rests, in large part, on his left tackle — especially in a division that includes edge rushers like Denver’s Von Miller, the Chargers’ Joey Bosa and Kansas City’s Justin Houston.
As of now, that left tackle appears to be Miller, the rookie from UCLA. The incumbent at that position, Donald Penn, is out with a foot injury, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Wednesday that the Raiders will ask the veteran to take a pay cut. If he refuses, and perhaps even if he doesn’t, the starting job will fall to Miller.