5 things to watch: Raiders vs. Rams

Updated August 17, 2018 - 7:57 pm

LOS ANGELES — Well, this is a little unorthodox.

The Raiders and Los Angeles Rams will meet Sept. 10 for their season opener in Oakland. First, they’ll face each other Saturday in an exhibition.

Two matchups in 24 days.

“I’ve never seen that,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said this week. “I was in the league a long time. I don’t remember that. What are you going to do about it, right? We’ll just adjust and adapt. Same for them as it is us.”

Exhibitions are notoriously unsuitable for mass consumption because, aside from starter usage, they are doused in vanilla from a strategy standpoint. Saturday’s game should be especially so, as Gruden and Rams coach Sean McVay await their Week 1 tilt.

The score won’t count at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. It will on “Monday Night Football” at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

While sideline brainpower won’t be worth watching, here are five things that are.

Chris Warren

He won’t start this game. But if last week was an indicator, he’ll know how to finish it.

Rookie running back Chris Warren has the look of a diamond in the rough for the Raiders. He not only was undrafted out of Texas but also went unsigned in the draft’s immediate aftermath. He attended Oakland’s rookie minicamp on a tryout before earning a contract in May.

He continues to earn his place.

Some of the hype should be controlled. He does run high at 6 feet 2 inches. There are ball security issues that accompany that. He is still grasping how to be physical at his size. He is still gaining comfort in the offense; he mis-ran a route on one of his early snaps in last week’s 16-10 exhibition win over the Detroit Lions.

The talent, though, is clear.

Warren, a one-cut downhill runner, totaled 11 carries for 82 yards in the second half alone. Those included gains of 26 and 19 yards, two of the team’s five longest plays from scrimmage. Warren has a shot at making this team, but DeAndre Washington shouldn’t be overlooked.

Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, fullback Keith Smith and Jalen Richard are in firm standing.

Rookie pass rushers

Defensive tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst impressed in their debut last week.

Now, it’s defensive end Arden Key’s turn.

The third-round pick from Louisiana State missed the exhibition opener to a minor ankle injury. He is expected to play Saturday in his first NFL appearance.

Key had an impressive training camp, drawing on-field comparisons to former Raider Aldon Smith with his athleticism and length as an edge rusher. He happens to wear No. 99, too, Smith’s number. Key fell to the third round for character and medical concerns, the latter tied to a shoulder injury that contributed to a lackluster 2017 season at LSU.

His spin move was notably effective in practices.

Hall, a second-round pick, and Hurst, a fifth-rounder, can build upon their strong outings. Hall’s performance was highlighted with a sack and batted pass.

Kicker

It very well could have been nothing.

But when last seen during training camp, Eddy Pineiro was walking off the field with an athletic trainer before Wednesday’s practice. He did not return.

This is not enough to sound alarm bells, given Wednesday was veteran Mike Nugent’s kicking day anyway. Still, it was unusual, and no clarity came Thursday on Pineiro’s kicking day because Gruden canceled practice as a reward for players’ efforts.

So, Pineiro’s activity level Saturday is worth monitoring.

The undrafted rookie is expected to serve as the Raiders’ kicker this season. He made all three field goals versus the Lions. Two were on dirt from 48 and 45 yards. If he misses action, the topic will be broached postgame in Gruden’s news conference.

Nugent did not play in the first exhibition.

Wide receiver competition

The Raiders have a muddied battle at slot receiver.

Ryan Switzer has impressed all offseason. Griff Whalen, though, has gained favor, handling most first-team reps over the past week-plus. Seth Roberts recently missed more than a week of work, including the exhibition opener, to injury. All three are expected to play Saturday.

Theirs is but one component to the intrigue at wide receiver.

Martavis Bryant, Johnny Holton, Dwayne Harris, rookie Marcell Ateman, Keon Hatcher and Isaac Whitney round out the depth chart behind starters Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. The Raiders are expected to keep no fewer than six wide receivers on their 53-man roster.

Offensive tackles

Donald Penn missed the first 12 of 14 practices at training camp while recovering from December foot surgery.

He has practiced twice all year. Is that enough to play Saturday?

The three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle is still working himself into form while acclimating to the right side. He has been a left tackle almost exclusively during his 11-year NFL career. Raiders coaches must determine their comfort level in inserting him into action.

Should he play, how much is fair to monitor.

Gruden acknowledged Wednesday what Penn admitted a day earlier: He’s not in football shape yet.

“I think he’ll tell you he’s a little rusty,” Gruden said. “It’s one thing to condition over here in an air-conditioned tent drinking cherry juice. They do the workout, and they get sponged down, and they get cherry juice to recover. It’s a heck of a lot different when you have to block Justin Ellis and some of these characters.”

Before Penn’s return, Ian Silberman predominantly worked at right tackle in camp.

At left tackle, Kolton Miller is making his return to Los Angeles. The Raiders drafted the former UCLA lineman with the No. 15 overall pick.

More Raiders: Follow all of our Raiders coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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