LOS ANGELES — Raiders linebacker James Cowser was following his man on a crossing route before he noticed Rams backup quarterback Brandon Allen locked in on his target.
Cowser stopped and moved left to get the right amount of space to make the interception, just like his coaches told him in practice.
The turnover gave the Raiders’ a fourth-quarter spark after a sloppy start in Saturday’s 19-15 preseason loss against the Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Many thoughts came rushing into Cowser’s head in that paused moment. He had been in that same position multiple times against Raiders quarterback Derek Carr during training camp.
Cowser came up short versus his teammate. That wasn’t the case Saturday when he perfectly timed Allen’s pass intended for Rams wide receiver Kendal Thompson.
Cowser returned the interception 15 yards and set the Raiders offense on the Rams’ 21-yard-line as teammates rushed to congratulate Cowser on his latest memorable play.
“I’m thinking, ‘Please hold on to this,’ ” Cowser said about the turnover snag.
There’s a lot on Cowser’s mind lately. The 2016 undrafted linebacker from Southern Utah is fighting for a spot on the Raiders’ final 53-man roster.
Cowser has made a strong case to stick with the team past the Sept. 1 deadline for cuts.
“That gets me caught up,” Cowser said about looking at the team’s depth chart. “That gets in my head when I think about all the pieces, and start thinking about that, instead of how I should be playing.
“Typically, I like to think what I can do better to try to be supportive of my teammates, and in turn, that makes me play better.”
Cowser played in 16 games for the Raiders last season primarily on specials teams. Making the squad in 2018 became more difficult after the Raiders signed veteran linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson. Both are expected to start at weakside linebacker and middle linebacker, respectively.
Currently, Cowser is listed third on the strongside linebacker depth chart behind Emmanuel Lamur and Kyle Wilber.
Throw in the improved play of middle linebacker Marquel Lee and weakside linebacker Nicholas Morrow. That’s six linebacker spots that could already be filled.
The odds are against Cowser but he still has two more preseason games left to climb up the depth chart and hold off Jason Cabinda, who’s also battling for a final linebacker spot.
Rams coach Sean McVay is the NFL’s latest offensive genius. He got his coaching start under Jon Gruden in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an assistant wide receivers coach.
Ten years later, McVay and Gruden shook hands as head coaches on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum field.
“It was fun,” McVay said about facing Gruden and the Raiders. “I think everybody knows what a huge amount of respect I have for Jon and how great he’s been to me over the course of my coaching career. It was a good opportunity to be able to do that (Saturday).”
The McVay-Gruden handshake might have a little more force when they meet again on Sept. 10 for the season opener at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
“That Sept. 10 date will be pretty special as well,” McVay said.