Here we go again.
The Los Angeles Rams are on the road to play the Oakland Raiders in their second game of the 2017 preseason. To get a better sense of what these pre-Vegas Raiders are offering for opposition, I linked up with Levi Damien from Silver and Black Pride, the SB Nation community for Raiders fans.
1.) First things first. I remember as a kid, the divide between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Raiders was stark but also kind of indicative of something larger. Now after a quarter century in St. Louis, the Rams are in Year 2 back in LA and yall are in Year -2 in Las Vegas. The hell is going on? (Feel free to just treat this as an open-ended Q about the relocation in general)
$$$$$$$$$$ is what's going on. Kroenke has lots of it, making the NFL's long awaited return to LA a reality. And Nevada just gave the Raiders and the NFL a record $750 million in public money, which is the kind of example the NFL would like every city to follow or have their team taken from them as well. Then you add in the owners getting a cut of the relocations money for three NFL teams changing homes and you have the current shifting NFL landscape.
2.) Is Derek Carr going to play? If not, what's the general sentiment of the offensive starters? Is Marshawn Lynch real? Am I supposed to bite my tongue on Jared Cook?
I think you just asked all five questions in this single question. But I'll try to keep it brief. Yes, Derek Carr will play. The starters will play into the second quarter, perhaps the whole first half depending on snap counts. Beast Mode is real. I saw him just the other day. Whether he can play at his Pro Bowl level of his last full season remains to be seen, but he will be running behind the best interior offensive line in football, so the odds are good. Please, by all means, share your take on Jared Cook. All insight is welcome. He has looked great thus far. As talented as he showed with the Packers late last season and in the playoffs. He even had a strong support for Marshawn sitting for the national anthem. I understand he was a strong voice of social change in St Louis as well.
3.) Defensively...well, there's a reason why y'all went so heavy on the defense. How are things among the first string looking aside from Khalil Mack?
Not great. The weak areas were linebacker, secondary, and interior defensive line. So, basically everyone except Mack and Bruce Irvin. The only defensive free agent they added was Jelani Jenkins and he hasn't been able to crack the first team despite a severe lack of talent at the linebacker spot. Starters in the middle are rookie fifth round pick Maquel Lee and second year former 6th round pick Cory James. James played well in the first preseason game, racking up great tackle numbers, so it's possible he has improved.
Big money cornerback Sean Smith is still struggling and now he's been charged with assault which could lead to a suspension and perhaps jail time if he's convicted. The rest of the secondary is banking on the addition of former Chargers Defensive Coordinator John Pagano to solve the issues they have with communication. They are talking like it's coming along nicely, and there have been some signs of it in camp. I wouldn't figure to see any real signs of it until the third preseason game when they focus on game planning.
The interior defensive line was pathetic last season. Dan Williams fell off while his weight ballooned up, they missed Mario Edwards Jr., and rookie Jihad Ward was terrible. Now Williams is gone, Justin Ellis moves into his spot, Edwards is still having trouble staying on the field (he started training camp on NFI) and after coaches insisted Ward was going to break out in his second season, he spent the entire training camp on PUP while recovering from a foot injury.
4.) How is the draft class looking? Is the impact in the secondary up to expectations given the capital invested?
Also not great, but a couple bright spots. They used their top two draft picks on the secondary and both have been injured. Top pick corner Gareon Conley missed all of camp and second round safety Obi Melifonwu missed most of it and as of the last day of camp was still not 100%. The only bright spots among the new additions are defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and safety Shalom Luani. Vanderdoes has looked really good and could be the answer to the Raiders' lack of an interior pass rush. Luani may or may not have a great impact immediately as he may not see the field a lot. Rookie fifth round linebacker Marquel Lee is the starter in the middle, but the jury is out on if he is the answer. He could simply be the best option they have.
5.) Who should Rams fans expect to see a challenge from in the second half? What UDFAs and roster fringe guys are Raiders fans backing heading into Saturday?
The aforementioned Shalom Luani. He's a 7th round pick who has been fantastic since he arrived in Oakland and looked great in the team's preseason opener last week. Also be looking for undrafted rookies LaTroy Lewis who had two sacks last week and cornerback Breon Borders.
Thanks to Levi for the time.