O.CO COLISEUM — There’s no quarterback controversy in Oakland, according to the Raiders. But their fourth preseason game against the reigning Super Bowl champs says different.
After four touchdowns on the Raiders’ first four drives, “#StartTheCarr” was trending on Twitter.
Even though none of Derek Carr’s three touchdown passes were over Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, his performance was by far the most exciting of the Raiders’ preseason.
Shortly after the first quarter, Oakland was up on Seattle 28-7, and the Raiders eventually won 41-31 on the back of Carr and the Raiders offense.
Raiders coaches have a real decision to make, and it just might be leaning towards Carr. Head Coach Dennis Allen, when asked who is his Week 1 starter, maneuvered around the question:
“The great thing is, we’ve got three guys that can start at quarterback for us. I thought, err, um. I’m very happy with where we’re at in the quarterback room. We gotta see where Matt (Schaub) is.”
Two questions later, Allen was asked if Schaub’s health was the deciding factor:
“Well that’s been the plan all along. But obviously Derek continues to get better. Continues to improve. Then… I’ve said it before, I think we have a good situation.”
Carr strung together three high-quality drives in the first quarter, aided by some solid defense and extraordinary special teams coverage. He finished his day early in the second quarter with the Raiders fourth touchdown drive of the evening, a pass to receiver Denarius Moore.
Carr’s first drive came against Seattle’s first team defense, and included throws towards Richard Sherman. It’s only preseason, and these games only mean so much. But Carr looks a lot better than any rookie should.
Carr is the first Raiders quarterback since 2010 to throw four touchdowns in the preseason. Matt McGloin joined that list later in the game.
All of the questions asked of Carr that even remotely alluded to the possibility of him starting were responded to by referring to it being a coach’s decision.
Carr gave it up to God, his teammates and his support system. And then exited stage left.
It’d be unfair to knock Matt Schaub without a real understanding of the play-calls relayed to him from offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
The fact remains, though, Schaub has been underwhelming thus far and failed to throw a touchdown pass in 47 pass attempts this preseason. His elbow soreness only adds to the question of how the Raiders feel about Schaub’s ability.
When asked what day he learned about the woes, Raiders head coach Dennis Allen paused.
He looked up and to the left for at least one full second, before slowly coming in with an answer of:
Normally, Allen will answer right away, even if the player in question is fighting for a roster spot.
The team has vehemently denied that Schaub is in danger of being benched. His cap hit is $8 million, well within the range of a starter. But Carr, who will make just over $5 million over the next four seasons, looks like the quarterback of the future, if not the now.
It’s been several years since cuts in the strong Raiders receiver group would nearly be too close to call. Brice Butler, who was drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, is looking more and more like a high-quality receiver.
While it’s only preseason, Butler has now caught four touchdown passes in four games. That’s impressive even in pee-wee football.
The Raiders will likely keep six receivers on the roster, though they can keep more if they choose. Oakland signed free agent wideout Greg Little after the Browns cut him in May. Little looked great in practices, but has failed to do enough to make the decision easy.
Another receiver, who many thought would become a breakout star, is looking shaky. Andre Holmes played his first two seasons with Dallas, and has big intrigue with his six-foot-five frame. Holmes has been inconsistent; though not horrible, he’s definitely had his moments. Just not the moments many expected.
The only receiver who the staff won’t have a hard time with is Seth Roberts, who almost certainly will be cut on Saturday.
Any time you play six games every year against Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers and Alex Smith, it behooves a team to have a strong secondary.
The Raiders, if the preseason is any indicator, do not.
What the Raiders do have, though, is a skilled pass rush and run stoppers everywhere. The additions of Lamarr Woodley, Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack and Antonio Smith make for an awesome group of rushers.
Add in incumbent starting linebackers Nick Roach and Sio Moore, and that’s one heck of a front seven. So long as Tyvon Branch and Charles Woodson stay healthy, the Raiders should be okay. On paper, at least.
Branch, asked about the defense as a whole, said:
“We played solid, man. We had a few mental errors, a couple of mistakes here and there. But it was a good win regardless of that fact. It was a good win out there.”
With cuts coming Saturday afternoon, the Raiders faculty will have to make some tough decisions. It’s rare that a coach wants to cut a player.
But NFL rules demand it. The Raiders have until Saturday at 1 p.m. to make their final cuts. They have worked hard to add promising young players on offense and defense. They entered Thursday’s tilt with 75 men on the roster, and will need to trim it down to 53.
One caveat, though, is that the NFL extended the practice squad to 10 players this season, so Oakland will be able to keep 63 total. But so will all of the other 31 teams.
Running back and kick returner George Atkinson III is one of those players. He’s explosive, agile, and can run defenders over at times. He’s also a legacy player, his father played for the Raiders before they moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s.
Asked about a possible special teams spot, Atkinson said:
“Coming in, I though that was my whole mindset. Show out on special teams and get the attention of special teams coach. Make your role, or make your spot on the roster.”
Atkinson gained 63 yards on eight carries, an average of 7.9 yards per carry. They were mostly against backups, but the rookie may have solidified a role on the team.
Many of the cuts will come on defense, which is a relative strength. The Raiders have a number of young linebackers, and will likely retain seven or eight. They have nine before cuts.
Defensive ends Ryan Robinson, C.J. Wilson, Jack Crawford, Denico Autry, along with defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin, aren’t looking safe from the chopping block.
Offensive linemen Jack Cornell, Erle Ladson, Lamar Mady, Jarrod Shaw, Matt McCants and Dan Kistler, are also facing losing odds to make the roster. Though it’s unlikely that entire list of names will be released, they’re all facing the possibility.
Fullback Karl Williams also faces long odds, as incumbent starter Marcel Reece has a chokehold on the top spot, and Jamize Olawale has proven invaluable on special teams.