A few things to looking for in tonight’s Raiders-49ers game at lovely Candlestick Park:
– Can JaMarcus Russell build on a decent opening game against Dallas as the Raiders attempt to build a viable passing offense?
His primary target in that game, Chaz Schilens, is out for a minimum of a month. He has two rookie starters at wideout in Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy.
Russell has also been inconsistent at practice. As much as he’ll be compared to the 49ers’ Alex Smith as a former No. 1 overall pick, the real comparison is with Shaun Hill, the favorite to become the 49ers starter.
Hill’s reputation is that of a quarterback who doesn’t look good in practice but is better in games. Russell has been an inconsistent practice quarterback since he arrived, at least those conducted in the presence of the media.
If Russell can look relatively sharp and lead a scoring drive or two, the whole nightmarish practice sequence Wednesday against the 49ers is a meaningless footnote. A poor performance, and it’s reason for concern.
– Can Jeff Garcia lend a spark?
Russell’s going to be the quarterback when the season starts, but if he struggles and Garcia emerges from the bench to direct a touchdown drive before taking the rest of the night off, the “quarterback controversy” chatter begins. Garcia looked pretty good in his practices against the 49ers, active and creative.
– Can Darren McFadden put the running back issue to rest?
The second-year halfback gets the start tonight, with Michael Bush opening against the Saints next week. If he’s as good against San Francisco as he was against Dallas, it’s another step toward being the closest thing the Raiders will have to a feature back.
– Nick Miller _ preseason flash or legitimate possibility for the 53-man roster?
The Raiders have been creative in their use of Miller throughout training camp, lining up occasionally in the backfield, running plays which suit his skills. They don’t do this unless they’re serious about keeping him aboard.
Schilens injury means they may need to keep another wide receiver. The difficult part is the Raiders already have a very good kickoff return specialist in Justin Miller, and would have to believe Nick Miller is nearly as good. If that’s the case, then the decision is whether Nick Miller is more valuable as a receiver than Justin Miller is as a cornerback.
– What’s up with Capt. Kirk?
Kirk Morrison will start at middle linebacker, but Ricky Brown had a very good week of practice. A player-by-player salary roster I obtained last year said Morrison is due $545,000 in salary this year but notes an “up to $5.2 million escalator.” That means he could be due considerably more, although admittedly I don’t know how much more.
Ricky Brown was retained at the $1.6 million tender. If Morrison’s salary is due a huge bump well past that of Brown’s, we may have our answer regardless of what happens against the 49ers.
– Pass rush, anyone?
Trevor Scott has been relatively quiet throughout training camp, but had some good rushes during the week against the 49ers. Last week’s “10 Mississippi” count where Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass to Jason Witten was embarrassing.
– We probably won’t see much of the first team defense if it’s anything like the preseason opener against Dallas, but will it be the one that stuffed the Cowboys back at their own end for a three-and-out, or the that got shredded on its second series and looked a lot like what we’ve seen in past years?
– How well will the Raiders cover tight end Vernon Davis?
Davis put the Oakland defense through a rough patch Wednesday when he scored touchdowns three times in four plays, and he’s looked like a much improved player this season. The Raiders open with Antonio Gates and San Diego.