Matt Leinart is like any other quarterback in that he wants to play and not spend every week preparing for an opportunity that never comes. Yet, he’s also cognizant of the fact that the Raiders need to take a long look at second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor at some point.
Coach Dennis Allen said he is unsure whether to start Leinart or Pryor in place of injured regular Carson Palmer on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers in the regular-season finale.
“In this situation, I deserve to play, I deserve to start,” Leinart said. “But I’m not sure what’s going to happen. … If they want to start Terrelle and evaluate him and see what he can do, then I’ll support that and I’ll help him this week and help him during the game. But if they make me the starter and stuff, I’m just going to go out there and try to capitalize on that opportunity.”
Leinart last started a game Nov. 27, 2011, when he replaced injured Houston Texans starter Matt Schaub. Leinart suffered a broken collarbone that game and missed the remainder of the season.
Now, Leinart has one game to show enough for the Raiders to bring him back for a second season. Leinart is slated to be an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Problem is, the Raiders also have only one more game to take a long look at Pryor, a player that hasn’t played more than three snaps in any game during his two seasons with the Raiders.
“In Terrelle’s (case), he’s young, he’s had a big-time college career, and just given the unique dynamic of the situation, I don’t think they’re sure what they have in him,” Leinart said. “He hasn’t played in a game — just preseason. I do understand that football part of it and the business part of the game but I can’t control all that stuff.”
Getting a chance to play also would give Leinart an opportunity to put on tape a game for other teams to evaluate next offseason, if the Raiders opt to go another direction.
“I still feel I have a lot to prove at this point of my career,” Leinart said. “No matter what the naysayers say, I do feel like I still can play. I do feel like that, and I’ll play like that until the day I retire. But you’re only given so many opportunities in this league. That’s why this weekend would be awesome.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp is faced with the task of preparing game plans for two quarterbacks with distinct skill sets — Leinart the pure pocket passer, Pryor the mobile, athletic quarterback.
Yet, Knapp isn’t fazed, given he once faced a similar situation when he had to do likewise with Michael Vick and Matt Schaub with the Atlanta Falcons.
“What we’re trying to do is o get both guys ready,” Knapp said. “Both guys need reps right now because they really didn’t have any reps going into last week when Carson got hurt. It’s always the starter that’s been getting a lot of reps. So, we want to have both ready. We’ll know after tomorrow’s practice. But we’ve been splitting reps both, and we have to have a little bit of a game plan for both available.”
— It’s likely that rookie Tony Bergstrom will make his NFL starting debut Sunday at right guard in place of injured regular Mike Brisiel (ankle).
Knapp said he is impressed with the progress made by Bergstrom so far. He’s also realistic about tempering expectations for a player making his first start, on the road.
“He’s going to go through some growing pains like any new player would,” Knapp said. “I feel good about him. I like what I’ve seen in practice. I also have seen the rookie mistakes that I know this might show up in a game. But I’m looking forward to get him some reps to see him play live if he has to play.
“He’s prepared. He’s one of the first guys in the building. When asked questions in meetings he’s always on top of his information and the right assignments. I feel like he’s ready to play now. He’s going to go through some growing pains but he’s certainly earned the right to be on the field.”
Bergstrom has played sparingly this season, mostly as an extra blocker on certain plays. He has worked at offensive tackle and guard as a means of making himself more versatile and thereby more valuable as a backup.
He said he is ready to take the next step toward being an every-down player.
“I feel confident in what I’ve been doing,” said Bergstrom, Oakland’s third-round draft pick in April. “I feel good at the position. We’ll see what happens. I feel ready to roll.”
— Allen said he feels as if the season turned in by kicker Sebastian Janikowski was impressive enough for Janikowski to earn a spot on the AFC roster in the Pro Bowl.
“A little bit,” Allen said, when asked if he was surprised Janikowski got beat out by the Browns Phil Dawson. “Obviously, those are tough situations, because Phil Dawson had a strong year also, but we certainly felt like Seabass was very deserving and very worthy of that honor.”
Dawson convetered 28 of 29 field-goal attempts through the first 15 games this season. Janikowski made 31 of 34, with his misses coming from 51, 61 and 64 yards.
Janikowski rarely makes an appearance in the locker room during the media-access period each day, so he was unavailable for comment.
— It’s not difficult to find clues into what the Raiders roster is going to look like in 2013 and beyond. Time and again, Allen takes the time to rave about certain players, no doubt sending a message to others about how they should comport themselves.
On Thursday, Allen sang the praises of rookie linebacker Miles Burris, who has started every game this season.
“In terms of his energy, it’s been there the whole time,” Allen said. “He’s the type of player that we’re looking for as far as a guy, he loves football, he’s willing to work and he’s got a team attitude. Those are the characteristics of the guys that we’re really looking for, and he fits that mold to a tee. You don’t anticipate a fourth-round draft choice out of San Diego starting for you for the whole season. But he earned that right and got himself into that position.”
— So far, we know who the Raiders are playing in 15 of their 16 games in 2013. The Raiders won’t know their final opponent until Sunday’s games are played.
Here’s a look at the 14 common games for the four AFC West teams:
1. Six home-and-away games against divisional foes.
2. Four games against the AFC South — Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
3. Four games against the NFC East — Washington Redskins, New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
The final two games are based upon where each team in the AFC West finishes. The Raiders are the third-place team out of the AFC West, so they play the third-place team from the AFC North — Pittsburgh Steelers — at home and the third-place team from the AFC East on the road.
As of now, the New York Jets are the third-place team in the AFC East. However, if the Jets beat the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots beat the Dolphins on Sunday, the Jets and Dolphins would flop places.
If things play out that way, the Raiders would play the Dolphins on the road for the third straight season.
Here are the games that are different for the AFC West teams:
Raiders — Steelers and Jets/Dolphins
Broncos — Patriots, Ravens
Chiefs — Browns, Bills
Chargers — Bengals, Jets/Dolphins
So, before anyone rails about the difficulty of the Raiders schedule, remember that the only difference in the schedules of the four AFC West teams is the two games based on where they finish in the standings.
Therefore, in theory, the Broncos have the toughest schedule for 2013, with the Chargers next, followed by the Raiders and Chiefs.