By Steve Corkran
Friday, August 9th, 2013 at 10:46 pm in Oakland Raiders.
OAKLAND — The problem with exhibition games, especially the first one, is that it’s easy to make too much out of what you see when there hasn’t been any football played for seven months or so.
In the case of the Raiders, that thinking goes out the window. This is a team in the midst of a massive overhaul, and any positives and reasons to believe are things to be treasured.
So, feel free, go ahead and get carried away with the way Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin played in relief of presumptive starting quarterback Matt Flynn in tonight’s 19-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Try to picture rookie wide receiver Brice Butler as a staple of the passing game. Let your mind envision rookie Latavius Murray as the starting running back next season, assuming the Raiders don’t re-sign Darren McFadden.
After the way those guys played tonight, you’re entitled. So are Raiders coach Dennis Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie.
Maybe this is why Allen, McKenzie and the players act as if they know something that none of us will comprehend until we see the Raiders play. Maybe this is an aberration. Who knows?
For one game, anyway, the future looks bright and the Raiders have hope of being competitive in the AFC West, despite nothing but negative press from the national media.
– Flynn got flattened by Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee on the fourth play of the game. Fortunately for Flynn and the Raiders, the hit caused only a fumble and not an injury to Flynn.
It appeared as if the Cowboys just called a well-timed blitz and caught the Raiders short of blockers to account for Lee. That’s better than someone missing an assignment.
Pryor’s impressive night wasn’t without flaw. He capped one drive by making an ill-advised throw across his body and into heavy traffic in the end zone. Predictably, the pass was intercepted by the Cowboys.
As former Raiders coach Jon Gruden used to say, “Sometimes the best play you make is the one you never make.” Meaning, don’t force things and throw away the ball. Live to see another down.
That’s one of the lessons that Pryor will learn as he grows as a quarterback. It’s why it’s so important for the Raiders to play Pryor as much as possible, so that Pryor can see things in game settings, learn from them and evolve as a quarterback.
Pryor looked as comfortable as I can recall seeing him since he arrived late in camp in 2011. He didn’t panic, waited for plays to develop, showed nice touch and made plenty happen with his feet.
It will be interesting to see whether Allen and McKenzie give Pryor a legitimate shot to beat out Flynn for the starting gig knowing that they didn’t have much confidence in Pryor last season.
– Undrafted rookie Matt McGloin entered the game ahead of fourth-round draft pick Tyler Wilson, which comes as a bit of a surprise, even though McGloin was getting more reps of late in practice.
The fact that McGloin is ahead of Wilson in the pecking order doesn’t bode well for Wilson, who looked sharp in some offseason workouts.
McGloin didn’t do anything to hurt his chances of making the 53-man roster ahead of Wilson, either. He capped a solid showing with a well-thrown pass that Butler turned into a touchdown with a diving catch in the end zone.
Wilson entered the game in the fourth quarter and promptly got sacked on his first snap. Ultimately, he settled into a rhythm and put together some decent drives.
– Butler served notice that he isn’t afraid of doing whatever it takes to get noticed by the coaches. It’s not every day that you see a rookie make a diving catch in his first NFL game.
Butler’s play stands out even more when Jacoby Ford is on the sideline injured and Juron Criner and others aren’t doing anything of note.
The Raiders are likely to carry six receivers on their 53-man roster. The smart money says, Denarius Moore, Rod Streater and Ford and locks. Criner figures to have an edge, too, based on his experience and potential.
Beyond that, it’s wide open for the final two spots. Butler and Andre Holmes are making the most noise among a crowded field right now.
– Taiwan Jones carried over his eye-opening play in training camp to Friday night’s game. It’s now not so strange to imagine Jones making the roster as a cornerback.
He entered the NFL as a running back. However, he converted to cornerback out of frustrating after not getting a chance to show what he can do with the ball in his hands.
It appears as if the move is paying dividends for Jones and the Raiders. On Friday night, Jones showed nice instincts, the ability to break on the ball and make plays in tight coverage.
Now, let’s not get carried away just yet. Jones still has a way to go before he gets considered for a starting job or meaningful playing time. However, it’s saying something that he has come this far in such a short period of time.
– We told you about Murray during the offseason. Now you see what we meant when we promised you that you were going to like what you see.
He’s that impressive. On Friday, Murray debuted in a Raiders uniform and showed that he has the size, speed, strength and ability to be a dependable back.
He rushed for only 29 yards on eight carries, but it’s the way he carries himself, his decisiveness when he runs and the confidence.
Hence, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Allen take a real long look at Murray this season as a means of gauging whether he already has a potential replacement for McFadden on his roster.
– Other odds and ends:
The Raiders committed only four penalties for 35 yards. That would have been a typical series for the 2011 Raiders, or several other teams from the past couple of decades.
The Raiders intercepted one pass (Usama Young) and recovered a muffed punt (Eric Harper). Their lone turnovers came as a result of the Flynn sack and the Pryor ill-advised pass.
Rashad Jennings looked sharp as a complement to McFadden and the leading candidate as the short-yardage back. He rushed for 39 yards on nine carries, which included his converting a third-and-one early on.
Chris Kluwe’s one punt grossed/netted 36 yards. Marquette King’s lone punt grossed/netted 50 yards and ended with the fumble. King’s punt was quite solid, but it had nothing to do with the Cowboys player coughing up the ball.
Undrafted rookie Greg Jenkins flashed a few times, once on a 51-yard kick return and again on an 11-yard punt return that he fielded under pressure so that the ball didn’t keep bounding toward the Raiders goal line. These are the kinds of things that don’t go unnoticed. Keep an eye on Jenkins, a college quarterback who converted to wide receiver as a way of increasing his odds of making an NFL roster.
The Raiders defense held up pretty well against the run, even though they were thin on the defensive line. The Cowboys rushed for 70 yards on 20 carries.
– A handful of Raiders didn’t play Friday night: Ford, cornerback D.J. Hayden, linebackers Kaluka Maiava, Miles Burris and Billy Boyko, offensive tackle Menelik Watson, guard Lucas Nix and defensive linemen Lamarr Houston, Brandon Bair, Pat Sims and Vance Walker.
– The Raiders announced during the game that former Raiders offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy will be part of the broadcast team this season. Kennedy was at the game tonight, and the Raiders introduced him in the second half.