Raider preseason is filled with intrigue

For season ticket holders, the preseason is just another excuse for the NFL to squeeze every last cent out of your wallet.

For casual fans, it is just another excuse to throw the first BBQ of the football season and invite friends over.

For Raider fans, the 2009 preseason is all business.

Now that the NFL is slowly rolling out the slate of games for ’09, we have some food for thought after yesterday’s announcement of the preseason schedule. Here are five things for Raider fans to keep an eye on in the preseason.

1) The Defense – Thus far, all has been quiet on the Raider front with regards to new defensive coordinatorD056473012.jpgJohn Marshall. In fact, Marshall’s presence has been so shrouded that even the San Francisco Chronicle has been turned down for interviews with the new defensive czar. With the 31st ranked run defense, many wonder how Marshall will go about solving a problem that has doomed the Raider defense for the past five years now. To date, no new additions have been made to shore up the Raider front seven. Plus, there is now a huge need in the defensive backfield with the release of Gibril Wilson. Michael Huff, Hiram Eugene and Tyvon Branch are the early candidates to play the safety spots, but all are unproven to his point and the Raider staff is on its way to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to workout Wake Forest safety Chip Vaughn and cornerback Alphonso Smith (more on the draft later).

2) The Offensive lineTom Cable has gone about building the Raiders from the ground up and his main priority this off-season has been brining in linemen who fit the Zone Blocking Scheme he employs. Erik Pears and Kmariohalif Barnes are both going to push Mario Henderson for the right to be the team’s starting left tackle. The loser of that battle will most likely be moved to the right side, leaving one man to stand on the sidelines. Expect a heated preseason battle on the O-line. Samson Satele was acquired in a trade with the Miami Dolphins to fill the void at center. However, many have speculated that the versatile Hawaiian could see some time at guard as well. Will he be competing with Cooper Carlisle and Robert Gallery if the Raiders draft a center? Needless to say, many Silver and Black faithful will have a keen eye fixed on the big guys up front when the preseason kicks off.

3) Rookies, Rookies, Rookies – The 2009 NFL draft promises to be filled with surprise and intrigue. Teams are being very cautious so as not to tip their hand prior to April 25th. As of now, the Raiders have not scheduled any workouts other than the above mentioned trip to Wake Forest to see a couple defensive backs (neither of which is projected to be a first round pick). With a top 10 pick, holes to fill on both sides of the ball and some major question marks on the roster, 2009 will be a chance for a few rookies to get some serious field time. No doubt there will be a multitude of position battles to observe as the preseason unfolds. Don’t be surprised to see rookie starters on offense and defense throughout the preseason and into the regular season.

4) The Play Calling - Tom Cable has made it clear; he will be calling the plays. Ted Tollner is the passing game coordinator and Paul Hackett will be responsible for molding JaMarcus Russell into the franchise quarterback he is capable of being. There is plenty of talent on the offense, none can argue that. Cable has quite a task on his hands with so many weapons and only one ball to share. With a three headed monster of a running game, a soon-to-be Pro Bowl tight end and a core of young receivers emerging, Cable will need to find a healthy balance to keep both the opposing defense off-guard and his own team happy. The preseason will give a glimpse into what Cable and Co. have been cooking up this off-season.

5) The Schedule - Here is a quick examination of the preseason schedule.

Dallas Cowboys - That’s right! The NFL is doing its best to revive this rivalry with a preseason and a Thanksgiving meeting on the schedule for two of pro football’s most storied franchises. For the passive fans, this is the preseason game to watch. From 1992-2004, the Raiders and Cowboys met in the preseason. These are always highly contested battles and are played more like regular season games than preseason. The Cowboys will be coming to the Bay which is where they suffered a regular season defeat to Oakland the last time these two met in 2005.

San Francisco 49ers – The annual “Battle of the Bay”. It was last year, in this same game, that Johnnie Lee Higgins announced himself as a force to be reckoned with in the return game by hitting pay dirt on a 53-yard punt return to open the Raider account in the preseason.  This time around, the game will be played in The City as the 9ers play host.

New Orleans Saints - The Saints will visit the Bay in a rematch from last season in which the Raiders suffered a punishing 34-3 loss in the Superdome. At this point in the preseason, the focus begins to shift towards keeping the roster healthy and ready for the regular season. Still, I’d expect Coach Cable to use a little revenge as motivation for his men this night.

Seattle Seahawks - This same match up concluded the ’08 preseason as well. That one was a close, 23-16, loss for the Raiders in Seattle. The Raiders will one again make the trek to Qwest Field to take on their former AFC West rivals. By then, it will be all about the rookies and the journeymen trying to make the roster. Expect John Marshall to field a young and hungry defense against his former employer. Then, it’s on to the regular season…

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Tags: Alphonso Smith Chip Vaughn Cooper Carlisle Erik Pears Gibril Wilson Hiram Eugene JaMarcus Russell John Marshall Johnnie Lee Higgins Khalif Barnes Mario Henderson Michael Huff Paul Hackett Robert Gallery Samson Satele Ted Tollner Tom Cable Tyvon Branch

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