Raiders and Cowboys: A preseason appetizer for a Thanksgiving feast

We’re counting down the hours until the Oakland Raiders take the field for the first time in 2009. Tonight, the Dallas Cowboys come to town to renew one of the better preseason rivalries in the NFL, if such a thing exists.

From 1992 to 2004, the Raiders and Cowboys faced off during the preseason. Since the Cowboys would train in Oxnard, California, it was also common for the two teams to scrimmage as well.

Tempers would run hot as the scrimmage games always would have a few brawls and the preseason games themselves tended to be entertaining as well.

For Tom Cable and his staff, this is not just another game. The coaches will be keeping an eye on the performance of the team as cuts are sure to follow. Since these two meet again in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day, this will also be a chance to scout the competition.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on tonight.

Darren McFadden and Felix Jones – McFadden and Jones share much in common. Both were teammates in college at Arkansas. Both became first round draft picks in 2008. Both have blazing speed and are terrific all-around weapons. Of course, both showed flashes of brilliance as rookies but saw their seasons take a turn for the worse due to injury. How their respective teams utilize their talents tonight will be a good indicator as to what the NFL offenses of the future may look like and how opposing defenses deal with these new hybrid running backs.

The Battles in the Trenches – With Mario Henderson as the only lock as a starter and Robert Gallery still working back into shape after his appendectomy, it will be an all out war along the offensive line. Once Khalif Barnes went down with that broken ankle, the battle to take over at right tackle got intense. Cornell Green, by some miracle, still has his job but Erik Pears is sure to give him a run for his money. As far as the defensive line goes, there are plenty of questions we may get some answers to tonight. Is Greg Ellis capable of playing every down? Will Trevor Scott emerge as a lock at defensive end? Is Terdell Sands on his way out? Can Tommy Kelly stay on side?

A quarterback controversy that does not involve JaMarcus RussellJeff Garcia is out with a calf injury so the Crypt Keeper is going to have to hold off on his report on the QB battle in Oakland. However, Charlie Frye and Bruce Gradkowski have a real feud going with the right to be third string signal caller on the line. Chances are that the loser could be out of a job so field time is precious at this stage. When Garcia is healthy, he’s going to get his work in meaning less reps for the two QBs behind him. Frye has the inside edge due to his camp performances but everything can change with one poor showing in a game.

The Secondary – Aside from Nnamdi Asomugha, no job in the secondary is safe. Stanford Routt has been getting his share of work with the first team defense ahead of Chris Johnson at cornerback. Perhaps the most disappointing news is that Michael Mitchell is out tonight with a hamstring injury. Raider Nation was just as excited, and nervous, as he was about seeing the second round pick in his first NFL action. Hiram Eugene and Tyvon Branch will get the start, but Michael Huff knows this is his last chance. If Huff can’t win a starting job, chances are his days in Oakland are numbered. 

Tom Cable’s play calling – The biggest question is how will Cable utilize Justin Fargas, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush? Cable’s got a roster filled with Raider Speed and he’s got his work cut out for him to find ways to utilize all his weapons.  The running back rotation will get the most attention with Justin Fargas sitting atop the depth chart. McFadden will get his touches in a multitude of ways leaving Bush to split carries with Fargas. As far as Fargas and his status: this is his job to lose as he’s the only proven commodity at running back. Run-DMC and Bush had great moments last year but neither has carried the load for a full 16-game season in the NFL yet.

Get your popcorn ready! Tonight is just a tasty morsel of the feast to come in November. 

The 2009 season starts in a matter of hours!


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Tags: Bruce Gradkowski Charlie Frye Chris Johnson Cornell Green Darren McFadden Erik Pears Felix Jones Greg Ellis Hiram Eugene JaMarcus Russell Justin Fargas Khalif Barnes Mario Henderson Michael Bush Michael Huff Michael Mitchell Nnamdi Asomugha Robert Gallery Stanford Routt Terdell Sands Tom Cable Tommy Kelly Trevor Scott Tyvon Branch

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