After being shutout 3-0 on Friday, the Raiders play their road opener tonight in Glendale, AZ against the Cardinals.
Most fans in California and Arizona will be able to see the game on local TV, and here four players each on offense and defense who will hope to catch viewers' attention:
Matt Leinart (#7) - On Monday, Carson Palmer looked fine, and Raider Nation will be hoping to see him lead a scoring drive tonight. However, it would be a surprise if the veteran stays on the field for more than two or at most three drives. Expect to see a lot of Leinart, the former Arizona first round pick who will be playing to show the home crowd what they're missing. Whether he wilts under the pressure or carries a Raiders offense that could use some confidence will give some indication as to whether the 2012 Raiders have a chance to meet their goals if they lose Palmer for an extended period. In his first three seasons with Arizona, Leinart completed only 55.8% of his 518 attempts and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. In the three years since, he's completed 67.8% of his 90 attempts, but for only 8.1 yards per completion. Oakland may be transitioning to more of a so-called West Coast Offense, but their personnel still screams vertical passing game. Leinart will need to come through with some big throws, and not merely enough checkdowns to pad his stats, to show the Raiders can depend on him.
Alex Parsons (#67) - The Raiders' strong showing on defense Monday night was aided by the inexperienced play at center on the other side. Meanwhile, Oakland's center, Stefan Wisniewski, was lost to a calf injury on the first drive. Parsons has been with Oakland's practice squad each of the past two seasons, and worked as the first team center in mini-camp this offseason due to a different Wisniewski injury. Despite his lack of in-game experience, Parsons did okay when his number was called and played the bulk of the game Monday, but if he can elevate his game tonight it would go a long way toward neutralizing the strength of the Arizona roster. The Cardinals' defense runs around nose tackle Dan Williams, the third year former first round pick, and veterans Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, two of the better 3-4 ends in the NFL. If Parsons gets worked over, don't expect much improvement from the Raiders' lackluster offensive effort of four nights ago. Wisniewski, after playing every snap in 2011, is already on his second minor injury of 2012, so Oakland better hope Parsons is up to the challenge in case lil' Wiz struggles to shake the injury bug as a full time center.
Mike Goodson (#25) - Darren McFadden, though electrifying, only played in the opening drive on Monday, setting up Lonyae Miller to play for nearly three quarters. Going by Monday's game, Miller looks like a long shot to make the roster; he did an okay job of getting extra yards after contact but wasn't able to speed through holes. McFadden figures to only see one or two series tonight, and the speedy Taiwan Jones, the favorite to be the #2 halfback, will miss the action with a hamstrung injury. That leaves it to Goodson to help get the Raiders going on offense. He's missed time after a vicious hit by Philip Wheeler in camp, but looks like he will play tonight. If so, he could offer the explosive backfield threat that was lacking after the first drive on Monday. Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Reggie McKenzie had offered free agent Cedric Benson a deal before camp, but the veteran waited to receive a better offer; by the time Benson was ready to sign for the minimum with Green Bay, McKenzie had no interest in outbidding his former employers due to what he'd seen out of Goodson. The fourth year player, acquired by McKenzie for tackle Bruce Campbell, was stuck behind Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in Carolina, but even if Jones emerges in his second season in Oakland, Goodson figures to get more work than he did with the Panthers due to the imperative to keep McFadden healthy. The only season when Goodson saw significant action was 2010, when he ran for a slightly higher yards per carry than Stewart or Williams, but his five fumbles resulted in him getting just one reception and no carries in 2011. Raiders fans will hope for him to hit holes quickly, hold onto the ball, and maybe get into the end zone tonight.
Juron Criner (#84) - It's not quite a homecoming for Criner, who hails from Las Vegas and went to University of Arizona down in Tucson. But when he takes to the field in Glendale, there'll no doubt be many in the stands who fondly remember rooting for or against the Wildcat standout. Monday saw undrafted rookie Rod Streater make a big impression in the Raiders' passing game, but fifth-round pick Criner didn't fare as well. He had one five yard catch, but it came on 3rd and 11 and Criner wasn't able to make a move to approach the first down marker. More noticeably, on the next drive he got wide open on a first down play but, with his focus already having shifted to picking up yards after the catch, he dropped the ball. He had another pass thrown in his general direction by Terrelle Pryor in the third quarter, but wasn't able to reel it in against good coverage. With Criner's campmate roommate Streater sure to attract plenty of attention from Arizona's defense, Criner should see some big opportunities tonight and will need to make the most of them.
Mike Mitchell (#34) - The fourth year vet out of Ohio has struggled to get on the field thus far in his NFL career. Tyvon Branch was drafted a year earlier and developed into a reliable strong safety, and Mitchell missed much time to injury in his first and third seasons. Branch, who the Raiders have now committed to long term, will get the start tonight, but with free safety Michael Huff absent to see the birth of his child, Mitchell figures to get even more time than usual. With free agency looming after the season, Mitchell has a lot riding on earning playing time in 2012. In previous seasons, he's been used almost as a linebacker by the Raiders at times, and other times as more of a traditional safety with Branch in coverage on the line. In Jason Tarver's hybrid scheme, Mitchell figures to have the chance to earn even more time on the field. He came down with an easy interception near the end of the first half Monday, and also forced an incompletion with a third quarter pressure and knockdown. Look for him to try to build a longer resume of big plays tonight.
DeMarcus Van Dyke (#23) - The second year cornerback struggled Monday night after drawing raves thus far in camp. He allowed two catches, both for first downs, and also was flagged for pass interference in the red zone, setting up the only score of the game. Van Dyke has the speed to recover on deep balls, and his improved ball skills have been notable in camp. Raiders fans will remember Van Dyke's welcome to the NFL moment against Arizona last preseason when he had Larry Fitzgerald blanketed downfield but the veteran WR simply reeled in the catch anyway. Similar moments predominated against the Saints in the 2011 preseason, when Drew Brees seemed perfectly confident that Van Dyke wouldn't get his head turned and hands up to break up any passes. In part because of those displays, DVD didn't see the field much in the regular season, despite the Raiders' losing Chris Johnson for nearly the whole year. With free agent additions Ron Bartell and Shawntae Spencer ahead of him, Van Dyke needs to continue to improve, and show that improvement in game situations, to earn playing time. Tonight, he figures to have some extra opportunity to do so with the absence of Michael Huff. Against Dallas, the Raiders had Huff in coverage against the slot receiver with Matt Giordano playing deep at free safety. Maybe Van Dyke sees snaps early tonight when the Cardinals go three wide. Wherever he lines up, he'll have to show he can keep his receivers from coming back for the ball, and not just outrun them on post patterns.
Jack Crawford (#91) - It's not certain if the rookie out of Penn State will play just yet, but the UK fan favorite will hope to make his NFL debut after suiting up Monday but staying off the field to avoid aggravating his foot injury. Rookie defensive tackles Christo Bilukidi and Dominique Hamilton both looked good Monday, as did Jamie Cumbie. Now, the pressure's on fifth-round pick Crawford to earn a roster spot as competition rages. He's a favorite to make the roster due to his draft slot and since he's more of an end and a pass rusher than any of that trio, but he's a raw player and if he doesn't look good on film in the preseason, the Raiders will certainly be more tempted to waive him and try to sneak him onto the practice squad at the end of the month. With the Cardinals having issues at quarterback and on the offensive line, tonight would be a good time for Crawford to make a big debut; look for him to bring some big time pressure if he's okayed by the medical staff to play.
Carl Ihenacho (#53) - Ihenacho played defensive end at San Jose State but didn't appear to possess the size to stay at end in the NFL; he went undrafted in 2010 while battling knee issues and didn't catch on anywhere that season. In 2011, he came to camp with the Chargers, but didn't make the final cut. The Raiders signed him to their practice squad late in the season, and now he's trying to sneak onto the 2012 roster at outside linebacker. He played often on Monday night, not making a huge impression but flashing enough potential to suggest he could be a serious contender for a roster spot. He lined up frequently on the weakside with his hand in the dirt and rushed the passer a lot. He has a long way to go to prove he belongs on an NFL team, but if he can bring the heat as a pass rusher while showing he can also drop back in coverage, he's got a chance. With Aaron Curry lost to injury for now, and maybe for much longer, the Raiders have a need on the outside. With Philip Wheeler and Miles Burris the only virtual locks to make the roster at his position, Ihenacho has a good shot to outshine the competition and stick around. Others vying for a spot at OLB (not counting Travis Goethel or Nate Stupar, who look to principally be ILB's for Oakland) are undrafted rookies Kaelin Burnett and Chad Kilgore as well as the recently signed Korey Bosworth.