The first preseason game is one of the most anticipated milestones for fans and players alike. After months of workouts, weight lifting sessions, mental preparation, meetings, and practices, players across the league will see their first live action of the 2021 season.
Although only an exhibition matchup vs. the Seattle Seahawks (Saturday, August 14th at 6 PM PST) it’s an important game for players jostling to prove their worth on the 53-man roster.
Below are three players who need to validate their place on the team.
Perhaps no player on the roster is under a bigger microscope than James. Replacing three-time Pro Bowler Rodney Hudson is no small feat. Hudson was a beacon of consistency and excellence. Suffice to say, James has some large shoes to fill.
Fortunately for James, he was hand picked by offensive line coach Tom Cable. The team has been molding James as Hudson’s eventual replacement since signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2019.
Once Hudson was traded, it accelerated James’s promotion. The team expressed enough confidence in him that they signed James to a 2-year $8.65 million extension with $5.9 million guaranteed.
Curiously though, the Raiders signed free agent center Nick Martin from the Houston Texans four days before resigning James.
In another interesting move, they drafted center Jimmy Morrissey out of Pittsburgh in the 7th round. One would have to assume that although the team is extremely high on James, Martin is cheap insurance and Morrisey will likely be a practice squad candidate.
James is a superior scheme fit over the departed Hudson in the zone scheme deployed by Cable. Whether his actual play on the field matches his skill set remains to be determined. The quickest way to earn Gruden’s respect is to execute your job at a high level and to be available to suit up on gamedays.
The team has displayed a lot of faith in James. Saturday could be the beginning of something beautiful.
Arnette was widely considered the biggest 1st round reach in the 2020 Draft. Most experts had a day two projection on him. He was a victim of the injury bug in college. Draft analysts wanted to see more plays out of Arnette considering he played with so many other future 1st round draft picks.
When his name was announced as the 19th overall pick by the Las Vegas Raiders, fans in unison asked, “Who?” The only CB from Ohio State Raider Nation wanted in the 1st round was Jeff Okudah. After all, this was the final 1st round pick from the Khalil Mack trade. The Lions spoiled that dream when they selected him with the 3rd overall pick.
The pandemic had a major impact on workflow. Practices and meetings were in a constant state of flux. Understandably, this had a ripple effect on players. No group was more affected than rookies across the league, Arnette included.
It would be kind to call Arnette’s season a disappointment. Limited to only 9 games, he suffered a myriad of injuries and misfortune.
From a broken thumb, to landing on the COVID-19 list, to suffering a horrible concussion, to getting burned on a deep pass against Miami to setup the game winning field goal, it certainly did not go the way he planned it.
GM Mike Mayock went as far to call him out in his post-season press conference. Mayock questioned his nutrition, dedication in the weight room, workout regimen, and his overall preparedness to play the game of pro football.
New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley recruited his former Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward to Las Vegas. Hayward has been a consummate pro and has a stronghold on the starting corner position previously occupied by Arnette.
It’s imperative that Arnette has a strong preseason. There were rumors swirling earlier in the offseason that he has one foot out of the organization. If he falters, Gruden will not hesitate to ship him out just like former Buckeye Gareon Conley.
Much like Arnette, Ferrell was another head scratching draft pick. He was the 4th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. Coming off a 4-12 record in Gruden 2.0’s inaugural season, the Raiders had to hit on this pick. They earned every bit of that draft position and the stars were aligning for them to draft a blue-chip impact defender.
The rookie learning curve is a steep one. Contracting food poisoning in Week 5 and losing 15 pounds certainly won’t help your cause. Despite the lumps early in the season, he had his best game against the Chargers. The Week 10 matchup on Thursday Night Football saw Ferrell dominate the undermanned Chargers offensive line. He notched 2.5 Sacks, 1 PD, 8 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 3 QB Hits.
After such a great performance he was unable to replicate that success, only recording 1 more sack in the final 7 weeks of the season.
Ferrell realized after his rookie campaign he needed to get stronger and dedicate himself in the weight room. He teamed up with DeForest Bucker and Arik Armstead in Miami to hone their craft.
The added bulk was intended to help his game. yet it didn’t translate onto the football field. In fact, Ferrell took a sizeable step back in production. The entire defense did, but Ferrell’s status as a former 4th overall pick made his shortcomings that much more noticeable.
He didn’t register a single sack until a Week 13 showdown vs. the New York Jets. In this game he flashed his potential. Ferrell finished the game with 2 Sacks, 2 FF’s, 7 Tackles, 3 QB Hits, and 1 PD. His signature play was beating behemoth LT Mekhi Becton around the edge for the strip sack.
Two weeks later a shoulder injury would prematurely end his disappointing sophomore season.
Edge rusher was at the top of the Raiders free agency wish list. They immediately struck a deal with Yannick Ngakoue. This reunited Bradley with the player he drafted as the head coach in Jacksonville.
Maxx Crosby’s emergence and the addition of Ngakoue meant that Ferrell would now be coming off the bench. Some within the organization believe that his best position would be rushing the passer from the defensive tackle position on passing downs, including Gruden.
“Ferrell, he’s a good player,” Gruden told reporters last week. “He’s unique because he can play right end, he can play left end, he’s a good run defender. I think his best pass rush might be inside”
That is a precipitous drop from a player who was the unquestioned captain of the defense at Clemson. The two time National Champion with the Tigers needs a strong season to validate his draft status.
Share This Article
Support independent news coverage by sharing on your platforms