Preseason Week 4: Ballers and Busters

Jon Alston stepped up The Raiders came out winners on Thursday despite the score. Mainly because as a coach, all you are hoping for is to get through this game without any major injuries and to get a good feel for what kind of players you have.

Even though the Raiders lost 31-21, and were down at one point 31-7, it really wasn’t that lopsided. Just a few simple mistakes separated the two teams. Not to mention, in this game more than any of the other preseason games, the score meant almost nothing. The first team offense was in the game for just one series and then the backups and NFL hopefuls took the field for the remainder of the game.

So in this weeks Ballers & Busters you will not see any big name starters. This one is all about the bubble players, bench warmers and those that have something to prove. As I said in my “Who’s in, who’s out?” on offense and defense, many of the players that are to be cut have already been decided upon. But there are a few whose fate relied on how they played in this game. Playing “ok” was not going to change any minds. But being a Baller or a Buster could very well make or break their NFL career.

Ballers:

Louis Rankin

He made his case to be and NFL running back and then some on Thursday. The FIRST time he touched the ball, he took it up the gut and shot out of a cannon 44 yards into the end zone. Then a couple drives later he showed his pass blocking skills when he handled the Seahawks DE Curry to give Jeff Garcia time to throw. Two plays later he took the ball and broke two tackles on his way to a hard fought 6 yard run. He picked up big chunks of yardage time and time again on runs and screens. And he would break tackles along the way nearly every time. Two drives in a row, Gradkowski fumbled the ball and both times it was Rankin who took down the player who recovered the fumble. A performance like this could cause a coach to seriously reconsider his decisions about his running backs. This is a tough road for Rankin. He was out there fighting, hitting and juking for a team that looks like they have already decided on their corps of running backs. And he is not in the equation. But there is nothing to say that he can’t get a player like Fargas traded away or a team in need of a good running back consider swiping him up if he is waived. A team like…well Seattle for instance. They just picked up Edgerrin James out of desperation. Rankin did go to the University of Washington so he seems like an obvious choice. Add to it that the Raiders former Offensive Coordinator, Greg Knapp, is in Seattle and you have an ideal situation. Perhaps the Seahawks would send a draft pick to Oakland for Rankin?

Jerome Boyd

This guy is everywhere! He was among the top three tacklers on the team for the third straight week. He came in on the second defensive series of the game and had the only tackle of the drive to stop a short check down catch. Next drive, he was held to put the Seahawks in a first and 20 that they could not overcome. Then he was the gunner to tackle the ‘Hawks return man for no gain then stopped another screen for a short gain to put the ‘Hawks in third and long and force a punt. Next drive, he cleaned up a catch given up by Justin Miller and then teamed up on a tackle for loss on the next play. The drive ended two plays later. He had a few hickups like a face mask penalty and then a holding penalty on a return but they were aggressive penalties and aggressiveness is always welcome. Then he got back to it with two big run stuffs for minimal gain, the last of which was a big stop on third down to force a punt. And on the seventh day he rested. He seems to have solidified his roster spot on this team. And at a position (safety) the Raiders were in dire need of a boost.

Gary Russell

And the decisions don‘t get much easier. Russell has even less chance to make this team than Rankin as it appears. But he too looked superb on Thursday. His first big play, he caught a screen pass at the line and then broke three tackles on his way to an 11 yard first down. The last yard was him stretching out as he went down to ensure he got the first down. Then later in the game, after Rankin had done his damage, he took the edge around the left side and ran for 31 yards. Then two plays later he ran the ball into the end zone for a 6 yard touchdown. The next and final drive of the game, he had a hard fought 10 yard run inside the 5 yard line and then bulled his way into the end zone on the next play. He finished the game with 74 yards from scrimmage (59 rushing) and two touchdowns.

Jay Richardson

Speaking of aggressive play, Jay Richardson is playing like his NFL career is on the line as well. It could be but I think he is safe. For the first time this preseason, he played mistake free football. On top of that, he made some damn fine plays. He nearly single handedly ended the Seahawks third drive of the game. He pressured the quarterback into a short check down that was tackled immediately on first down, teamed up on a tackle for a loss on second down, and shot into the ’hawks backfield so fast, he had to be held (not called) on third down to cause an incompletion and force a punt. Two drives later, he had another QB pressure on third and long to force a punt. Then after the second consecutive Gradkowski fumble, he stuffed a run attempt short on third down and the Seahawks had to settle for a field goal. Someone else got a chance after that. If Trevor Scott is not careful, Jrich may take his starting job.

Jonathan Holland

Can’t we keep seven receivers? Holland clearly has a great deal of untapped talent. He made that nice juke to dart into the end zone for the Raiders only score last week. Then this week, he continued to show his worth. His first catch looked uncatchable but he layed out and scooped it off the turf for an amazing grab. A few plays later he had a 10 yard slant. His longest catch (22 yds) was called back due to a holding penalty. But in the preseason, the coach sees only that catch. His final play was one in which he beat his man to the end zone but was interfered with on the play. He almost caught the ball anyway. It was a 31 yard penalty that put the Raiders on the 6 yard line to set up a touchdown. Holland’s stat line says 2 catches for just 26 yards but these numbers would give him 4 catches for 79 yards. This is clearly a case of stats not telling the whole story.

Jon Alston

Speaking of stats not telling the whole story, Alston’s stats had him with just one assisted tackle on the day and zero solo tackles. His assist was a tackle for loss on the Seahawks first drive against the Raiders starting defense (sort of). On the Seahawks next drive, he stayed in his lane and force the run to the outside at which point a lineman committed holding trying to spring the running back. Two plays later Alston disrupted a run play again and was held (no call) for a short run. The drive ended one play later. Just before half time, he teamed up on two tackles, one for no gain and the other for a loss, neither of which he was credited for. It caused the Seahawks to go three and out and head into the locker room after settling for a field goal. After that, his day was done.

Nick Miller

With Justin Miller hobbling and Jonnie Lee Higgins not playing in the game, Nick took both punting and kick returning duties. He didn’t make much noise in the receiving game but he certainly proved his worth as a return specialist. The first time he touched the ball, he returned a kickoff 52 yards to give the Raiders great field position and set up their first TD to tie the game. The next few kicks, the ‘hawks kicker was a bit more strategic in his kick placement. Nick had a brain lapse at one point in which he called a fair catch at the 8 yard line instead of letting it bounce into the end zone and then he tried to run with it anyway and was called for delay of game. The penalty had the Raiders starting the drive inside their own 5 yard line. He made up for it the next chance he had though as he returned the next punt 21 yards. Then with the Seahawks kickoff to begin the second half, he got his hands on it and returned it 35 yards. Combine his obvious return skills with Justin Miller being hobbled by a turf toe, and Justin may just get the axe in favor of Nick come Saturday.

Matt Shaughnessy

Whew, it is good to have him back. He seems to be the best run stopping defensive end the Raiders have besides Greg Ellis. I am not ready to call him great yet but he certainly looked good on Thursday. On the Seahawks second drive he had a quarterback pressure which resulted in an incompletion. The next drive he teamed up on a tackle for loss on a run. Next drive he tackled the running back on a screen pass on third and long to force a punt. In the second half he had a run stuff and later he got into the backfield to slow the running back and cause a tackle for a loss on the play. On top of those plays, he was mistake free from what I can tell. He was never handled on the block and never missed any tackles. Very good news for a team in desperate need of a defensive end to protect against the run.

Ryan Boschetti

Had a good game last week in which he led all defensive tackles in…well tackles, with three. This week he did one better by leading all defensive lineman with four solo tackles. His first action was the final play of the first half in which he pressured the quarterback into dumping the ball off short of the first down and the Seahawks settled for a field goal. The most impressive thing though was that three of his four tackles were for a loss.

David Nixon

After the first team defense left and the second team came in, he had the first tackle when he stopped the Seahawks’ return man. Then in the fourth quarter he teamed up for three tackles for loss and had one solo tackle for no gain. And he ended the Seahawks last drive when he held his position and tackled their quarterback in the open field for a near sack. He has earned a roster spot but he may still end up getting waived simply because there is just not room on the roster. If he does get waived, the team will hope he makes it through waivers to be signed to the practice squad because he could be something special someday.

William Joseph

It is so nice to see some of that skill come out that got him drafted in the first round so many years ago. He had a quarterback pressure on his first drive in the game. A while later, after Terdell Sands was ran by, Joseph cleaned up the mess by tackling the runner for a short gain. He also teamed up for a tackle for no gain just before half time to keep the Seahawks out of the end zone with a short field. On the ‘hawks next drive he burst into the backfield to tackle the running back for a loss. Then he teamed up on two tackles for loss on their final drive including the very last play of the final drive. He has had a fantastic camp and a great preseason as well and this year he truly earned a spot on this roster.

Busters

Justin Miller

This is almost not fair to Justin considering he was clearly suffering from a very painful turftoe injury. The Seahawks picked on him all day and mainly because he couldn’t keep up with his assignment due to the injury. The Seahawks had a total of 211 passing yards on the day and most of those went to Justin Miller’s man. Including passes of 23, 25, 20, and 44. Tack on his 15 yard personal foul penalty and he was responsible for 127 yards of offense. Three of the four Seahawk touchdowns went through him directly. His coverage skills weren’t too good before the injury and with him injured, he can’t return kicks either. Which means there is a good possibility that we have seen the last of Justin Miller in a Raider uniform. We will soon find out.

Samson Satele

Olineman are supposed to be invisible. That is how you know that they are doing their job. Satele was very visible in this game. In fact, he was replaced in the starting lineup by Chris Morris and then Satele played the rest of the game. Is this just a message being sent or has Satele really lost his starting job? His day began well when he was one of the blocks that sprung Rankin for his 44 yard touchdown, but it went quickly downhill from there. In the second quarter his man pushed past him to get to Gradkowski and it would have been a sack had Gradkowski not flipped the ball near a running back as he was being taken down. Then a few plays later he was pushed back so quickly that he stepped on Gradkowski’s foot to cause a sack. On the very next Raider drive, a nice 11 yard run was called back because Satele held his man. Later in the game he was called for an illegal block in the back on offense which a rare call outside of the return game. If Cable was seeing what kind of game Satele could bring, then Satele may have just played himself out of a starting job. At least for now.

Seth Wand

Wand had no such big run block working for him like Satele did. He just had bad play after poor play. In the first quarter, he couldn’t execute the zone and his man closed the hole Gary Russell was supposed to go through to stuff the attempt. Later he was called for holding that negated a perfectly thrown and caught 22 yard pass. On the next drive he gave up a sack and forced fumble which was fortunately recovered by the Raiders. He wasn’t expected to make the team anyway, this just pushes him out the door

Terdell Sands

Plainly put, he did nothing. He was a sloth. Just like last game, he was once saw jogging toward a running back as the back ran by him and that was the only sighting of the big Terd. He seems to have given up and resigned himself to the fact that he is on his way out. He looked like he retired a while ago actually.

About Levi Damien, Senior Writer

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