• There wasn’t a lot to see in a preseason game between two teams who will face off Week 1, but the rookie fifth-rounder was a standout. Plus, Oakland’s bookend tackles, struggling back-up QBs, and watching an NFL ‘uniform narc’ in action
By Robert Klemko
August 20, 2018

WHO: Oakland Raiders (preseason game vs. Rams)
WHERE: Los Angeles
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 18
HOW: Drove from Irvine to USC’s campus

The Raiders will play the Rams in Week 1 of the regular season, so this matchup became an exercise in showing as little as possible. With that said, during the first quarter at the Los Angeles Coliseum across from USC’s campus, we got a glimpse of three of the biggest mysteries on the Raiders roster.

Cornerback Gareon Conley has struggled with injuries since the Raiders took him 24th overall in last year’s draft, edge rusher Arden Key faced off-field questions centered around a spring leave of absence from the LSU football team before the Raiders took him in the third round last spring; and DT Maurice Hurst might have been a first-round pick if not for a heart condition that knocked him off many teams’ draft boards. While Conley and Key played only sparingly and without fireworks against the Rams, Hurst stole the show, bulldozing past the Rams’ Aaron Neary for a third-quarter sack. His get-off, balance and consistent effort has Raiders coaches believing they pulled off a draft coup in choosing the 290-pounder in the fifth round—don’t be surprised to see him running with the first team for at least a portion of the remaining preseason games.

Other than that, there just wasn’t much to see for those interested in learning more about Oakland’s starters. On the other hand, the two Hamilton Tiger-Cats scouts I met had a field day.

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OH, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT!: The Los Angeles Coliseum is renovating, which means media watched the game from converted trailers positioned inside the stadium. It was tight, but as one Raiders staffer eager to move from the Oakland Coliseum to the new digs in Las Vegas reminded me: “at least here, they have air conditioning.”

STORYLINE TO WATCH: As a result of the matchup, neither Kolton Miller nor Donald Penn played Saturday, which means they’ll get their first meaningful action this week vs. Green Bay. Miller, the draft’s No. 15 overall pick, replaces Penn at left tackle. And the 35-year-old Penn moves to right tackle after winter lisfranc surgery.

TOP POSITION BATTLE: If this is the Maurice Hurst we’re going to get for 16 games, it’s hard not to see him challenging Mario Edwards and Justin Ellis for playing time at defensive tackle. It will be important to get him some action vs. Green Bay’s starters on Friday. Watching the sloppy play of quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Connor Cook, it’s a wonder Jon Gruden didn’t have a third candidate for the backup job on the phone before they got on the team bus.

The World According to Gruden

OFFBEAT OBSERVATION: The cozy environs of the Coliseum make it impractical for reporters to enter the visiting locker room after NFL games, which meant each Raiders contributor of note conducted a press conference in the hallway outside. It was there I saw, for the first time, an “NFL uniform inspector” in his natural habitat. I once thought these guys were responsible for logging violations during warmups and games, but there he was, postgame, snapping an iPhone picture of Connor Cook wearing a non-NFL branded hat (the cap had an M on the front. Don’t ask me what it stood for). I asked the inspector if Cook could get fined for that. “He could.” O.K., narc.

PARTING THOUGHTS: If there’s any possible way for the NFL to avoid scheduling teams that play each other in the first week of the regular season against one another in the preseason, they should do that.

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