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Derek Carr and the rest of the Raiders’ starters will play a little more than a quarter Friday night, but those aren’t the guys Jon Gruden needs to evaluate to cut the roster to 53 on Sept. 1.

The battle of the backups will run about three quarters in a game in which the main storyline is Jordy Nelson facing his former team for the first time since Green Bay released the longtime Packers receiver early in the offseason.

But since Nelson won’t see the field much, let’s take a look at five Raiders that you should keep an eye on Friday night.

Running back Chris Warren

The Warren hype train is chugging along at a ferocious pace. His 196 rushing yards lead all rushers through two weeks of the preseason, but there’s a key phrase in there. “Two weeks.” Everyone relax. Warren could very well be a sturdy No. 2 or No. 3 back for the Raiders at some point this season, even the starter in 2019, but let’s wait to start talking about those possibilities until he’s played more than two preseason games. If he turns in another performance on Friday like his first two, he’ll be a lock to make the 53-man roster. He might already be one. The Raiders seem to have struck gold with the undrafted free agent from Texas and we’ll see if he continues to shine against the Packers.

Defensive end Shilique Calhoun

Calhoun has generated some substantial pressure on the quarterback through two preseason games, including a sack against the Lions and a pressure against the Rams that led to Mo Hurst’s first-career sack. Calhoun has struggled to make a significant dent in his first two years in the league after being taken in the third round two years ago, but he hopes the third time is the charm after he moved to defensive end. Calhoun talked about what this year means for his development, but first he needs to make the 53-man roster to carry out those goals. He figures to be right on the cutline – I have him on the right side of the roster bubble through two games – so sturdy performances against the Packers and Seahawks would do wonders for his chances.

Quarterback Connor Cook

How quickly you forget Cook’s debut against the Lions after a dud against the Rams. His 11-for-19 mark for 141 yards and a touchdown two weeks ago seems a thing of the distant past after he followed it up by completing 6-of-12 passes for 49 yards with a fumble last Saturday. Cook still holds the No. 2 quarterback spot, but another shaky performance could grant EJ Manuel the backup job for the time being, or even cause Gruden to look toward waivers for a better option. It remains to be seen whether the Raiders keep two QBs (I think they will) or three. The running joke is how Cook is the only Raiders quarterback with playoff experience, but if he turns in another outing like his last one, the Raiders might soon have no quarterbacks on the roster with playoff experience.

Cornerback Antonio Hamilton

Hamilton was having a strong preseason until he drew the ire of Gruden with a clumsy penalty late in Saturday’s game. He picked up Rams receiver Steven Mitchell after a catch and body-slammed him to the turf, drawing a flag and costing the Raiders 15 yards on L.A.’s eventual game-winning drive. Hamilton’s gaffe was the most notable of a litany of penalties through two games, and Gruden made his desire to eliminate those quite clear. Hamilton figured to be the first or second cornerback on the chopping block, and that was before the Raiders signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Wednesday. Gruden has shown he can never have enough cornerbacks, though, and Hamilton might just be able to slither his way onto the 53-man roster with standout games against the Packers and Seahawks.

Linebacker James Cowser

Like his close friend Calhoun, Cowser has made big plays in both preseason games. He forced the game-sealing fumble against the Lions and picked off a pass against the Rams. Gruden said Monday, “He’s our kind of guy. He’s put himself in a position to make this team.” I currently have him as the first man out on my roster projection, but like Calhoun, replicating performances like his first two would make it difficult to let him go Sept. 1. The two best buds might be fighting for one spot, but Gruden has loved what he’s seen from both so far. They’re two guys who got pushed to the bottom of the barrel with all the offseason additions on defense, especially Cowser in a revamped linebacking corps with Tahir Whitehead, Derrick Johnson and Emmanuel Lamur, but now they’re slowly rising back up.

 

 

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