The Raiders’ new regime had its first test in the NFL’s first preseason game of the year, and coach Josh McDaniels’ squad passed with flying colors.
Las Vegas beat the Jaguars in the Hall of Fame Game, 27-11 on Thursday, displaying team-wide grit and execution. It was just one preseason game, played without the Raiders’ stars, but everyone who wore silver and black played hard nonetheless and dominated.
Still, some played better than others. Here are this week’s winners and losers, as some positions are still up for grabs before the regular season kicks off.
Winner: OL Jermaine Eluemunor
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Offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor entered the game after the first-string line had a decent start, and he played a role in the Raiders’ first touchdown. He pulled to the right and cleared a path for running back Ameer Abdullah, who celebrated in stylish fashion.
Pass protection is vital, of course, but that run block looked like it came from a starting right tackle. Competition is fierce at that spot, with Alex Leatherwood and Brandon Parker solidly in the hunt, but Eluemunor helped his cause on Thursday.
Winner: DE Malcolm Koonce
The Raiders are also looking for pass rushers to back up superstars Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones. Defensive end Malcolm Koonce appears to fit the bill.
Koonce made multiple appearances in the Jaguars’ backfield. He batted down a pass as he forced Jacksonville’s quarterback to throw on the run, and he was a factor in the Raiders’ only QB sack of the game, working in tandem with Kendal Vickers.
It also looked like Koonce drew a holding penalty late in the first half. In year No. 2, it appears he can be a factor for Las Vegas this season, especially in the versatile scheme of defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs from Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Malcolm Koonce (51) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Winner: RB Ameer Abdullah
Running back Ameer Abdullah had a night to remember. He can say he scored the first touchdown of the 2022 NFL campaign, and he celebrated with flair, performing a nice karate-style kick in the end zone.
He also had two receptions on two targets for 23 yards. That should help his cause in McDaniels’ loaded backfield. And while Abdullah is already penciled in as the starting kick returner, he had a 13-yard punt return in the first half.
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Winner: RB Zamir White
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Did I mention the Raiders backfield is loaded? As players fight for roles, rookie Zamir White may have found one.
White converted on an impressive 4th-and-1 play, delivering a nice hit to the defender. He got the ball on 3rd-and-1 late in the first half and converted there, too.
White looks like he can handle a short-yardage role and more. Though he had one drop, he caught three passes for 23 yards. In the run game, he finished with 52 yards on 11 carries. All in all, it was a nearly perfect start for the man they call “Zeus.”
Loser: OT Brandon Parker
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I mentioned earlier that the Raiders starting offensive line had a decent day. I would have described their play more favorably, but offensive tackle Brandon Parker had some bad moments.
He was beaten in pass protection on the game’s first play, though it worked out well for the Raiders. Jaguars rookie defensive end Travon Walker got over-excited after getting by Parker and was called for a roughing penalty.
Parker later allowed Walker to sack Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham, though Stidham did step up in the pocket and directly into Walker. But a play later, Stidham was sacked again, as Parker let ex-Raiders DE Arden Key shove him out of the way.
Loser: WR Keelan Cole
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Wide receiver Keelan Cole is battling for a role on the Raiders offense, but he came out of this game a bit worse than he came in.
Cole got off to a decent start, with a reception on a tipped pass that appeared intended for another receiver. But he had a bad drop in the first half, doing backup QB Nick Mullens no favors.
He followed his drop with a nice run on a reverse, but unfortunately, he took an awkward wallop to his head on what should have been an illegal hit. Cole is still in the mix for a role in Las Vegas, but he’s certainly had better days.
And I’ve got one honorable mention for the winners’ list, and that’s coach McDaniels. He got his first win as Raiders coach in his hometown, playing on the same field he played on as a high school QB. Plus, he won his first challenge as Raiders coach, throwing the red flag on a sideline grab by WR Tyron Johnson.
We all know this was just one preseason game. But the Raiders have the look of a team that doesn’t care what the stakes are, as long as there’s a chance to win. That represents a great start for Las Vegas’ new regime.