The Oakland Raiders went into training camp believing they had stabilized the quarterback position and upgraded their roster talent.
Following a 2-2 preseason that ended with a rousing 41-31 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, Raiders coach Dennis Allen felt good about perceived upgrades in several areas, most notably the running game, the pass rush and overall depth on the roster.
As for the quarterback, a sore elbow and ineffective play by presumptive starter Matt Schaub and an electric preseason finale from second-round draft pick Derek Carr had Allen and general manager Reggie McKenzie in a quandary.
The plot thickened the day after the Seattle game when Allen said Schaub was away from the team on a "personal issue" with the expectation he would return Monday.
Do the Raiders throw Carr off the high dive to start the season Sept. 7 on the road against the New York Jets and hope he swims?
Or do they attempt to manage Schaub, health permitting, through the early part of the season.
The wrong answer could affect the status of both men, with Mark Davis expecting progress and espousing a "no excuses" mantra for a team with the NFL's most difficult schedule.
As good as Carr was against Seattle, things broke in a positive way for him in a manner which eluded Schaub in terms of getting help from his supporting staff and a dose of good fortune.
Carr completed 11-of-13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdown passes, and produced four touchdowns in four possessions.
The Raiders were not backed up on any of those four series and twice Carr was given short-field opportunities at the Seattle 36 and the Seattle 20.
Both produced first-play touchdown passes to Denarius Moore and Mychal Rivera on a deflected pass.
On drives of 68 and 61 yards, Carr got excellent protection and 41 yards rushing on eight carries from Latavius Murray, staying in advantageous down and distance.
The Raider receivers had their best night of the preseason, coming up with contested catches and making good adjustments on the ball.
Surely, it won't be that easy in the regular-season, and Carr hasn't had to face the kind of adversity Schaub faced routinely with a surrounding cast that was penalty prone and not always holding on to the ball.
If Schaub recovers sufficiently, the early part of the Raiders season could evolve into a back-and-forth situation at quarterback.
Combined with third-stringer Matt McGloin, who had a solid preseason, Allen believes it's a good problem to have.
"The great thing is, I think we have three guys that can be the starting quarterback for us," Allen said. "I'm very happy with where we're at in the quarterback room."
--Running back Latavius Murray, who spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a foot injury, has become the answer to the question "What do the Raiders do if Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden get hurt?"
Murray, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, has both breakaway speed and the power to break tackles. He had 41 yards in eight carries, most against the first-team Seattle defense, in the preseason finale and has been one of the pleasant surprises of training camp and the preseason.
He scored Oakland's first touchdown on a 5-yard run.
"It definitely meant a lot. I wanted to go out and compete against those first-team guys," Murray said. "That was big for the offense and I definitely showed I could go out and compete with those guys."
Raiders coach Dennis Allen, who conceded he wasn't sure what the Raiders had in Murray because he got hurt so early in camp as a rookie, said, "I really like what I saw out of Latavius Murray and I like what I've seen all of camp. I think with him, MJD and Darren McFadden, that's a pretty good backfield."
--Quarterback Derek Carr connected with wide receiver Denarius Moore three times for 57 yards, including touchdown strikes of 36 and 11 yards and a third-down conversion over Seattle star cornerback Richard Sherman.
No lock to make the team in the early days of camp, Moore finished strongly and his connection with Carr could end up being the reason he ended up sticking on the 53-man roster.
"If he's not in with me, I'm like, 'Bro, when you're in, you help me look good. Can you get back in there?'" Carr said. "He's someone that I trust and I feel good going to."
--Cornerback Neiko Thorpe, who signed with the Raiders after a January tryout after playing a season for Toronto in the Canadian Football League, not only made the 53-man roster but could find himself on the field quite a bit in the opener if cornerback Chimdi Chekwa isn't sufficiently recovered from a knee injury.
Thorpe was with the Kansas City Chiefs for a short time two years ago before playing in Canada last year.
"I played halfback, which is something like a nickel back," Thorpe said. "You'll have six DBs out there because the field is so big, and the receivers can do a lot of things with motion and run up on you. I worked a lot on my patience, moving my feet. I adjusted my body frame."
Thorpe impressed coaches immediately during drills early in camp, then was sidelined with a hamstring injury. He made it back for the third preseason game and according to Allen "picked up where he left off."
--Unlike past seasons where the Raiders wondered how they'd ever get to 53 players based on the strength of their roster, Allen went in to the process realizing it would be a chore in 2014.
"There's no question it's been harder," Allen said. "I saw this coming back in OTAs and training camp. I knew there were going to be some tough decisions that had to be made. I know there are going to be guys that we're not going to be able to keep that are going to wind up on other people's rosters. It's a tough issue, but a good problem to have."
Strong safety Brandian Ross, a 13-game starter last season after Tyvon Branch was lost to a broken ankle, didn't make the final 53 and was claimed by the Miami Dolphins.
--Defensive end Benson Mayowa, who made the Seattle Seahawks last season as an undrafted free agent and was inactive for 14 games as well as the entire postseason, was claimed by the Raiders when he failed to make the Seahawks' final 53.
Mayowa, 6-foot-3 and 252 pounds, is in the tweener category and was trying to be a defensive end in Seattle, working on his strength and trying to get his weight up.
His role with the Raiders will likely be on special teams and possibly as a situational pass rusher.
To make room, the Raiders waived/injured Kaelin Burnett, a core special teams player who also was a fill-in linebacker.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--S Jonathan Dowling, the Raiders last pick of the 2014 draft, made the 53-man roster as did the entire draft class.
--S Usama Young, out with a quad injury sustained in the conditioning run at the beginning of camp, played for the first time against Seattle and made the 53-man roster.
--TE Mychal Rivera was one of five offensive players that started all four preseason games, joining center Stefen Wisniewski, guard Austin Howard, tackle Donald Penn and tackle/guard Khalif Barnes.
--WR Brice Butler was third in the NFL with 206 receiving yards, tied for sixth with 13 receptions and tied for first for four touchdown receptions in the preseason.
--QB Matt McGloin was 11th in the NFL in preseason passing yards with 471 yards.
--PK Sebastian Janikowski (quad) did not kick in the preseason finale but coach Dennis Allen expects him back to face the Jets in the regular-season opener.
--LB Sio Moore sat out the Seattle game because of a neck strain, but coach Dennis Allen hopes to have him available for practice leading into the opener.
--CB Chimdi Chekwa has been out two weeks because of a knee strain and his status for the opener is not clear.
--CB Taiwan Jones also has been out two weeks with a knee strain and his status was unclear.
--TE David Ausberry, out since the beginning of training camp because of a knee injury, might be available for practice next week.
--RB George Atkinson III led the Raiders against Seattle with 63 yards rushing, including runs of 26 and 20 yards.
--T Menelik Watson was working with the second team, which coach Dennis Allen said was mostly because he was still recovering from a hip flexor injury.
--CB Neiko Thorpe, who started and played almost the entire game on Thursday, had some issues in coverage but finished with a team-high eight tackles against Seattle.
--CB TJ Carrie made his case to be the early-season punt return specialist with a 45-yard return to set up a Raiders touchdown.
--SS Tyvon Branch had one of the Raiders two sacks, with the other also going to a safety, Brandian Ross.
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