Four Raiders players to watch in NFL preseason opener vs. Lions

Scott Bair
NBC Sports BayArea

OAKLAND -- Raiders starters shouldn't play much in Friday night's preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. That's OK. This game isn't for them.

It's a report card for young players trying to carve out a role or a roster spot, to see if they can apply what's been taught in practice to real games with live tackling. We'll see come high-profile cameos, several veterans -- this team is full of ‘em -- jockeying for position on the depth chart and members of this draft class trying to prove their ready to make an immediate impact.

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Here are four players to watch tonight starting at 7:30 at Oakland Coliseum:

P.J. Hall

We haven't seen as much of the Raiders second round defensive tackle as others this summer. Hall started training camp on the physically unable to perform list with a pectoral strain, was activated a week or so later and eased into steady work.

Fifth-round defensive tackle Maurice Hurst as gotten more run during the offseason and in camp, but Hall as been hard to handle in practice and gotten steady push on the inside. That would help an defensive interior lacking production in recent seasons, especially in a rotation with Hall, Hurst and Mario Edwards Jr.

There was some thought the Sam Houston State product would need more time to develop making the jump from small school competition. Preseason games will be key in deciding if that's the case.

"He's a hard guy to block," Gruden said. "He's what we thought he was. He's a powerful guy. He doesn't look like the biggest defensive tackle in the league, but he's a powerful, stout, quick, penetrating inside presence that we need here. We have not had enough inside pass rush. Hopefully, we get to full strength on the outside and improve inside and we might have some."

Chris Warren III

Odds are great you've seen the hit heard ‘round wine country by now. The undrafted rookie delivered it early in Tuesday's joint practice with Detroit, when he leveled linebacker Jarrad Davis running off right tackle.

It came just moments after head coach Jon Gruden yelled at Warren, demanding he lower his pad level. He did exactly that, and showed great power coveted coming out of the University of Texas.

The undrafted rookie has a chance to make this 53-man roster – or the practice squad, as Plan B – if he shows well in games. His size and skill would provide a unique option down on the depth chart.

He should see significant carries this preseason. He has to make the most of them, and prove more than just a bruiser.

Martavis Bryant

Bryant might be the most physically gifted receiver on the Raiders roster. He has ideal size, great speed and a penchant for making big plays down field. That didn't prevent Gruden's shot across Bryant's bow last week, when the head coach demanded more from the former Pittsburgh Steeler. Gruden prefers his receivers able to play every position and run every route.

Quarterback Derek Carr sensed urgency in his recent preparation, because it has impacted his practice reps. Bryant's been locked to the second unit, without many 11-on-11 reps early in camp. He got some in Wednesday's joint practice and made the most of them. He caught two long touchdowns and corralled a tipped pass for a big gain.

Look for Bryant to be tested on routes shallow and deep in the preseason to prepare him for a regular season where he'll clearly have an important role.

"Martavis is not a good talent, he's a great talent, and we're going to continue to work him into our offense," Gruden said. "Today showed I think what he's capable of doing. We have big plans for him."

Kolton Miller

The Raiders first-round left tackle has taken most every first-unit practice rep in training camp. He has made some rookie mistakes, as one would expect from an athletic prospect in need of some seasoning.

Miller's being prepped for a possible Week 1 start, though Pro Bowler Donald Penn is on the mend and should still be Plan A if he comes back physically strong.

The rookie has learned from practice mistakes, but he'll have to avoid similar slip-ups in games. A significant blunder could destroy a play or, even worse, get a quarterback hurt.

Miller could inspire confidence with his preseason play. Struggles could give Penn some leverage saying no to the pay cut Raiders brass want him to take.

The UCLA product understands this preseason's importance, and plans to take advantage of the opportunities provided.

"We haven't had a whole lot of time in pads to this point, so opportunities to do so are really important," Miller said. "These padded practices and games are like gold to us."

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