OAKLAND – Raiders head coach Jon Gruden held most regulars out of last week's preseason game with the L.A. Rams. It made sense, considering those two teams will meet in the regular-season opener.
They also had Friday's preseason game against Green Bay to let starters loose. Gruden said his first units should work into the second quarter against the Packers – that's still less than average for the third exhibition – and get the only extended stretch of the preseason.
They won't do so against Green Bay's best. NFL Network reports that quarterback Aaron Rodgers and several starters won't play the Raiders. Gruden won't love that, because it offers a lesser test with a first unit going against backups.
It still offers an opportunity to find game rhythm before the regular season, considering backups and roster bubble guys will feature in the preseason finale.
Here are four Raiders to watch in this preseason game with Green Bay:
OT Donald Penn
The 35-year old has had quite an offseason. He missed most spring and summer practices recovering from foot surgery. Then he was asked to take a pay cut. He agreed to one, came off the physically unable to perform list and then was asked to switch positions. He was named to consecutive Pro Bowls at left tackle, but coaches hoped he would move to right tackle and make way for first-round rookie Kolton Miller.
Penn could've said no. He chose to make a tough switch and counsel Miller along the way, trying to create the best possible offensive line during one of his final NFL campaigns.
Penn's position switch remains experimental. He must fare well in practice and Friday's game and Miller must continue to make strides on the left for it to work.
Switching tackle spots is tough. Everything is backwards, and Penn has to ditch instinctual movements to make it work. Keep an eye on how he feels and fares during crucial preseason stretch.
WR Jordy Nelson
Nelson doesn't need much work in the preseason. He's an established talent and an excellent route runner, flashing more speed in practice than many expected.
Fans don't get to see those moments. They still have questions about a 33-year old coming off a down year who got cut by the only team he has ever known. Nelson could answer a few with an explosive play or a key third-down catch.
Nelson said facing his former team will be weird, but he's the personality type who can turn emotion off after kickoff. Look for flashes during his time in this game. It might be his last action until games actually count.
MLB Derrick Johnson
The 35-year old has had an excellent NFL career. Four Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections can attest to that. There's always concern about players his age and how they'll contribute, but the former Kansas City Chief was let go and moved west within the AFC West to prove he could still play.
The Raiders believe he can, though he has been a nickel linebacker with Gruden's squad, deferring to Marquel Lee in the base defense. Johnson's coverage will be key in this role, so watch how he moves with tight ends and his other matchups.
There's no questioning Johnson's mental acumen or his locker-room leadership, but watching him move and hit and cover will be key. Can he perform as coaches expect, or is age starting to show? There's confidence he can fill an important role on this defense. A solid Friday could validate that belief.
Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun
The last preseason might've been Calhoun's lowest point as an athlete. He got cut just over a year after being selected in the third round. Then the Michigan State product cleared waivers. Then he got stuck on the Raiders practice squad. Talk about a rough stretch.
He ended up on the 53-man roster on Oct. 14, mostly playing special teams. This new coaching staff doesn't cater to draft status – just ask Clive Walford, Jihad Ward and Obi Melifonwu – and Calhoun could've been the next man out. He has shown great development under Paul Guenther's defensive staff, and has made some big plays already this preseason. They've been coupled with mistakes, but good outweighs bad during a summer that put Calhound back on the radar. He'll have to keep pushing to make the 53-man squad. A strong showing, especially working with top units, could help him stay with the team.