Saturday, Aug. 21, 2021 | 11:31 p.m.
As they did last week in the preseason opener, the Raiders opted to sit most of their starters in Saturday’s 17-16 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
The only projected Week 1 starter to see the field on offense was rookie right tackle Alex Leatherwood, who played the first quarter and looked fine. On defense, the safety tandem of Johnathan Abram and Trevon Moehrig got a handful of snaps, as did defensive end Clelin Ferrell.
That was it. No skill-position players saw a single rep, and third-string quarterback Nathan Peterman went the distance again for Las Vegas. The Rams took a similar approach, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey all absent from the lineup (as were the other Los Angeles starters).
So what did we learn from the second straight week of backups vs. backups? Three takeaways:
Hobbs making play for big role
In the span of one offseason, cornerback Nate Hobbs has gone from a relatively unknown fifth-round pick to one of the more exciting rookies the Raiders have put on the field in recent years.
The cornerback was electric again on Saturday, making an interception, batting away another pass and blowing up a screen with a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. It was an eye-opening performance.
Heck, Jon Gruden felt it was a game ball performance.
The coach let it slip in his post-game press conference that he awarded a game ball to Hobbs, which has to be a sign that the coaches have big plans for the Illinois product.
With his ability to play in the slot or outside on the boundary, Hobbs is making himself indispensable.
“If you watch it carefully, he played nickel to start the game and did excellent there,” Gruden said. “Then we moved him outside. We have some corner hurt—Damon Arnette couldn’t go tonight, Keisean Nixon went out early –so he went outside and played very well and made some impact plays. I don’t usually give out game balls for preseason victories, but Nate Hobbs got one tonight. Well deserved.”
Hobbs has mostly played inside as a nickel cornerback in the preseason. As soon as the Raiders moved him outside on Saturday, the Rams dialed up a deep pass in his direction; Hobbs expertly stayed with his man and made an athletic, leaping interception.
Hobbs said the interception required a bit of improvisation on his part.
“The type of defense we played, I don’t even think it was my play,” Hobbs said, “but I was just trying to be a football player. I saw the ball come out of the quarterback’s hand, ran to the receiver, I looked up and the ball was there so I just grabbed it.”
The Raiders may not have had much success with their top draft picks recently, but Hobbs looks like a late-round steal.
Bad break for White
Along with Hobbs, one of the best storylines of training camp has been the emergence of second-year defender Javin White, as the former undrafted free agent has made play after play in his quest to make the team. White was at it again on Saturday with a pair of pass breakups, including a near-interception.
Unfortunately, White’s path to the 53-man roster may have disappeared early in the third quarter when he went down with a knee injury and had to be carted back to the locker room.
White, a speedy 6-foot-2 linebacker, started both preseason games and played just about every snap until the injury.
After the game Gruden didn’t reveal much about White’s status, but the coach certainly didn’t sound an optimistic note.
“I don’t want to come to any conclusions,” Gruden said. “We’re going to evaluate him and he’s got to get the X-rays, but we are concerned.”
No starters in preseason
Don’t expect Jon Gruden to change it up and play his starters in the final preseason game next week against the San Francisco 49ers. After Saturday’s contest, he said his top priorities for the final exhibition will be getting through it healthy and examining the position battles on the fringe of the 53-man roster.
“We’ve got to look at the health of our team, most importantly, and we’ve got to see who’s on the bubble,” Gruden said. “Who we really need to see to make this football team. We would like to get some of the guys a few reps, but I think at the end of the day health and keeping the right 53 is at the top of our list right now.”
It sure sounds like next week’s game is going to be another four quarters of the second- and third-stringers fighting for the final handful of roster spots. With White now serving as a cautionary tale, it’s hard to envision Gruden risking any of his key players in a meaningless preseason game.