By Sam McPherson
When you’re picked by everyone to finish last in your division, it’s a good thing to be heading into Week 1 of the NFL season with a healthy roster.
Ask the Oakland Raiders, a consensus fourth-place pick in the AFC West division this season.
The “official” NFL injury report shows only two Raiders not fully participating in practice this week: linebacker Nick Roach (limited, concussion) and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (out, knee). Everyone else on the roster looks ready to go for the opener on the road against the New York Jets on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.
Not that the team doesn’t have players with bruises, of course. Five previously-dinged players were full participants in practice this week, including kicker Sebastian Janikowski (quad) and offensive tackle Menelik Watson (hip). Both will be key players this week against the Jets, so it’s good for Oakland to have them available and mostly healthy.
Kick returner Taiwan Jones (knee) also participated fully this week, so that’s more good news for the special teams. Road games are often won with big plays from the return game, and this could be one of those matchups this weekend where Jones can make a big difference.
On the offensive side, backups David Ausberry (tight end, knee) and Matt Schaub (quarterback, elbow) were able to go all week. With the imposing front seven of the Jets defense, both might end up seeing some time on Sunday if all goes south in a hurry for the Raiders.
But back to the defensive side: If Roach can’t go, the Raiders lose one of their best defenders and a key signal caller on that side of the ball. One more smack to the head, and he could be sidelined. Then it would be up to fifth-year veteran Kaluka Maiava to step up. He spent the first four years of his career in Cleveland, making just 99 tackles in 50 games.
Losing Roach would make an already-weak Oakland defense just a wee bit worse.
As for Chekwa, he’s projected as the Raiders nickelback in coverage, so when the Jets are in obvious passing downs, his role becomes that much more important. If he can’t go on Sunday, which is possible since he was out this week, Oakland has four other corners on the depth chart who might see some game action—including Jones.
Schaub’s health also is key, as with the Raiders starting rookie Derek Carr against a good defense on the road, it could get ugly fast for Oakland. No one wants to see that happen (except maybe the New York fans, of course), but Schaub is a veteran QB who can step in if needed and stabilize the offense if things go wrong for Carr.
And that means Watson and the rest of the offensive line are on the spot, too. With the Jets’ front seven presenting an imposing challenge, protecting the quarterbacks and opening lanes for the running backs is going to be of vital important if the Raiders want to win.
Oakland last won a season opener in 2011 against the Denver Broncos. They went on to finish 8-8 that season, a high-water mark for this franchise since its last postseason appearance in 2002.
The Raiders are relatively healthy in 2014, so maybe they can repeat that opening feat.
- Tight End David Ausberry (knee)
- Kicker Sebastian Janikowski (quad)
- Cornerback Taiwan Jones (knee)
- Tackle Menelik Watson (hip)
- Linebacker Nick Roach (concussion)
- Quarterback Matt Schaub (elbow)
- Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (knee)
For more Raiders news and updates, visit Raiders Central.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.