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Raiders Bring Youth and Big Potential to Seattle for Final Preseason Game

Old West Coast foes renew their rivalry on Thursday when the Seattle Seahawks will play host to the Oakland Raiders.

Over the past six seasons, Oakland has not been able to field a team that could win more than five games during the regular season, but new head coach Tom Cable hopes to change that with an infusion of youth at key offensive positions.

JaMarcus Russell enters his third season in silver and black. Having not played much in his first season in the NFL, Russell was named the starting quarterback for the Raiders for the 2008 season. In 15 games, Russell threw for 2,423 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, while completing only 53.8 percent of his passes.

On the ground, Russell was not much better, fumbling 12 times and losing seven of them to opposing defenses. To make matters worse, the product out of LSU only got into the end zone once.

Thus far this preseason, Russell has made tremendous strides in becoming a big-time NFL starting quarterback, improving his completion percentage by over 10 percentage points.

His top receiving threat for the season should be the team’s first round selection, Darrius Heyward-Bey, but the rookie wideout has much to do before he produce in such a role.

After spending much of the beginning of the preseason having problems holding onto catches, the University of Maryland product found himself thinking too much while running routes and then after making the catch. However, reports out of Oakland are beginning to become positive about the seventh overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft and they couldn’t be coming at a better time.

Second-year wideout Chaz Schilens had been Oakland’s best receiving option early in the preseason, but the receiver broke his left foot during an August 18 practice against the San Francisco 49ers.

Handling the Raiders’ running game responsibilities are veteran Justin Fargas and second-year back Darren McFadden. Look for McFadden to take over the starting role early into the season. Fargas only has three rushes and one reception. McFadden, the former first round selection out of Arkansas, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this preseason and also seven yard per reception.

It looks like Seattle will be without the services of starting cornerback Marcus Trufant, who has missed the entire preseason thus far with a back injury.

In his place is Kelly Jennings. Jennings has been a disappointment thus far in his pro career, but maybe one last chance is what he needs to show that the Seahawks did not waste their 2006 first round pick on him.

Seattle’s secondary will want to limit Darrius Heyward-Bey’s ability to get into a rhythm and force the rookie receiver to fall back into the mistakes he’s made throughout much of the preseason.

Linebacking will be a key part of the Seahawks’ game plan as well.

Raiders tight end Zach Miller is sure handed and flies under the radar. If JaMarcus Russell cannot find Heyward-Bey, Russell could turn to his security blanket in Miller. Seattle’s linebackers will have to make sure to be physical in their coverage and eliminate this option.

They’ll also have to fill running holes and watch for little screen passes and dump downs to McFadden. The running back can play any of the three offensive skill positions and he’s always a definite home-run threat to turn a couple yard run or reception into a big gain and six points on the scoreboard.

I think an interesting matchup to help stop either or both of these options for Oakland will be Aaron Curry. Curry has great speed and coverage skills, as well as natural pass-rush and run-stopping abilities.

Offensively, Seattle will be again without newly signed running back Edgerrin James. James will not play until the first week of the regular season, according to the Seattle Times’ Danny O’Neil. This gives Julius Jones another opportunity to prove that he can and should be Seattle’s starting rusher. It won’t be easy though because he will have to avoid having the same kind of sluggish start to the game that resulted in only one carry in the first quarter that went longer than three yards.

Wide receiver Deion Branch has been nonexistent in the passing attack this preseason and, if he continues to get outperformed by rookie Deon Butler, could find himself on the sidelines instead of in the huddle more times than not.

Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and wideout TJ Houshmandzadeh did not need long to develop chemistry this preseason and new offensive coordinator Greg Knapp knows that the two can be relied upon to move the chains and frequently put up points. Of Houshmandzadeh’s 10 receptions this preseason, two of them have been touchdown catches.

What’s more noteworthy is that the two touchdown grabs have come from within 10 yards of the goal line. It is no stretch of the imagination to say that Houshmandzadeh has the opportunity to put up some serious touchdown and receiving yard totals in his first season back in the Pacific Northwest since college days at Oregon State.

Kickoff at Qwest Field is scheduled for September 3 at 10:00pm Eastern.

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