It has been six months since the Super Bowl and now the NFL is back. The first game of the NFL season begins on Thursday with the Las Vegas Raiders and the Jacksonville Jaguars going at it in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
The Raiders, who will play in their fourth Hall of Fame game and first since 2006, enter this matchup as two former players – Cliff Branch and Richard Seymour – will be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame two days after the game.
Although the starters probably will not play, they will be in attendance getting their work in with the entire team.
Here are five burning topics heading into the Hall of Fame game for the Silver and Black.
1. What to expect from the Las Vegas Raiders
Thursday will mark the first time Josh McDaniels is on the sidelines for the Las Vegas Raiders since being named the head coach back in January.
From minicamp to OTAs, the Raiders will finally get to see what their style of play will be on both sides of the ball against an opponent other than their own teammates.
McDaniels said it will be a good chance to see where the team is at as the two former Raiders enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
This will be a game that will be focused on the level of quality the players bring rather than the quantity or outcome of the game with it being the first time these players are implementing new schemes.
Not only will value outweigh the outcome, but the Las Vegas Raiders will get to see how things work, both on offense and defense.
“This is important for us to find out about our depth and evaluate ourselves against another team that we don’t know,” McDaniels said. “We’ll see some schemes, some alignments that we haven’t seen yet and it’ll test us. I think it’s a great opportunity for us to find out a lot about our football team and each preseason game will give us that opportunity.”
2. How the quest begins to determine the backup quarterback behind Derek Carr
One of the wide open position battles this year for the Las Vegas Raiders is the backup quarterback role behind Derek Carr.
With Marcus Mariota going to Atlanta on top McDaniels coming in, this competitive battle is about take shape between Jarrett Stidham and Nick Mullens along with undrafted rookie Chase Garbers.
Stidham, who was a 2019 fourth round pick, came from New England in a trade the same day the team signed Garbers. Stidham has been with McDaniels the past two years and has played a total of eight games between 2019 and 2020. He did not play last year as he was the backup to Mac Jones.
Like Garbers, Mullens went undrafted in 2017 and signed with San Francisco following the draft. After playing his first three years with the 49ers where he appeared in 19 games, he spent a month in Philadelphia before landing in Cleveland a couple weeks before the first week of the 2021 NFL regular season.
Mullens started one game in 2021, which came against the Raiders last December in a 16-14 victory for Las Vegas in a game that was pushed back by a couple days.
Raiders quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree said he wants to see the play callers compete and accomplish each play on Thursday.
“Just execution and going out and having fun,” Hardegree said on Saturday. “Sticking to our rules and going out and playing. I’m really excited to see those guys compete and play football.”
3. How will the Las Vegas Raiders balance competition and not getting injured?
One of the fears every preseason brings, no matter the team, are injuries.
The Las Vegas Raiders have seen three players go on injured reserve, meaning they will not in play this year. That includes linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Micah Kiser.
Not only do Las Vegas have two players on IR, but they have two defensive lineman – Johnathan Hankins and Bilal Nichols – and a cornerback in Trayvon Mullen Jr. on the Physically unable to Perform (PUP) list.
McDaniels said everyone is adjusting to training camp as injuries give other players the opportunity to take advantage of the open spot.
4. Returning to Canton means Josh McDaniels is returning to his hometown
Long before McDaniels was getting set to take on the Jaguars on Thursday and before his NFL career took off, the 46-year-old head coach was a high school football player growing up minutes and footsteps away from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“Certainly, for me personally, going there is maybe a little different than some other people because of where I grew up,” McDaniels said. “I’m looking forward to seeing family, my kids, my wife, and my mom and dad.”
McDaniels is like a baseball player growing up in Cooperstown, N.Y. or a basketball player maturing in Springfield, Mass., home of the Baseball and Naismith Memorial Basketball halls of fame, respectively.
He said going back to where it all began will bring back fond memories from his childhood with the nerves and nostalgia.
5. Some Las Vegas Raiders players will experiencing Canton for the first time
Although people like McDaniels and Carr have been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there are some players on the Las Vegas Raiders roster who have never been.
The team will tour the facility on Wednesday before they suit up and put on the uniform Thursday.
McDaniels said every player should experience walking through the halls of legendary moments and people in the game because these players are part of how the game has evolved to the present moment.
“They’re in this fraternity and it’s a special place,” McDaniels said. “I’ve been through it. I can’t tell you how many times and each time I go through it, I see something different or new, or they’ve added to it. There is such an element of history and tradition and you get excited because it’s such an important part of our game.”