The Oakland Raiders glitzy new stadium in Las Vegas is still a year away from opening, so the Rams will visit the venue affectionately referred to by some as “The Black Hole” for their first exhibition game of 2019 Saturday night in Oakland.
The Rams and Raiders have something of a vagabond existence in common, both playing in temporary homes while their new, multi-billion-dollar stadiums are being constructed, both franchises having fled Southern California in 1995 – the Raiders returning to the Bay Area and the Rams leaving for greener financial pastures in St. Louis. And both teams are scheduled to move into their luxurious new digs at this time next year.
Saturday: Rams vs. Raiders at Oakland
Kickoff: 5 p.m.
TV: KCBS, Ch. 2
But the similarities would seem to end there. The Rams have made a rapid ascent to the top tier of the NFL under Coach Sean McVay, reaching the Super Bowl last season. They went 13-3 in 2018 and 11-5 in 2017, their first season with McVay as their coach.
The Raiders have rebuilt a significant chunk of their roster under second-year coach Jon Gruden, so they come into this preseason exercise as a bit of a mystery. But recent history has not been kind to them. They have had just one winning season since 2003 (12-4 in 2016), and finished last in the AFC West last season – Gruden’s first in his lucrative return to coaching – at 4-12.
With several new faces, Gruden may be inclined to give some of his first-unit players some get-acquainted snaps on Saturday. McVay is more likely to rest front-line players, in keeping with his approach to exhibition games. But he is breaking in some new assistant coaches, especially on the offensive staff, so these games serve as good dress rehearsals for them. Shane Waldron is in his second season as the Rams’ passing game coordinator, but first as quarterbacks coach. Jedd Fisch, a former UCLA assistant, is entering his second season with the Rams, but first as assistant offensive coordinator. Zac Robinson is in his first year as the team’s assistant quarterbacks coach.
“It’s really good for the new guys to kind of feel what the normal rhythm of a flow of a game is,” McVay said. “And then, in a lot of instances, it gives you a chance – especially for some of our coaches on offense – a guy like Shane (Waldron) to call some plays and get some experience.
“I was so fortunate to have (Washington Redskins Head Coach) Jay Gruden give me those opportunities when I was in a similar role. I couldn’t be more thankful for him and what I learned in terms of empowering your assistants is one of the best things I would take away from Jay and I think these preseason games represent a great opportunity for players and coaches to both grow and for us to get a feel for kind of our rhythm during the game.”
The Rams and Raiders participated in joint practices in Napa on Wednesday and Thursday, and got into a brief scuffle during Thursday’s session. McVay said he expects the Raiders to be aggressive on Saturday, particularly on defense, where they’re integrating several new players.
“There are definitely some nice intricacies to it that make it really challenging to an offense,” McVay said. “I think when you look at (defensive end Clelin) Ferrell, when you look at (safety Johnathan) Abram, you feel those guys out there. Adding a (linebacker) Vontaze Burfict when you’re out here and you listen to his ability to communicate, it’s pretty impressive.
“They’ve definitely got some good depth up front, they’ve got some inside linebackers that can play and they’ve got some physical safeties and some corners that can run. I think you can expect them to be a really tough matchup for offenses this year.”
— City of Las Vegas (@CityOfLasVegas) August 6, 2019