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Saturday is last chance for some Raider hopefuls

Saturday the Raiders travel across the Bay bridge to take on their area rival San Francisco 49ers. It is a yearly event that is dubbed “The Battle of the Bay.” But this one has much greater stakes for some Raider hopefuls. It could be their last chance to impress the coaching staff enough to earn a roster spot.

The first NFL cutdown date has been scheduled for August 30. At 1pm Eastern time on that day teams must trim their rosters to 80 players. They are allowed to have a maximum of 90 players until then. The Raiders currently have 89 players in camp.

Sure, August 30 technically comes after the third preseason game. But the third preseason game has the starters playing three quarters before giving way to the second team. Those who are on the bubble will have little or no time to prove themselves. And let’s be honest, by the third game teams have already decided who will be sticking around.

Most of the starters will likely play through the first half of Saturday’s game. This leaves one half of football for the second and third teams to show their stuff and prove their worth.

Most of that work has already been put in by their performances in practice but for a few hopefuls, this game can still be a proving ground — if only to keep them on the roster for the fourth preseason game in which they will take center stage.

With all the injuries, the door has been opened for many of these players. Not only does it give them more time in practices and in games, but if the injuries turn out to be more serious, it could mean a roster spot opening up that was not previously available.

Safety has been the position with an open door lately. Mike Mitchell has been out injured through much of camp and the last couple practices he was nowhere to be found. His absence opens the door at strong safety. Hiram Eugene dislocated his hip in the first preseason game which will have him out for the season and opens the door at free safety. These injuries also leave gaping holes on special teams.

So far the favorite to fill Eugene’s role is Jerome Boyd. He got some work with the first team at weak side linebacker in the first preseason game but with the injury to Hiram Eugene, he was moved back to safety.

Boyd was an undrafted free agent rookie in last season’s camp but failed to break through an already full and talented safety group. The Raiders liked him enough to sign him back for this year’s camp and it appears to be paying dividends. After practice today, Hue Jackson lauded Boyd’s work in camp.

“He is doing good,” said Jackson. “He really is, and I am impressed. He does a lot of different things for us; he plays safety and he plays a little linebacker for us, but he has been a pleasant surprise. You know, when I was around him a year ago we let him do some things that didn’t work out. I think he came back more determined, more focused, and he wants an opportunity to make this ball club, so he is working each and every day.”

Last year’s camp had Boyd and Stevie Brown battling for the final safety spot on the team. Both players have not only impressed as safeties but have also played considerably well on special teams. This is not a big surprise considering they both played linebacker in college. Brown was primarily a safety who played some linebacker and Boyd was a linebacker who was switched to safety in the NFL due to his size.

Stevie Brown was a seventh round rookie last year and was all over the field making plays in the preseason. He didn’t make the team out of camp but was quickly re-signed as his fine play had the Raiders keep five safeties on the roster.

This offseason, however, he has been the first safety off the bench after incumbent starters Michael Huff and Tyvon Branch. In Friday’s practice he picked off a pass from Kyle Boller in the back of the endzone on a redzone drill.

With the way things are going right now, Boyd and Brown could be the primary backups at safety as well as standout special teams players. It looks as if both could not only make the team but play significant roles.

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