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5 things to watch in Thursday night’s Raiders-Seahawks game

Updated August 30, 2017 - 10:43 pm

ALAMEDA, Calif. — There is something problematic about the new, loosened celebration rules the NFL unveiled this offseason.

The league now allows celebrations on the ground, such as snow angels or kayaking. Group demonstrations like posing while someone mimes a camera shoot are permitted. The football can be used as a prop, tossed like a basketball or cradled like a newborn.

But to recognize the preseason ending, no celebration is enough.

The Raiders will conclude their four-part exhibition schedule Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. It would be an overstatement to say this action between reserves will have much sway on the Raiders’ 53-man roster. This is, however, a final impression for players to earn a practice-squad spot or catch an eye elsewhere in the league.

Those largely are the stakes.

Here are five things to watch.

Unexpected sleep

For anyone without a stake in the action, it’s probably not a good idea to track the 7 p.m. game on the radio.

At least, not while operating heavy machinery.

In the days before the fourth exhibition, teams traditionally are required to reduce their 90-man roster to 75 players. The NFL removed that initial cutdown this offseason, so the Raiders and Seahawks will carry more fat on their roster into Thursday than usual. This logistically makes it easier for teams to withhold key players from action, thereby decreasing both the caliber of football and likelihood of an awake general audience.

That isn’t to say this game is without importance to players and coaches.

To a casual fan, however, the affair could prove a snoozer. Consume responsibly.

Special teams

Safety Keith McGill is recovering from foot surgery. The last time fullback Jamize Olawale played, he left the field slamming his left fist into his left quadriceps after the muscle apparently tightened during a 56-yard run Saturday against the Dallas Cowboys.

McGill is not expected to be available Week 1. Olawale should be.

Aside from those two, the roster largely features a new outfit of special teamers blocking and chasing down kicks, and they can use all the reps they can get.

A case can be built that fourth down is of more interest Thursday than what happens on first, second or third. Special teams is often the tie-breaker for decision makers when determining who makes a roster or practice squad. How the Raiders’ youth seizes the opportunity should be monitored closely.

Manuel versus Cook

OK, that might be too strong.

“Versus” suggests a competition, and for weeks, this hasn’t been much of one. The Raiders clearly favored EJ Manuel over Connor Cook during training camp for their No. 2 quarterback job. Seeing them play now against this level of competition figures to do little to alter that.

This still is a signicant evening for Manuel and Cook.

If the Raiders have their way, the throws they make Thursday will be their final ones in a game situation all year. Manuel is 15 of 25 for 131 yards and has a 73.9 quarterback rating this preseason. Cook is 28 of 52 for 254 yards and a touchown. He owns a 73.7 rating.

Ideally, all passes from behind center should be quarterback Derek Carr’s from here on out.

Division III linebacker

Nicholas Morrow has come a long way with the Raiders. He just needs to come a little further.

The former star safety at Greenville College (Illinois) has adapted to an absurd jump in competition and a new position as a dime linebacker. He was one of the club’s better stories in camp, and he appears to have a legitimate shot at the 53-man roster — or at least the initial one.

The Raiders are expected to be active when pursuing linebacker help from outside the organization. Often, a team makes changes between the time it pares down to 53 and the several days afterward when it plays in Week 1.

In other words, a player who thinks he made the roster learns afterward he didn’t.

That possibility shouldn’t matter to anyone on the field Thursday.

Morrow can puctuate his impressive campaign on defense and special teams.

Last shot

Certain players on the field Thursday never will be invited to an NFL training camp again. They never will make an NFL practice squad. They never will land on an NFL roster.

For some, this game is the final stand.

The Raiders have a good sense of who they will cut leading up to Saturday’s 1 p.m. roster cutdown from 90 to 53 players. That won’t prevent players from fighting to change their mind.

In some sense, there is increased presure for a player to stand out Thursday. If you can’t on a field of reserves, how will you contribute this season against starters?

“As I told our guys, you want to make the best impression you can for an opportunity here,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “You also have 31 other teams that are going to evaluate the game tape, and you’re making an impression around the league as well.

“I think it’s important to put your best foot forward. We have a good group of men. We’d love to see as many of them as possible be playing. They work really hard. So obviously, we have tough decisions to make when it’s that time. You’re always pulling for the rest of the guys to find a home.”

More Raiders: Follow all of our Oakland Raiders-to-Las Vegas coverage online at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.