By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
AP file photo: Oakland Raiders running back George Atkinson III jumps for joy with quarterback Derek Carr after scoring a second half touchdown against the Arizona Cardinal last Friday at the University of Phoenix in Glendale AZ
OAKLAND, Calif — The Raiders’ running game was highlighted during the team’s 31-10 win in Arizona to open the preseason last Friday night, thanks in large part to running back George Atkinson III.
Atkinson III, who was listed as the fourth-string running back on the team’s depth chart coming into the game, had touchdown runs of 53 and 35 yards.
Atkinson III finished with 97 yards on just five carries, mostly against Arizona’s reserves, but showed that he warrants a few more opportunities when Oakland travels to Green Bay to take on the Packers Thursday night in both team’s second preseason game.
Latavius Murray, Oakland’s 1,000-yard rusher from last season, is labeled the starter and should play more against Green Bay after just four carries, while rookie running back DeAndre Washington is expected to be a major contributor in Oakland’s office this year.
Can Atkinson III continue to put the pressure on fellow Bay Area native Jamize Olawale and undrafted rookie running back Jalen Richard, who has been recovering from injury to be the team’s third running back?
One battle that intrigues me the most this preseason for Oakland is the race between incumbent Matt McGloin and rookie Connor Cook.
McGloin engineered back-to-back drives ending in touchdown passes of 19 and 10 yards, finishing 5-for-11 for 41 yards after taking over for Carr midway through the first quarter.
McGloin played into the third quarter before giving way to Cook, who went 7-for-11 for 71 yards in his appearance. Cook could see increased reps on Thursday, but McGloin still has the inside track as the team’s No. 2 quarterback given the fact that he has started six games (all in 2013) in his four years with the Raiders.
Oakland didn’t do itself any favors against Arizona, regardless of the score.
The Raiders committed 11 penalties for 86 yards, not to mention struggling to tackle in the open field. Both the penalties and missed tackles have to decrease throughout the preseason if Oakland is going to be one of the better teams in the regular season.
Green Bay is coming off a 17-11 win over the visiting Cleveland Browns last Friday night, with several key players, most notably starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, sitting out.
Undrafted rookie quarterback Joe Callahan, passed for 124 and a touchdown while completing 16-of-23 passes while getting the start in place of Rodgers.
Rodgers, who is one of the top-five quarterbacks in the league, doesn’t need the preseason to get ready. There are reports that Green Bay’s star quarterback won’t suit up for Thursday night’s contest.
With the first wave of roster cuts less than two weeks away, the second preseason game is vital for a bubble guy like Atkinson III to build off the success from the previous game and the reps in practice to strengthen their position on the roster.