Six Raiders to watch against the Packers

Jon Gruden didn’t specify this week how much, if at all, the Raiders’ starters will play Thursday night against the Packers in Winnipeg.

In fact, when asked what he’ll be watching in his team’s third preseason game, Gruden skipped any mention of the starters altogether.

“We’ve got a number of guys that are on the cusp of making (the team) and they need to play well in this game to solidify their position,” Gruden said. “So yeah, there are a number of guys that we’re anxious to see.”

Gruden, of course, didn’t go into specifics. But with rosters starting to take shape, here are six players potentially on the Raiders’ bubble who could benefit from a strong game Thursday:

Defense

DT P.J. Hall: It might be premature to declare last year’s second-round pick in roster jeopardy. Hall had just 22 tackles in 14 games as a rookie but still has lots of upside. Consider what new defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said about Hall early in training camp:

“He’s stronger than anybody I’ve probably seen before in my life in this game. I’m like, you got (natural) leverage. Use that strength and you’ll be good.”

Hall missed the preseason opener against the Rams due to injury, though. And it was notable that a few days later, Gruden said: “We need to get P.J. Hall out here,” while praising the play of defensive tackles Anthony Rush and Ethan Westbrooks, who are fighting for roster spots.

Hall did play 27 snaps at Arizona and had a highlight when he stopped running back T.J. Logan for no gain while appearing to strip the ball and recover it himself. The fumble was overturned but it was still a glimpse of strength from Hall, who might have needed it given the play of …

DT Anthony Rush: Several weeks ago, Rush was on the outside looking in. The undrafted rookie had been waived by the Eagles, signed with the Raiders on Aug. 1 – after camp had started – and joined an interior line that returned Justin Ellis, Johnathan Hankins, Maurice Hurst and Hall.

Rush, though, has forced the issue with his play in the first two preseason games. He had three tackles in the opener and on one play at Arizona used his strength – he’s listed at 6-foot-5, 350 pounds – to hold off a Cardinals guard with one arm and tackle a running back with his other.

Unless the Raiders are going to keep five defensive tackles, they could face a difficult decision in their last cut. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he hoped to get Rush snaps against the Packers starting offensive line Thursday. Rush could strengthen his case with a strong response.

CB Nick Nelson: A while back, Gruden said Nelson stood out in spring workouts in Alameda. But Nelson, last year’s fourth-round pick, has had a quiet training camp at a now-crowded position.

Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley have been the starting cornerbacks all preseason. The Raiders drafted a pair of corners in April in Trayvon Mullen (2nd round) and Isaiah Johnson (4th). Nelson played some slot cornerback as a rookie last year, but that job now belongs to Lamarcus Joyner.

Nevin Lawson has been more visible than Nelson in camp but is suspended four games to start the season. Given Joyner’s role, the Raiders could probably still get by with the cornerback group from the previous paragraph – meaning it’s up to Nelson to force his way onto the team.

Offense

WR Keelan Doss: The Alameda kid has a team-high seven catches in the two preseason games. He’s also part of what could be the toughest position group for the Raiders to whittle down.

With Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Dwayne Harris (the return specialist) all safe bets, J.J. Nelson, Doss, Ryan Grant, Marcell Ateman and Keon Hatcher could all be vying for two spots. Nelson shone early in camp but has been nursing an ankle injury.

An interesting moment in Tuesday’s episode of “Hard Knocks” was when Doss tells a teammate after the Arizona game: “I need to get on special teams.” The undrafted rookie has not played a special teams snap in the preseason. We’ll see if he does Thursday night.

RB DeAndre Washington: The Raiders hope Josh Jacobs can be a three-down back this season. So do they need to carry three others in Doug Martin, Jalen Richard and Washington?

The Raiders value Richard as a pass-catcher and blocker. Martin is a veteran who was their lead back in the second half last season. Washington has just 87 carries the last two seasons and has played a lot this preseason with Gruden wanting to evaluate him fully healthy.

Yet Gruden, multiple times, has talked about how well Washington has run. Could the Raiders keep all four backs? Or would Washington need to prove another back (most probably Martin) expendable? As an indication of why the Raiders value Washington, here was running backs coach Kirby Wilson’s answer to a question about differences between Washington and Richard:

“They’re both experienced, they’re guys you can trust. But there are some differences. One, for example – Jalen is a lot more powerful. He’s a lot more powerful, a lot more stout in the protection game. Where DeAndre might be a better pure runner. There’s one difference. They are very similar, but there are more differences than the human eye would see.”

OT Brandon Parker: Another 2018 draftee (3rd round), Parker is no longer starting after a rough rookie season and is now competing for the swing tackle job with David Sharpe.

Gruden said Parker had one rough series in the preseason opener against the Rams but played better at Arizona. Both Parker and Sharpe have been working at both left and right tackle, and it’s unlikely the Raiders could keep both given their issues at guard and the presence of rookie Andre James (who played tackle in college) as a backup center option.

For what it’s worth, Parker was the Raiders’ highest-graded offensive lineman at Arizona by Pro Football Focus. He may just have to outplay Sharpe in the eyes of the Raiders coaches to secure his roster spot.

Matt Kawahara is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: mkawahara@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @matthewkawahara

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/raiders/article/Six-Raiders-to-watch-against-the-Packers-14369915.php.

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