NAPA — Ever since arriving in Oakland in April, Matt Flynn has proven on the practice field and in the meeting rooms that he is the most capable candidate to start at quarterback for the Raiders.
Unless that changes in the exhibition games that start Friday night at home against Dallas, Flynn will be under center when the regular season begins Sept. 8 in Indianapolis.
Flynn will start against the Cowboys and will likely play the first quarter. Terrelle Pryor will follow and could play the bulk of the next two quarters before rookies Matt McGloin and Tyler Wilson finish up the preseason opener for Oakland.
But the job is Flynn’s to lose.
“He’s gotten a better grasp of what we’re trying to do offensively,” coach Dennis Allen said. “I think he’s more in command of what we’re doing. I think obviously, from the process through OTAs, through minicamp and now into training camp, he’s really progressed well. It’ll be good to put him in live action and see what he does against another opponent.”
This is the second straight year Flynn started the preseason opener. His hold on the starting job didn’t last long in Seattle last summer. An elbow injury and the emergence of Russell Wilson relegated Flynn to a backup role before the end of the preseason and led to his eventual trade to Oakland in April to replace Carson Palmer.
After also serving as Aaron Rodgers’ backup for four seasons in Green Bay, Flynn knows this could be his last shot to seize a starting job in the NFL.
“The mindset as a competitor, as a professional athlete, as a football player, the mindset always has to be to improve yourself, better yourself on the field,” he said. “That’s kind of the approach I’m taking.”
Dallas has no questions about who will start at quarterback this season after giving Tony Romo a six-year, $108 million contract with $55 million guaranteed in the offseason.
Romo did not play in the Hall of Fame game against Miami last Sunday as he is working his way back from surgery in April to remove a cyst in his back. But he is expected to play briefly against the Raiders as he works in a game for the first time under new offensive coordinator Bill Callahan.
“More than anything you just want to have good execution,” Romo said. “You want to be able to do things. You’re not game planning per se and having the stuff that you’re really going to attack certain coverages and certain teams a certain way. So you get a little vanilla with what you may call. You’d like to get into a rhythm, but I just think we need to go out there and execute the right way and do things that we feel good about as far as doing our assignments right and getting through stuff quickly and just not having any mental errors.”
Romo’s most trusted receiver, Jason Witten, is hoping for a better trip to Oakland this preseason than the one he had last year. Witten sustained a “slightly lacerated” spleen when he was hit by Rolando McClain after catching a pass in the first quarter.
Witten remained in the game before the injury was diagnosed and missed the rest of the preseason before coming back for the season opener. Witten recovered to catch a career-high 110 passes last season.
“That was just a situation that happened when you play,” Witten said. “I don’t think you worry about that. It’s just an unfortunate situation. But we’ve run that play a lot of times and never had that come up. I can’t really think about it. It was a long three weeks. I know that. But I’m a better person, a better player because of it for sure.”
Allen also isn’t overly concerned about injuries, knowing he needs to see his young team play games against an opponent to get a proper handle on what he has on his overhauled roster.
Injury-prone running back Darren McFadden will play in the preseason as will veteran Charles Woodson. Among the key injured players who could miss the game are projected starting defensive linemen Lamarr Houston and Pat Sims, first-round pick cornerback D.J. Hayden and receiver Jacoby Ford.
“There are a lot of young guys that we’ve got to get an evaluation on, and really, there are a lot of veteran players that we’ve got to get a good feel for,” Allen said. “We’ve got a lot of change, a lot of turnover on this football team. We’ve never been to battle with a lot of these guys, so we want to put them in situations and see how they respond. So this, for our football team, this preseason, is a big deal as far as the evaluation process.”