ALAMEDA – Shalom Luani has a nose for the football. That was his calling card at Washington State, and certainly an attraction when the Raiders drafted him early in the seventh round.
“That guy is a playmaker,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said shortly after the draft, a statement supported twice in Wednesday’s minicamp practice.
He had an athletic interception of Connor Cook that could’ve been returned for a touchdown in a game situation. He was on the second-unit defense later in the practice going against the first unit when he came out of nowhere and broke up Derek Carr’s long, lofted pass.
“That was just me knowing my assignment and knowing what to do on the field,” Luani, who played at Community College of San Francisco. “You have to show the coaches that you’re picking up the system and that you can make plays.”
Luani had eight interceptions, 11 passes defensed and three forced fumbles in two seasons at Washington State. Attacking the football comes naturally to the young player.
“It’s instincts and knowing exactly where to be,” Luani said. “I can sense when a play can be made based upon how the quarterbacks react before the snap.”
That works on defense Luani will be counted on to make plays special teams as a rookie. Later-round picks generally earn stripes as a reserve and in the kicking game. That will be true for a safety working behind Pro Bowler Reggie Nelson, 2016 first-round pick Karl Joseph and second-rounder Obi Melifonwu.
Luani is ready for that challenge, to contribute heavily in the kicking game.
“Those kind of guys, what you do in the kicking game, and get noticed there, is a key way onto the roster,” special teams contributor Brad Seely said. “Then, hopefully you rise up and you play for us in the kicking game for one or two years and then you become a defensive starter or somehow, you just find a role for yourself and that's what he's trying to do right now. He's one of those guys that's really hungry, he's coachable and I'm really happy he's on our roster.”
Here are some other observations from Raiders minicamp:
-- First-round cornerback Gareon Conley was a spectator during Wednesday’s practice. He observed from the sideline without a helmet or shells, though he showed no signs of ailment. The Raiders are generally conservative with participation in the offseason program, preferring to sit players with minor ailments.
-- Punter Marquette King was flagged a few times last season for antics after his punts, something special teams coordinator Brad Seely doesn't love.
"We’re not real thrilled with that, and he understands that," Seely said. "We had a stat the other day that there was five or six celebration penalties in the league, and two of them were on our punter. We can’t have that, and he knows that.
"We like guys to be themselves. Everybody has a mindset playing the game. Some are tight and others are loose. He fits well playing his way, but he has to stay within some parameters."
-- Head coach Jack Del Rio cancelled afternoon meetings and a post-practice weightlifting session in favor of taking his team to a bowling alley. This comes a week after the team went to a go-kart track. The rookie class has also been to the bowling alley once before during this offseason program.
-- Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson had an excellent day playing with the first and second units. He had three touchdowns in practice and a few more catches working downfield.
-- The Raiders mixed up personnel groupings after they generally remained static during OTAs. Quarterback EJ Manuel ran the second team after being the No. 3 signal caller in previous workouts. He swapped units with Connor Cook. Cook threw two interceptions on the day.
-- Running back Marshawn Lynch was involved in several team drills on Wednesday, including interior runs where he showed characteristic burst and shiftiness.
-- Tight end Jared Cook continues to be a frequent target for Derek Carr this offseason, as that pair continues building chemistry.
-- In addition to Conley, offensive linemen Jon Feliciano, Austin Howard and Marshall Newhouse, defensive linemen Fadol Brown, Jihad Ward, Eddie Vanderdoes and Darius Latham missed practice.