Raiders

Antonio Brown makes it look easy, Darren Waller stands out at Raiders OTAs

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Antonio Brown makes it look easy, Darren Waller stands out at Raiders OTAs

ALAMEDA -- Gareon Conley had Antonio Brown covered well, but the new Raiders receiver created enough space to haul in a Derek Carr pass and toe-tap the sideline for good measure.

Conley’s frustration was clear -- he couldn’t have done much better -- but Brown was having a blast. He left the football spinning on the turf, shot off a witty retort Conley’s way and headed back to the huddle.

It was but one of several wow-worthy plays made during Tuesday’s OTA session, the first time local press watched him practice. Let’s sum up his practice ability this way: Brown operates in a higher gear.

The four-time All-Pro practices fast. His routes are precise and his receptions were often caught with one hand, including this one:

Brown’s a showman, to be sure. It doesn’t take long to figure that out on social media or watching him work. He says there’s a lead-by-example component to all this as well.

“I have to put good things on tape and challenge a young group,” Brown said. “I think it’s contagious to see the level of passion and finishing that I bring to the field. We have to continue to inspire each other as a whole while we’re out here.”

Brown continued a healthy dialogue with the Raiders secondary throughout practice, clearly believing he’s open even when not targeted.

Raiders defensive backs enjoy the pushback and the practice intensity that comes with opposing a player like Brown.

“You don’t often get the opportunity to go against a specimen like that,” defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. “He’s an elite player. He’s going to get me better, and I’m going to make him better as well.”

Brown definitely adds a new intensity to proceedings, something Raiders coaches expected. Head coach Jon Gruden saw Brown work several times in Pittsburgh with inside access as Monday Night Football’s color analyst and knew what was coming in sessions like this. He disseminated that information to his staff, and it wasn’t just lip service.

“The way he goes about practicing is impressive,” Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “He has shown that when he’s out here. Especially if you’re in the receiver group, you’re going to have to step up and follow his lead. He won’t ask you to do anything that he doesn’t do. That’s the impressive thing. He hasn’t backed off one bit. “He brings a lot of juice to our side of the ball. He’s enjoying it. That part of it has been really refreshing.”

No stunting Waller’s growth

The Raiders were content letting Jared Cook leave in free agency despite him being their best receiver last year. Darren Waller’s the main reason why, and he has shown playmaking ability during OTAs.

That was clear midway through Tuesday’s session when he hauled in an over-the-shoulder grab from Derek Carr. The Raiders quarterback quickly identified a favorable matchup outside with rookie cornerback Isaiah Johnson and threw a quick strike trusting Waller would win out. He did, bringing in one of a few nice plays made as the primary receiving tight end getting tons of first-team work that would’ve been unavailable with Cook around.

“Would it stunt his growth if Jared was here? Possibly,” offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. “So now that he has that position, it’s your position, you are the ‘Y’ in certain personnel groupings. We’re going to put you out there on the field and you’re going to play. You’re going to get better from playing. You’re not going to wait and sit behind Jared Cook and have to wait your turn, you have to go now. We’re really pushing him to the limit right now.”

Waller has responded well to a golden opportunity to kick-start his career and realize vast potential.

Incognito steps right in

Veteran left guard Richie Incognito formally signed with the Raiders early Tuesday and was working with their first-unit later that morning. The 35-year old slid right into the top spot, which was vacant with Denzelle Good absent for the OTA session.

It’s tough to say how he fared in a practice with no pads and his first in a new system with new terminology, but it supports claims that Incognito is in great physical shape.

“He looks like he’s 5-10 years younger than he really is,” Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said. “We really won’t know what we have until training camp. He’s going to have to prove himself and compete.”

Parker, Devey prepping to be super subs

The Raiders are moving interior super sub-Jordan Devey into both guard spots in addition to his work as a second-unit center, trying to acclimate his to reservist life where he could move to any of the three interior spots at any moment.

The same is happening for second-year tackle Brandon Parker, who has worked with the first unit at left and right tackle for a snap here and there. One of last year’s third-round picks has experience playing on both sides of the line, which he’ll have to do as a swing tackle.

Jacobs returns, others remain out

First-round running back Josh Jacobs is back in action after missing some OTA work last week with a hamstring strain. He took a decent workload, though running backs are all getting significant reps at this stage.

Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict started the OTA working on the side but participated in team drills later in practice. He’s clearly a vocal on-field presence who knows the defense extremely well after years working with Paul Guenther in Cincinnati.

Brandon Marshall remains out and was not on the practice field. Tahir Whitehead, Marquel Lee and Jason Cabinda manned the linebacker spots on passing downs.

Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who missed the May 21 session open to the press, did not participate due to an unknown ailment. P.J. Hall took his spot with the first unit, alongside Johnathan Hankins on the defensive interior.

Receiver Rico Gafford and tight end Derek Carrier were also out.

Teamwork

As we did last week, we’ll take a look at where players are being used on certain unit offensively and defensively.

The starting secondary remained the same, with CBs Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley and safeties Erik Harris and Karl Joseph and Lamarcus Joyner in the slot.

The second-team secondary was comprised of cornerbacks Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen and safeties Johnathan Abram and Curtis Riley.

[RELATED: Brown on early on-chemistry can help Raiders win]

The top skill players were Brown, Tyrell Williams, Ryan Grant at receiver, Jacobs at running back and Darren Waller as a receiving tight end.

This ‘n that

First-round defensive end Clelin Ferrell has slid back to the second unit defensive line, with second-year pro-Arden Key taking his spot. …Head coach Jon Gruden is always entertaining and intense during practice, dropping some excellent quotes on players that can’t be repeated here. … DT Eddie Vanderdoes rotated in with the first unit at times, pushing for a spot after missing a full year recovering from knee surgery. … S Erik Harris is active and maybe more vocal in practice this season, working as a defensive backfield leader. He’s also getting an opportunity to play free safety when Lamarcus Joyner moves into the slot.

NFL trade deadline: How Raiders might look to fill positional needs

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NFL trade deadline: How Raiders might look to fill positional needs

I didn't have time to build it, but I was able to go through all the copy and edit it. The edited/updated copy is below: The NFL trade deadline is coming up fast. Not like the NFL needs it to spurn deals, with Marcus Peters moved to Baltimore and Jalen Ramsey taking his place in the L.A. Rams' secondary earlier this week.

NFL trades used to be rare, especially around the deadline. Pre-draft deals were more common, but now we’re seeing moves at several points in the calendar, including big names upset with their current lot and teams tired of dealing with disgruntled stars despite holding all the leverage.

The Raiders certainly have needs and the NFL draft capital to go get any player they want heading toward the Oct. 29 deadline. Just because they can, however, doesn’t mean they will.

They’ve already acquired Trevor Davis (2020 sixth-round pick) and Zay Jones (2021 fifth-round pick) this season and gave up two picks on the Antonio Brown experiment. They aren’t averse to making deals, but this team remains in the midst of a rebuild. They’d like young foundation pieces, with cheap controllable contracts, added via the NFL draft. Can’t do that by giving all your selections away in an attempt to win now.

The Raiders were interested in Ramsey but were never willing to give up what the Rams did to get him. They’re willing to deal, but it has to be the right guy at the right price.

The Raiders have needs aplenty, and midseason acquisitions could be more attractive if they manage to beat the Packers in Green Bay and find themselves (gasp!) atop a compacted AFC West entering midseason. Patrick Mahomes got hurt in Thursday’s game against Denver, a blow that could significantly hurt the front-running Chiefs and give the Raiders a window to take the whole division if they continue playing well.

Here's a look at the Raiders' prospects of making a trade

Chris Simms impressed with Raiders, who have been 'kicking some butt'

Chris Simms impressed with Raiders, who have been 'kicking some butt'

If you're impressed by the Raiders' recent turnaround, you're definitely not alone.

NBC Sports' Chris Simms is at a loss for words when it comes to describing what Oakland has accomplished after what only can be described as a hellish start to the season.

"Wow. I mean, I can't really say enough right now about what I've seen from the Oakland Raiders," Simms told NBC Sports California on Wednesday. "My old coach, Jon Gruden, has been kicking some butt, and I'm not saying that because he's my old coach. Trust me, I've talked crap about him before when he hasn't been good. I just think the way he is managing the football game right now is phenomenal."

Simms believes part of the 3-2 Raiders' recent surge can be attributed to Gruden putting his players in the right position to succeed.

"[The team] is playing extremely hard and physical on both sides of the football, but he's managing the offense the right way and managing it in a way that is giving it realistic expectations," Simms continued. "[He's] not asking it to do things that some of the players have not been able to do, and it's playing to their strengths. 

"They're running the football. [The offense is] playing smash-mouth football. When they drop back to pass, it's high-percentage passes. Let's take care of the football that way. And then when they look to strike deep or something like that, it's usually through a play-action pass or something Jon Gruden has designed in the chemistry lab in the week before through his film study."

The Raiders' consecutive wins over the Colts and Bears, in particular, really caught Simms' eye.

"I just really can't say enough about the Raiders and what they're doing right now," he said. "Those were two surprise victories for me, and they did it in a physical way."

[RELATED: Could Raiders be AFC West favorites after Mahomes injury?]

If the Raiders keep playing like they have the last two weeks, only more praise will follow.