ALAMEDA – The Raiders defense loves to celebrate every takeaway. Even if the play doesn’t end in a return for touchdown, defenders congregate around their thieves to honor a turnover created.
That has been happening all offseason, and the offense responded several times during Wednesday’s minicamp practice, boisterously celebrating touchdowns.
There was plenty of cause for celebration on both sides in this practice, and a sign that competition has ramped up between units as Jon Gruden and staff would like.
The Raiders have one more practice set for Thursday morning, before the offseason program comes to a close. Here are some observations from the Silver and Black’s penultimate practice.
-- Quarterback Derek Carr was on target during Wednesday’s practice, with a few excellent throws both deep and short. The Raiders’ signal caller has responded well to the curveballs Gruden has thrown his way, and has found favorable matchups before delivering the ball.
Gruden singled out the first unit on Tuesday, with more evidence of improved cohesion Wednesday afternoon.
Carr found Ryan Switzer for a touchdown strike, and Martavis Bryant and Amari Cooper deep on a few occasions. He worked the ball into tight spots, and used tight ends and fullbacks well. Another strong day and Carr can end offseason program on a high note.
-- Coordinator Paul Guenther has his players focused on creating takeaways this offseason, and his charges have done so regularly during practices open to the media. The defense got three on Wednesday, with interceptions from Erik Harris and Dallin Leavitt and a fumble recovery by Leon Hall.
The aforementioned damage was done with reserve quarterback Connor Cook on the field, as the third-year pro continued to struggle some. Fellow backup EJ Manuel wasn’t perfect either, with two fumbled snaps.
-- Bryant is plain fast. And plays to his 6-foot-5 frame. Raiders defensive backs had a tough time covering him, especially downfield. Timing between him and Carr remains a work in progress, as the quarterback tries to maximize Bryant’s straight-line speed.
-- Cornerback Gareon Conley missed Wednesday practice after apparently getting hurt the day before. The Ohio State product started Tuesday’s work but didn’t participate in many team drills.
Gruden said after Tuesday’s work he thought Conley was okay.
Daryl Worley replaced Conley in the first-team secondary.
-- Left tackle Donald Penn was limited to individual drills in practice, as he has been all offseason. Kolton Miller and David Sharpe split time with the first unit.
Penn was seen working with bands and doing backwards blocking movements with strength and conditioning staff in practice.
Also, cornerback Nick Nelson (knee) and Eddie Vanderdoes (knee) ran on the side during practice. Right tackle Breno Giacomini (undisclosed injury) missed practice, with Ian Silberman working as the first-team right tackle.
-- The Raiders are admittedly throwing a ton at Miller this offseason, trying to prepare him mentally for the rigors of this scheme. He missed an assignment on Wednesday that allowed Arden Key to earn an easy simulated sack, and offensive line coach Tom Cable used it as a teaching moment. He didn’t yell, but corrected the mistake before moving on.
“We like Kolton Miller a lot,” Gruden said Tuesday. “What we’re doing with him right now with all the audibles, all the check-with-me’s, the different speeds we’re playing with, it’s taxing on a young guy. He’s an underclassman out of UCLA and hasn’t really been in a huddle very often. He is a great athlete. He’s done a hell of a job for us.”
-- James Cowser, a reserve edge rusher in past seasons, moved to linebacker this offseason.
-- Fullback Keith Smith showed solid receiving skill on a few receptions from Carr, adjusting to passes well and in stride. That will be important in Gruden’s fullback-friendly offensive scheme.