NAPA – The Raiders need several rookies to make an instant impact this season. They can’t do so from the sideline. That’s where five members of the 2017 draft class were anchored during Tuesday’s practice, the first action after an off day.
“It looked like a veteran rest day except it was mostly rookies,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “It was not by design. We’re making progress.”
First-round cornerback Gareon Conley hasn’t practiced this camp with shin splints. Second-round safety Obi Melifonwu and fourth-round offensive tackle David Sharpe have missed several days now. Third-round defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes and seventh-round offensive tackle Jylan Ware were new absentees following minor ailments suffered Sunday.
Del Rio said these injuries aren’t long term. Even shorter absences aren’t ideal during camp days completely filled with football, especially with the first preseason game but a few days away. It’s uncertain how many will play in Saturday’s exhibition at Arizona, but every rep is vital for rookies expected to play important snaps.
Conley should be the slot corner, if not a starter outside in the base defense. Melifonwu seemed set as a hybrid safety/linebacker in sub packages. Vanderdoes should be part of the interior defensive line rotation, if not a feature player.
This isn’t the end of the world if players can get active soon. The problem will compound with extended time missed. Camp is invaluable to young players trying to learn a new system, adjust to the pro game and eventually have an influence on fortunes that will be reliant on some rookies.
Del Rio said the Raiders are making do with their current predicament.
“My feeling on it is that we cherish every rep that we get,” Del Rio said. “We’re going to work our butts off to get them out there whenever we can. Ultimately, it comes down to the player being ready to go. We’re doing everything we can to do the right things by our guys.”
-- Strong safety Karl Joseph stripped the ball from Marshawn Lynch a few practices back, but the veteran rusher bested him Tuesday. Lynch stiff-armed Joseph and broke a long run downfield.
Lynch doesn’t take many reps but has been effective with the ball in hand and generates fan excitement at every turn. It’s doubtful he sees many, if any preseason game reps in an effort to keep him healthy. The Raiders are driven to get him to the regular season with as little wear as possible.
DeAndre Washington especially has seen an increased workload in camp, and has been effectiveness working in different units.
-- Del Rio said the backup quarterback battle rages on despite EJ Manuel currently having a grip on the No. 2 job over Connor Cook.
“We’re sharing the work,” Del Rio said. “I think EJ has had some good moments, maybe a few more up to this point. But, we haven’t even played a game a snap in a game yet. So, we’re not in a hurry. We’re not rushing to make some of those decisions.”
-- Receiver Seth Roberts had a red-zone touchdown catch in this practice, working against Karl Joseph. He has quietly had a solid camp.
-- Cornerback Sean Smith continued working with the second unit base defense in team drills, and also played as a hybrid safety/linebacker in certain sub packages.
-- Edge rusher Khalil Mack didn’t participate on Tuesday, though it seems like a veteran rest day. Amari Cooper remains out with a left leg injury. Keith McGill, LaTroy Lewis, Jihad Ward and Jon Feliciano remained out. Edge rusher Shilique Calhoun returned after a one practice absence.