ALAMEDA – The Raiders didn’t wear helmets Thursday during their final minicamp practice. Reps were executed at less than full speed in a shorter session.
Physically speaking, it was a walk-through practice. Mentally? It was a bootcamp workout.
Head coach Jon Gruden put his players through the ringer, running triple-digit reps with near constant change, to see how much players learned since starting the offseason program.
“We just had a final examination today,” Gruden said. “We ran about 100 plays in a walk-through basis, no-huddle, two-minute, tight red zone, audible, different blitzes. We pulled guys in and out of the lineup, put them at different positions, tried to create some muscle memory that these guys can go home and remember what some of these things sound like and feel like. But, I’m really pleased with the offseason. I couldn’t really be more pleased.”
Gruden has lamented player access restrictions since re-joining the Raiders in January, especially over the offseason program. Maximizing time and reps, while following the NFL’s practice rules, was his ultimate goal during a stretch that started April 9 and ended with Thursday’s minicamp practice/pop quiz.
“We’re going to try to lead the league in effort and try to lead the league in reps,” Gruden said. “Repetition is the mother of learning. … A lot of people right now are trying to eliminate reps, eliminate practices and I think it’s hogwash. We have to create as many reps as possible, because it’s just a matter of time before your backup left guard has to play. It’s a matter of time before your backup quarterback has to play and if they don’t get any reps, you’re not going to be very good at what you do.”
Gruden’s goal this offseason was to make practices uncomfortable, to challenge and push his players at every turn. Creating game-like situations, with the pressure that comes with it, was important while installing new schemes.
Quarterback Derek Carr and middle linebacker Derrick Johnson lead their top units well, creating positive results on offense and defense.
Gruden challenged young players, from the last three draft classes especially, to prepare to be better in 2018. The Raiders will need results from draft picks who haven’t produced enough to this point.
“I want our young guys to stay on the gas pedal, be smart in what they do in the offseason and try to keep their football very close to them; keep studying, keep training and getting mentally and physically fresh,” Gruden said. “If we do that, we’ll have a chance.”
Gruden’s final offseason press conference was overwhelmingly positive, but the head coach held one regret.
“I’d feel a lot better if No. 52 was walking around here right now,” Gruden said of Khalil Mack, currently holding out for a big-money contract extension. “He’s the man. He’s the guy we have to figure out how to get back in here.”
Here are a few more notes and observations from Thursday’s practice:
-- Cornerback Gareon Conley missed his second straight practice on Thursday with a groin strain suffered two days before. Gruden called it a minor ailment, and that Conley could’ve practiced if allowed.
The Raiders chose to play it safe in minicamp, and Conley will be ready to go in training camp in late July.
-- In other injury news Marcus Gilchrist (calf) missed all three minicamp days, but Gruden wasn’t concerned about the strain. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (ACL tear) and rookie cornerback Nick Nelson (meniscus tear) missed the offseason program recovering from surgery, but were seen running on the side throughout minicamp. Both guys should be ready to start training camp.
Right tackle Breno Giacomini (undisclosed) return after two days out, and ran with the first unit. He also spent time coaching Kolton Miller during one down point in practice. Donald Penn has done the same, as players and coaches alike continue to help the team’s first-round pick.
Penn was able to work with the first unit during a walk through, though he skipped full-speed team drills during the offseason program while recovering from foot surgery.
-- Gruden will have right elbow surgery for a second time on Friday to repair an joint that has proven bothersome. Gruden originally hurt it in a practice during his previous Raiders stint, trying emulate Junior Seau, and took a shot from guard Mo Collins.
He had surgery then, but his elbow is acting up again and needs to get fixed.
“I can hardly throw and I can’t golf,” Gruden said. “So, hopefully in a couple weeks I’ll be 100 percent.”
-- Gruden singled out a few unheralded players for standout offseasons. Receiver Ryan Switzer, who has worked extensively as the first-team slot receiver, was first off his tongue. First-round offensive tackle Kolton Miller and linebackers Marquel Lee and Nicholas Morrow also got a shoutout. So did linebackers coach David Lippincott, who has worked under Paul Guenther in Cincinnati.
Gruden mentioned tight end Jared Cook and safety Erik Harris positively on Tuesday.
-- Coaches put the kicking competition in the spotlight to end Thursday’s practice, giving Eddy Piñeiro and Giorgio Tavecchio field-goal attempts with players taunting them from extremely close range.
Piñeiro went 1-for-3 and Tavecchio went 3-for-4 under such duress.
Expect the pressure to stay on those guys during training camp.
“We’re just letting those kickers know that anything is possible in training camp,” Gruden said. “We’re going to have a competitive situation. I think the rookie out of Florida is a capable guy. He’s a capable guy. And I also think Tavecchio, he’s not going to relinquish that job.
“It’s going to be competitive, we’re going to try to stage some competitive drills, not only at the kicking position, but some of these young players they might get their eyes opened the first few days of pads.”