Raiders

Raiders impressed with receiver Tyrell Williams' speed, route-running

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USATSI

Raiders impressed with receiver Tyrell Williams' speed, route-running

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders won’t play another color for months. The Los Angeles Rams are up first on the preseason slate, but that game isn’t coming until Aug. 10.

It’s all silver on black until then.

Raiders secondary coach Jim O’Neil is prepping his position groups to play well together in this scheme, with progress reports coming against a dynamic receiver corps featuring Antonio Brown.

Slowing the four-time All-Pro is a badge of honor, by far the toughest assignment in the pattern.

Gold stars should also go to those who stop Tyrell Williams, though few are being given out early in the Raiders offseason program. Williams was known commodity after quality time with the L.A. Chargers. He’s a big body at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds adept plucking receptions from the sky, but there are other facets of his game Raiders defensive backs are learning about the hard way during OTAs.

That was clear in a conversation between O’Neil and Williams, recorded by the team website and released on social media.

“All the DBs went, ‘Man. No. 16 can run,’” said O’Neil, who was mic’d up during Thursday’s OTA session. “I said, ‘yeah. You’d better get your hands on him.’”

“Yeah,” Williams said. “Everybody thinks I can’t run.”

Folks must have forgotten he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash during the 2015 pre-draft process, or that his downfield prowess comes from size over speed.

Early routes had dispelled that notion. Williams and Carr have already flashed a deep connection due to speed-created separation and some solid route running.

“That was a good route you ran the other day on my guy,” O’Neil told Williams. “You sold the ‘jet,’ he took his yes off you and he started hauling a— across field.”

That exact play’s tough to place, considering how little of the offseason program is open to the press. Media saw Williams torch coverage deep on Tuesday, and make some smart catches underneath as Williams continues to prove a trustworthy target working with more than just size and speed.

“It’s kind of nice having something like that, but he can run these routes and set people up,” Carr said. “He’s a technician also. He’s just not a big, raw body.”

Carr and Williams have developed an early rapport from private throwing sessions with Antonio Brown and officially-sanctioned offseason program work. They’re taking another step during OTAs, where they can finally work against coverage.

Williams knows that trust comes from repetition, something he’s trying to build with touch catches against teammates when nobody’s watching.

“It’s just catching everything and if it’s a 50-50 ball make sure that if you don’t catch it, that nobody catches it and it’s not an interception, and he can trust that throws into a tight coverage either you catch it or nobody catches it,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m a bigger guy and have a lot of room I can separate for and be able to catch a lot of those balls that may not be perfect, so I think that’s a big thing from me.”

[RELATED: Carr building chemistry with new receivers]

Williams knows he will be a secondary concern with Brown running routes, and that’s something he hopes to take advantage of with the traits many realize and others often overlooked to have a big season. He has exceeded 1,000 yards once, in 2016 when the Chargers had a rash of receiver injuries. Working opposite Brown could make him a feature target with winnable matchups that could lead to another big year working in a system that can play to his strengths.

“It’s vertical,” Williams said. “We like to go down the field and I feel like that’s one of my strong points, taking it and stretching the field. I think that will be big for me being able to get a lot of [focus] go to ‘AB,’ so I feel like I’ll get a lot of one-on-one coverage down the field. It’ll be big for me.”

Raiders need instant impact from Clelin Ferrell right away as rookie

Raiders need instant impact from Clelin Ferrell right away as rookie

The Raiders are trying to rebound from a disatrous 4-12 season, and need strong showings from many members of their NFL draft class. That's especially true on defense, where general manager Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden loaded up on young talent.

Clelin Ferrell was the marquee selection, a defensive end taken fourth overall out of Clemson to fill a position of great need.

We'll take a look at the best-case scenario for Ferrell's rookie season, the worst possible outcome and what's realistic for a do-it-all scheme fit expected to play right away. We'll put different Raiders draft picks through the same paces each day, so check back Thursday morning for our Josh Jacobs breakdown.

Right now, let's dive into what the Raiders need from Ferrell:

Clelin Ferrell

Draft slot:No. 4 overall (First round)
Position: Defensive end
Height: 6-foot-4
Weight: 264 pounds
School: Clemson

Skill set

Let’s say it simply. Ferrell is a complete defensive end. He can set an edge and rush the passer. He’s technically sound, tough and tenacious, with strong leadership skill. He may not be as flashy as other top-5 edge rushers of this draft class or any other, but he was a highly productive college player who could well be a highly productive pro despite missing elite measurable athleticism.

Ferrell’s exactly what the Raiders need up front, as defensive coordinator Paul Guenther puts it, a stable three-down defender who will show up and work hard every day.

Training camp proving ground

Coaches were impressed with his tenacity and a real grinder’s work ethic. It’s hard to evaluate a new player just learning the system seeing him once a week during open OTA practices, especially when they weren’t in pads, so training camp will provide a clearer picture of where Ferrell is as a rookie.

It’s always difficult to expect an immediate impact from rookies, even those drafted so high, but Ferrell needs to be steady and flash in practice, especially when the L.A. Rams come to Napa on Aug. 7-8. Battles with Kolton Miller and Trent Brown will also be key in his development, when he cracks the first unit.

Going up against massive size (Brown) and solid athleticism from a big frame (Miller) in pads should help prepare him for the difficulties of facing NFL tackles each week.

Best-case scenario

It was hard to find analysts with bad things to say about Ferrell’s game. The element of surprise came from his draft position, something he wasn’t in charge of. The Raiders are so thin off the edge that they need Ferrell to step in and play three downs right away. They’re certainly hoping he’s not just occupying space, and can produce at his Clemson level.

He had 27 sacks in three seasons as a starter, and getting to nine as a first-year pro would be huge for the Raiders and his long-term future. Comparing Ferrell to Khalil Mack is ultimately unfair, but they’ll come his way nonetheless. Let’s not forget that Mack had just four sacks as a rookie, often generating pressure but rarely getting home.

Working nine sacks out of the season would be huge for the Raiders, and double digits with solid run play would send Ferrell jerseys flying off the shelves.

Worst-case scenario

The Raiders need a three-down end. They likely won’t have one on the other side, splitting run/pass duties between Josh Mauro and Arden Key, respectively. They need someone capable against the run and pass, a stable and productive force to pick this defensive line up off the mat after a disastrous 2018 season where the Raiders were outmanned regularly during a year with just 13 sacks (as a team!!) and gave up 140 rushing yards per game.

Let’s be honest: This defensive line is in huge trouble if Ferrell can’t make an immediate impact. That would spell disaster for the Raiders' defense if he doesn’t show well, and lower-round pick Maxx Crosby doesn’t make up for that by playing out of his mind.

Realistic expectations

Ferrell’s a rookie. Let’s not forget that when evaluating his season this winter. Again, he didn’t control his draft slot. He plays for the team that took him, and seven sacks and realtively steady run play is a respectable season.

[RELATED: Key dates for Raiders' 'Hard Knocks'-centric preseason]

Ferrell’s going to work hard every day. He doesn’t have a large injury history. He should be reliable. He should get into the backfield; whether he can get home is another matter. Mack didn’t do it much his first year.

Expect an adjustment period as he moves to the NFL, but his presence should be felt in all facets of this Raiders defense. He seems qualified to shut out noise and outside expectation from being the No. 4 overall pick. That should help him produce a solid, rookie year with hope for better down the line.

Key Raiders preseason dates, including HBO's 'Hard Knocks' episodes

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USATSI

Key Raiders preseason dates, including HBO's 'Hard Knocks' episodes

The Raiders have an interesting preseason ahead. They have three exhibition games on the road, including one in Canada. They’re headed to Napa for camp, which is possibly, though ultimately uncertain, the last time they will train in Wine Country, with their Las Vegas relocation scheduled for next year.

They have personalities to spare on this unit, which must bond to improve on last year’s 4-12 disappointment. They’ll do so under NFL Films’ watchful eye, with cameras everywhere filming this season’s HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks.”

[RELATED: Raiders mailbag: Defense still clearly behind offense]

Their training camp schedule hasn’t been made official, but Monday’s announcement of report dates gives the preseason some shape.

Here are key dates for the Raiders' summer plans:

As a note, Raiders training camp practices are only open to season-ticket holders and guests by invite only.

Tuesday, July 23: Rookies, first-year players, recently rehabilitating veterans and quarterbacks report for training camp in Napa.
Friday, July 26: Veterans report for training camp in Napa
Saturday, July 27: First full-squad training camp practice.
Monday, July 29: First padded practice in training camp
Tuesday, Aug. 6: “Hard Knocks” with the Raiders premieres at 10 p.m. on HBO
Wednesday, Aug. 7-8: Raiders host joint training camp practices with Los Angeles Rams in Napa
Saturday, Aug. 10: Exhibition opener vs. LA Rams at Oakland Coliseum
Tuesday, Aug. 13: Second episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO
Thursday, Aug. 15: Exhibition No. 2 at Arizona Cardinals, 5 p.m. (ESPN)
Tuesday, Aug. 20: Third episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO
Thursday, Aug. 22: Exhibition No. 3 vs. Green Bay Packers at IG Field in Winnipeg, 5 p.m. (Bay: KTVU; Vegas KVVU)
Thursday, Aug. 27: Fourth episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO
Thursday, Aug. 29: Exhibition No. 4: Aug. 29: Exhibition No. 4 at Seattle Seahawks, 7 p.m. (Bay: KTVU; Vegas KVVU)
Saturday, Aug. 31: Rosters must be decreased from 90 players to the 53-man limit by 1 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 1: Claiming period ends for waived roster cuts at 9 a.m.
Sunday, Sept. 1: Teams may formally sign a 10-man practice squad
Tuesday Sept. 3: Final episode of “Hard Knocks” airs at 10 p.m. on HBO