Raiders

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

Raiders OTA primer: Five questions entering important offseason phase

The Raiders are progressing right through the offseason program, which starts its third and final phase on Tuesday when organized team activities formally begin. The first phase is all about conditioning and meetings. The second allows on-field workouts, without helmets or offense vs. defense work.

They can put it all together over the next four weeks. Well, almost. Players can put helmets on at least, but there’s no live contact over the course of 10 OTA practices and a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.

Units can go against each other these days, a vital part of learning/mastering Raiders schemes. And the competition for roster spots formally starts Monday. Nothing will be decided for months, but players can make an early impression on an organization looking for improved production in most spots. The 2019 Raiders really start coming together now.

Here are some key questions to keep an eye on throughout OTAs and minicamp:

Will veteran LBs flash old form?

Vontaze Burfict and Brandon Marshall know how to run a defensive front seven. Both guys have done so for the Bengals and Broncos, respectively, for several years. Injuries (and maybe age) have pushed them out of old markets and toward the Silver and Black, where they’re looking to restart careers representing new colors.

Recent past creates question marks about whether they can find old form and be three-down mainstays for a Raiders defense needing stability inside. Burfict’s intimate knowledge of Paul Guenther’s scheme while working with him Cincinnati should help tremendously. So should Burfict’s aggressive play inside.

Marshall’s a cerebral sort and a sure tackler capable of playing any linebacker spot.

Those guys could help a great deal. Keyword: could. Don’t forget the optimism surrounding Derrick Johnson last offseason, when spring promises of upgraded play were never met.

Marshall and Burfict will start fitting into this Raiders' defense during OTAs, and we’ll see how much spring remains in veteran steps. Both guys are working on one-year contracts but hope to remain for a longer term. They’ll have to prove themselves deserving in 2019 to stick around.

How will TE shakeup shake out?

The Raiders have mixed up their tight end position group this offseason, letting Jared Cook walk in free agency before cutting Lee Smith recently.

Darren Waller’s set for a big receiving role that he’ll have to earn in OTAs and training camp. He has all the speed and athleticism needed for success, but he must be reliable in the pattern to get targets in the passing game.

Fourth-round pick Foster Moreau will compete for a role, alongside Luke Willson and Derek Carrier. The group will look different, and those guys must step up and fill an important blocking role in the run game, especially. Competition for snaps should be fierce in that group. OTAs will give some a leg up heading into training camp.

Chemistry class in session?

Quarterback Derek Carr worked extensively with new receivers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams at universities and even public parks trying to establish an early rapport with his new receivers. The offseason program has afforded regular opportunities to do so with them and other newbies Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson and even fifth-round draft pick Hunter Renfrow.

Thus far, they’ve only worked against air. Adding coverage and defensive resistance will be a solid litmus test to see if the timing is in fact right. There’s no real worry even if not, considering how much time remains to get it right.

Will three first-rounders make a good OTA impression?

The Raiders used three first-round picks on guys who need pads to truly be evaluated. That’s especially true for defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall) and running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24), who won’t really be able to thump until training camp.

Athleticism and burst and elusiveness could be seen clearly in OTAs, where these guys could jump right into top units. Safety Johnathan Abram will be asked to cover and do a bit of everything, but he might be brought along initially behind Karl Joseph at strong safety. That doesn’t mean the hierarchy will remain, but it could ease Abram’s initial transition.

The Raiders are counting on all three first-rounders to make an immediate impact, and they’d like to hit the ground running and show positive flashes while learning the scheme.

[RELATED: AB posts cryptic tweet after Big Ben apology]

Who jumps out in cornerback rotation?

Gareon Conley seems set to start at one outside cornerback spot. Daryl Worley’s favored to start on the opposite end, with safety Lamarcus Joyner sliding into the slot when required. Veteran Nevin Lawson will have something to say about that. And the Raiders didn’t draft Trayon Mullen at No. 40 overall to sit around and play fourth fiddle.

Expect some competition from that position group during OTAs and beyond, as we find out who can excel playing the physical coverage style Guenther requires. Rashaan Melvin never figured it out, and had a rough 2018. There’s enough talent here that a slow start could hurt fighting for regular-season snaps, as we see how a premium position group fares against a loaded receiver corps that will start testing coverage ability immediately.

Why Josh Jacobs is a harsh grader even after his biggest Raiders games

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USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES

Why Josh Jacobs is a harsh grader even after his biggest Raiders games

ALAMEDA – Josh Jacobs had his best game as an NFL player in London, totaling massive numbers in a 24-21 victory over the Chicago Bears.

The Raiders rookie running back had 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, a monster sum that led the Raiders to a huge win that pushed them to 3-2 and into the thick of the AFC West race.

That’s a great game, right? Apparently wrong.

The Raiders running back never judges his game based on the box score, and saw flaws aplenty in a seemingly standout performance in a series of excellent showings

“People think I had a good game last weekend, but there was a lot that I need to improve on, a lot that I missed and a lot that I messed up,” Jacobs said. “From the outside looking in it probably looked good, but it really wasn’t that great.”

Jacobs said he missed a few protections, missed making proper reads. Then there was the audible call he missed that led to a turnover, and he said he took a play outside instead of cutting upfield.

Those mistakes are the focus over all the positives easily gleaned from that game, that Jacobs is a tough runner with patience and vision who finds unique ways to take extra yards required to keep the Raiders on schedule.

That’s part of Jacobs’ nature, a trait that won’t ever go away. He’ll always be a hard grader, even when things look great to an untrained eye.

“That’s me wanting to be the best,” Jacobs said. “There’s always something you can improve on. That’s how I look at it. Some of the best games I’ve played in stats-wise, you wouldn’t notice the mistakes. For me, it’s about putting it all together.”

Jacobs may be honed on playing a truly complete game, but he has become an offensive centerpiece his teammates certainly appreciate.

“Josh is a professional football player,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “…It’s unbelievable how good he is. I can give him the ball and he’ll make eight guys miss and we’re all high fiving after a first down. It’s a luxury as a quarterback, one of the things you see with Zeke Elliott or Saquon Barkley or Todd Gurley, guys who you can give the ball to and get 10 yards. It takes a lot of stress off a quarterback, a play caller and an offensive line that I guy can do things like that. …He has been good for us.”

Derek Carr making best of Raiders' revolving cast of wide receivers

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USATSI

Derek Carr making best of Raiders' revolving cast of wide receivers

ALAMEDA -- Oh, how things can change in six weeks. 

Prior to the start of the season, Derek Carr was preparing for what many had deemed a "make-or-break" season. After years of wide receivers being shuffled in and out of Oakland, Carr finally was expected to have an arsenal of playmakers at his disposal. A group that was expected to be there for years to come. 

The Raiders had gone from Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Jordy Nelson and Cordarrelle Patterson, to Antonio Brown, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and J.J. Nelson, not to mention tight end Darren Waller. 

But six weeks into the season, things look a little different for the Raiders at the receiver position than they expected. 

Brown went AWOL and got released prior to the start of the season. Williams was shuffled from the No. 2 receiver to the No. 1 and has been battling a foot ailment for the past three weeks. Nelson fought injuries before being cut and Renfrow has faced some normal rookie growing pains. 

Head coach Jon Gruden has brought in Trevor Davis and Zay Jones by way of in-season trade, leaving Carr to develop new chemistry on the fly after a summer spent throwing passes to Brown, Williams, Nelson and Ryan Grant, who also has since been cut loose. 

The revolving door at wide receiver is something Carr has gotten used to early in his career, and something he's trying to make the most of once again. 

"I don't even know what that means," Carr said while laughing after being asked what it would be like to have continuity at wideout. "Yeah, I don't even know what to say to that. You got me. That was a pretty funny one. I think the most stability I've had is when we had [Seth Roberts], [Amari Cooper] and [Michael Crabtree] for, what was it, two years? And that was pretty fun. But it is what it is, man. At the end of the day, no one cares in this league. You have to go out and perform and win football games. That's No. 1. 

"To be honest with you, it's kind of exciting," Carr continued. "I love the challenge. I wish it wasn't the case, but I do like the challenge. Because no one expected us in Indy or against Chicago to be able to throw the ball or do anything and we were able to go out there and play some good football. It is a fun challenge. I think we all do wish there was stability and we had our guys for the next 10 years, and hopefully, we do have them right now. Hopefully, these guys are it. I know they hope so. I know I hope so. 

"It's been a roller coaster of guys that we've had here and then not here and then back here again, so I just go with the flow. I'm just here to control what I can control and do my job."

The Raiders acquired Jones in a trade with the BIlls prior to the bye week, hoping to give Carr a vertical weapon they've been looking for since Brown was jettisoned. While it will take time to get the East Carolina product up to speed, Carr has been impressed with what he's seen so far. 

"Zay is a really good football player," Carr said. "When we traded from him, Lee Smith FaceTimed me and said, 'I can't believe it, man. You are absolutely going to love this guy.' I don't know what happened in Buffalo, to be honest with you, I wasn't paying much attention to other teams and their situations in house. What I do know is that when he showed up I was like, 'Dang! Who's this guy?'

"All I know is that he's one of the most polite, humble, hard-working guys I've been around," Carr continued. "It means something to him and I'm glad we got him. And for what we gave up for him, you wouldn't think that's what he's worth. So I'm excited about the deal and I'm glad we have him." 

Jones got a crash course in the offense during the bye week and the Raiders hope he can be of some help Sunday when they travel to Green Bay to face the Packers. Carr knows the desired quarterback-wide receiver chemistry won't happen overnight, though. 

"There's timing with quarterbacks and receivers that you have to have," Carr said. "He's a good enough football player to where we can plug him and he can be productive. That second nature type stuff and second instinct kind of things, that will take a little bit of time, right? Those are just the cards we're dealt right now. But he's the type of guy and he's a super-smart football player where he can come in and play and help us. Which is very exciting."

[RELATED: Raiders preparing for tough task of stopping 'magician' Rodgers]

Despite the overall lack of weapons this season, Carr was played well for the most part. He's thrown for 1,117 yards, six touchdowns and just three interceptions while completing 73.3 percent of his passes. He's also played a key role in directing the Raiders' efficient running attack that helped Oakland secure back-to-back wins over the Colts and Bears before the bye week. 

One day the Raiders' revolving door of receivers will cease. Until then, it's up to Carr to make it work. That's just life in the NFL.