Edgar Bennett has sincerely enjoyed coaching this Raiders receiver corps. A vastly upgraded group has the talent to spare, with more worthy competitors than he has roster spots.
That units position coach has tough decisions ahead, but he isn’t focused on that quite yet. The Raiders have two preseason games left before trimming the roster to 53 and 11 receivers to five or, more likely, six. Thursday night’s exhibition against Green Bay in Winnipeg will provide another evaluation point for Bennett to chart his group’s growth.
He expects another productive night, even with frontline starters out, considering how they’ve practiced and played.
“It has been fun, and it’s certainly unique from an energy standpoint,” Bennett told NBC Sports Bay Area on Sunday in Napa. “Every guy brings so much every day. I love their mindset when it comes to preparation, and they attack each practice. They apply things well from the meeting room to the practice field, from the practice field to game day.”
Bennett’s crew has been good from top to bottom, easily the team’s strength.
The receivers have been solid even with Antonio Brown missing all but two full practices since training camp began. Tyrell Williams is banged up and won’t play the Packers. Neither will J.J. Nelson.
That provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the back end of the position group, where several are battling for one or two spots.
Brown, Williams, Hunter Renfrow and return man Dwayne Harris are locks.
Ryan Grant looks more and more like a fit in preseason games.
Marcell Ateman, Keelan Doss, Keon Hatcher and even Rico Gafford have had their moments in the sun this summer, and Bennett admits that skill set could weigh into that final spot if most things are even.
“Each guy is unique,” Bennett said. “You think about Rico Gafford’s speed element or Keelan Doss’ ability to play multiple positions well. Ateman has the size and can attack the football in the red zone. Even Hatcher has been so reliable and dependable. You just have to take all that into consideration and see who continues to play at a high level.”
Head coach Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock will make final roster selections, but Bennett will have significant into choices made.
“You get to voice your opinion before Mike and Jon make the final decisions,” Bennett said. “I try to keep my guys’ thoughts away from cuts. It’s more about improving as a player and putting good work on tape. That, more than anything else, will help you land a job in this league.”
Here are some other highlights from my conversation with Edgar Bennett:
On the slot receiver competition between Renfrow and Grant:
“It has been extremely competitive. Both of those guys have done a phenomenal job in what we’re asking them to do as route runners and blockers downfield. They have great communication. But, the most important thing is that both Hunter and Ryan have been making plays. They create separation. You look at tape and see that both of those guys have done some great things in camp.”
How Grant has impressed, even with so many eyes focused on Renfrow:
“He’s proven, as far as what he’s capable of doing. And I love that he shows up at big moments. He had some of his best days against the Rams when they were here in Napa. He has also taken it to game day. He might be quiet off the field, but he communicates well when we’re working. He has done everything that we’ve asked him to do.”
On Tyrell Williams as a complete receiver:
“He’s so versatile. You see a guy with that type of size and speed and you think deep threat, but he can play all three spots. He can jump in the slot, and create separation inside and out. He’s another guy who will attack his job and high point the football. The other thing is that he’s a leader. He’s great in the classroom and gives us everything he’s got on the practice field.”
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The key to quality leadership among wide receivers:
“The No. 1 goal, when we talk about leadership, is showing the way. That’s the starting point. The vocal aspect of leadership stems from that. You earn respect from how you work, and your voice gains weight after guys see how you perform. Actions speak louder than our words.”
What Bennett likes about Antonio Brown:
“There’s a lot of energy, a lot of passion. I love the enthusiasm and playmaking ability. Obviously, his talent is unmatched. He’s so precise and in such great shape, and can make plays even when the defense is trying to prevent him from doing so.”