Three things to look for as Raiders start training camp practices

Three things to look for as Raiders start training camp practices

NAPA – The Raiders kicked off their first full squad day of training camp with a press conference. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock spoke glowingly about rookies, the environment and the tone they hope to set here this summer. Antonio Brown flew in on a hot-air balloon, and then promptly landed on the non-football injury list.

Coaches conducted meetings and players got situated and Gruden delivered an introductory speech about turning dreams into nightmares that made the “Hard Knocks” crew grin like the Cheshire Cat.

None of that will matter as much as what comes next. The Raiders start practicing for real on Saturday morning, with pads strapped on a few days after that. At long last, it’s go time.

Raiders training camp practices are upon us. Here are three things to keep eyes on in the early going:

Josh Jacobs’ workload

Gruden won’t just hand Jacobs a starting job. The first-round draft pick must earn his carries, and prove he can handle the heavy touch totals we all know he’ll get this regular season.

Nobody’s questioning the Jacob's talent or drive. It’s about whether he can be a No. 1 back with all the physical demands that come with it.

Gruden wants that questioned answered early, likely in this camp. Feature backs typically take less practice work leading up to the season, especially in exhibition games. We might see more of Jacobs that usual.

“Well, you have to see how much the man can eat. How long can he stay at the table?” Gruden said. “He hasn’t been given anything. He won’t be the feature back until he earns it. He’s got to prove he can get up time and time again. These are car crashes, some of the hits these guys take. You got to be one tough guy. You got to be able to do it down after down. When you are tired and sore and beat up you got to pick up a blitz, you got to beat a linebacker on a route, then you got to make and third-and-one to win the game; so there’s a lot of maturity that is going to have to take place because he’s such a young and inexperienced player, but he’s a great kid and got a lot of talent.

“Kirby Wilson, our running back coach, has done an excellent job putting the boat in the water and getting him started.”

Competitive cornerbacks

It’s fair to assume cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Daryl Worley will start on the outside, with Lamarcus Joyner in the slot. They will be challenged in training camp by worthy competition in the defense’s deepest position group.

Second-round draft pick Trayvon Mullen, especially, is angling for significant snaps. Nevin Lawson didn’t signed in Oakland to sit. Last year’s fourth-round draft pick Nick Nelson might be fighting for a roster spot.

These guys should be playing aggressive in practice and preseason games trying to gain an edge.

“We think it’s going to be competitive,” Gruden said. “We didn’t bring Mullen in here for any other reason than to compete. We want to see Conley stay healthy, first of all, and establish himself. We think he’s got a huge amount of talent, he has just had some unfortunate things happen. We’d like to see Worley have an injury free couple of months. Really excited to see Mullen and [2019 fourth-round pick] Isaiah Johnson, and Nick Nelson. I want to continue and hammer the second-year players. Nick Nelson was one of the bright spots in Alameda during the offseason program, so we are anxious to see all those guys.”

Life won’t be easy on Raiders cornerbacks in practice. An excellent receiver corps will challenge them every day, which has the defensive backs excited.

“We have some life at [the receiver] position,” Gruden said. “I think it’s really helped our secondary. Listening to Karl Joseph and some of the veterans back there. It’s elevated their practice habits. They don’t want to look bad. They want to beat these guys. They want to go out there. They understand if we can cover these guys, we can cover anybody. I think that competition is something that the Raiders are used to around here. Something we’re getting back to. You better come ready to practice or you’re going to look bad. Some of these guys can really make you look bad. I think it’s going to be great for both sides.”

[RELATED: Gruden building team reminiscent of past Raiders glory]

Second-year sack men

The Raiders drafted three defensive linemen last year and they all played a ton. That’s especially true of tackle Maurice Hurst and end Arden Key, with tackle P.J. Hall set back some by injury. The Raiders need more production from them as a young defensive line continues to grow and develop. It’s always tough to expect the world from rookies, so last year’s D-line trio must show improvement this summer and into the regular season. The Raiders believe last year’s experience will pay off in 2019. Here’s why:

“Arden has gained some weight, first and foremost,” Mayock said. “The Raiders didn’t want to play him the percentage of the snaps he played a year ago which I think took a little bit away from his pass rush, and I’m not trying to give him an excuse at all, but he’s been able to sustain some additional weight. We hope that translates to more production and we also hope he doesn’t have to carry the percentage of load of snaps that he carried last year.

"[2019 draft picks Maxx Crosby and Clelin Ferrell] are involved, so on the outside we hope we get additional production from Arden. On the inside, again, we are wide open to P.J. and Maurice making a big move in training camp, but it has to come from them. We are not handing them anything.”

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

Raiders' Karl Joseph disappointed to get hurt playing his best football

ALAMEDA -- Karl Joseph sat in the Raiders locker room Monday, with a pair of crutches by his side. A walking boot was nearby, transportation aids given the state of his ailing foot.

Joseph got hurt sealing Thursday's victory over the L.A. Chargers, a leaping interception was his final on-field act as a 2019 Raider.

That’s a difficult reality for Joseph and those around him. The West Virginia alum was popular throughout the locker room, a relentless worker playing the best football of his career before an injury that ended his season far earlier than expected.

“I think, as a team, we really started to click. That’s especially true in the secondary,” Joseph, who formally placed on injured reserve, said Friday. “It wasn’t just me necessarily. I think I was playing good ball, but we were coming together. I really believe we started to play good football and I wanted to be part of it moving forward.

"We have a strong chance to go to the playoffs. That’s what is frustrating part for me.”

Joseph is an eternal optimist, someone who relies on faith to weather tough times. It doesn’t eliminate frustration completely. Joseph knew his season was in jeopardy right away.

“The first night was pretty rough,” Joseph said. “I knew right away that something was wrong. I couldn’t even walk right afterwards. The next day I was rebounding. I was raised on strong faith. I’ve been through a lot of adversity in my life, so this is nothing new. I’ll be okay.”

Joseph is waiting for the swelling to go down before formulating a rehabilitation plan. He will visit with renowned foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson in Green Bay, Wis., and ponder surgery based upon the doctor’s evaluation.

His season is over no matter what, with the possibility of a lengthy rehab ahead. The timing isn’t great considering the Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option. He’ll head into unrestricted free agency without a chance to show he’s fully healed and ready to play at the high level found in games before the injury.

The Raiders’ 2016 first-round draft pick hopes to remain in silver and black next season, when the team moves to Las Vegas.

“Of course. This is the team that drafted me,” Joseph said. “I love playing with this group of guys. I love working with this coaching staff and in [defensive coordinator Paul] Guenther’s system. It’s great for me and the safeties. We’ll see what happens. It’s out of my control now. All I can do it get healthy and get better.

"I believe everything will work itself out.”

Joseph’s safety partnership with Erik Harris was working out well. The pair was in great sync in recent games, allowing both players to maximize abilities, make big plays on the ball and minimize the communication errors that plagued the secondary earlier this season.

Harris was disappointed to see his partner fall, especially when an interception slipped through his hands a few plays earlier.

[RELATED: Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary]

“He has a very positive outlook on life and that will help him through this,” Harris said. “I just feel bad because, if I would’ve made that pick, then him and [Lamarcus Joyner, who suffered a hamstring strain a few plays before Joseph got hurt] would be healthy right now. It’s just unfortunate.

"Karl is a great guy and a great player. I want to see him be healthy and to get paid. There is not a harder worker in this building than him. He strives to be great. He will lean on his faith, and that’s big.”

D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary


D.J. Swearinger ready to bring immediate aid to Raiders' ailing secondary

Yes, the Raiders are 5-4. Yes, the playoffs are a realistic possibility.

But issues abound in Oakland.

Jon Gruden's gritty club has fought through a rash of injuries, a five-game road trip, the suspension of Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown's decision to go AWOL to be in the thick of the playoff hunt in November. But the Silver and Black's secondary is running on emergency power after Karl Joseph suffered a season-ending injury on the final play of the Raiders' Week 10 win over the Chargers.

With Joseph out for the season, that means the Raiders are missing both of their starting safeties -- Johnathan Abram has been out since Week 1 -- as well as their starting middle linebacker and two defensive ends. Gruden is trying to patch the defense together as the Raiders prepare for a playoff run.

D.J. Swearinger is the latest member of the duct tape brigade. The Raiders signed the veteran safety Saturday, and hope he can slide in immediately and give them some relief in the backend. 

It's hard for players to come in cold off the street and learn a new system, but Swearinger played in a similar scheme in Arizona, so he isn't worried about the learning curve. 

"It's not a new system for me because Arizona ran the exact same system," Swearinger said Monday. "Just got to get the different terminology, which is sort of the similar terminology in Arizona --- almost identical -- with a few coverages so it's not a hard transition for me. I'm going to fit right in, do my studying and make it happen."

Swearinger played in four games for the Cardinals this season before being released. The 28-year-old veteran safety has played for four teams prior to the Raiders, including two stints with the Cardinals, notching 14 interceptions and 40 passes defensed in his seven-year NFL career.

He's versatile, experienced and likes to hit. Most of all he's hungry and ready to seize the moment, both for himself and the Raiders.

"It's a great opportunity, man," Swearinger said. "I'm happy to be here. Happy to be with a coach like coach Gruden. I know what he means to football, know what he brings to the table. I'm excited to be here, they are doing some great stuff here. I'm ready to add whatever I can to help this team win and win a championship."

With both their starting safeties done for the season, the Raiders are in the unfortunate position of having to rely on a guy that's been in the building for only couple days. Swearinger has the talent, and the Raiders need him to be at his best right away.

"I like Swearinger," Gruden said Monday. "He played for my brother in Washington. I was a broadcaster at one point, I spent a lot of time in South Carolina with my friend [Steve] Spurrier, so I know a little bit about Swearinger. I think he's a good player, he just has to put it all together. That's what he needs to do. He's got to start that process today. We need the very best of Swearinger."

[RELATED: Ferrell arrives with statement game in Raiders' TNF win]

He's spent the last month waiting for an opportunity, viewing this tough Raiders team from afar.

"They got grit and it starts with the head coach," Swearinger said of his new team. "I love the head coach, I've always loved coach Gruden. From way back in college, from him doing Monday nights. I know what he brings to football and I know playing for a coach like that we're going to bring it every time we step on the field. He expects that. The guys in the locker room ... there are some young guys but they are talented and they want to go to work and you can help but come in and get with the coach."

The Raiders will face an 0-9 Bengals team Sunday in Week 11, a vertically challenged team that should present limited problems for a new safety getting his feet wet in silver and black. Swearinger prides himself on being a physical safety with underrated cover skills. He's tough, emotional and hard working.

Gruden and the Raiders need all of that to translate into winning football in the backend of the Raiders' secondary. The playoffs might depend on it.