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.
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.”
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.”
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.”