Which Raiders have surprised Jon Gruden most this offseason?


Which Raiders have surprised Jon Gruden most this offseason?

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders are in the offseason program’s home stretch. Their mandatory minicamp started Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that caps spring work.

While these sessions are conducted without pads, there’s plenty coaches can glean from proceedings. Head coach Jon Gruden spread praise around in his post-practice press conference, and offered insight on players standing out and working through the spring.

Khalil Mack’s absence from Tuesday’s practice was the day’s top story detailed here, in a previous post you should check out.

This one is devoted what was seen and heard from Tuesday’s practice and press conferences. Here’s what we learned:

-- Rookie edge rusher Arden Key flashed quickness and bend getting around the edge on several occasions, including one simulated sack working against first-round pick Kolton Miller.

Miller stifled Key a few times and generally performed well as the first-team left tackle while Donald Penn returns from foot surgery.

-- The first practice scuffle of this Gruden era broke out Tueaday between defensive lineman Fadol Brown and third-round offensive tackle Brandon Parker. Brown was the aggressor, and was thrown out of practice for fighting.

Gruden, to say the least, was not thrilled.

“I didn’t like what happened today, particularly in the situation,” Gruden said. “You hear all this situational football talk around the league. We’re in the 2-minute drill to win the game, and we got a guy ejected for fighting. That’s a 1-yard penalty and Eddy Pineiro ended their day with a game-ending field goal. I’d hate to fly back from London or wherever the hell we have to play, Miami or all these road trips we’ve got, losing a game like that. Sorry for getting unglued.”

-- Gruden admitted being surprised by two players during this offseason program. Tight end Jared Cook was one.

“I didn’t know he could move like that,” Gruden said.

Cook’s athleticism has allowed the veteran to play several different positions in the passing game, and given Gruden a roving chess piece he didn’t know he had.

Safety Erik Harris was the other. The unheralded third-year pro, known primarily as a special teams player, has impressed on defense this spring. He took some first-team reps on Tuesday, and drew praise from the head coach.

“The guy that’s really been stunning for us is Erik Harris,” Gruden said. “I’m doing my research on this guy. Who is this cat? This guy has played really good football for us. I don’t care what round they are coming from. This kid is really rising to the top right now.”

The Harris praise came during a question about Obi Melifonwu, a second-year pro who has ramped up activity after Gruden mentioned he wasn’t close to a contribution while rehabbing from hip surgery.

-- The kicking competition between Eddy Pineiro and Giorgio Tavecchio will carry through the summer. While Pineiro has taken every practice rep in sessions open to the press, Gruden said the kickers are trading off days, making it coincidental. The coaching staff loves Pinerio, so much so they nearly drafted the Florida product in the seventh round. He seems to have the inside track to the regular-season gig.

-- Safety Marcus Gilchrist missed practice with a calf strain. Gruden said holding him out was precautionary, and (while knocking on wood) said that major injuries had, to this point, avoided the Raiders this offseason. Gruden then praised Gilchrist as the best safety during the offseason program, and someone who can play multiple spots.

Breno Giacomini wasn’t present for Tuesday’s practice, and Gareon Conley missed most of the session, but Gruden wasn’t worried about it.

-- The Raiders cut quarterback Christian Hackenberg less than a month after acquiring him in trade from the New York Jets. There weren’t enough reps to go around, and the No. 4 guy didn’t do much with them.

Gruden said the battle to back up Derek Carr is wide open at this stage. Connor Cook is “moving up…but there are some rough edges he can improve.” Likes EJ Manuel’s athleticism thus far (and the guy has a cannon arm). The competition will carry on, but Manuel has pole position to retain a job he earned last season.

-- Karl Joseph intercepted Connor Cook early in Tuesday’s practice, continuing an interception trend that has carried through the offseason. Coaches record when a player is around the ball in practice, and Gruden said Joseph had an exceptionally high number. That’s a good sign for someone looking to be a playmaker next season.

Mike Mayock's thought on Raiders' last three first-round draft picks


Mike Mayock's thought on Raiders' last three first-round draft picks

Mike Mayock is one of the most respected minds in the NFL Draft community.

When he was a draft analyst for NFL Network, his word was gospel. Now, the Raiders get to benefit from his wisdom.

So, what did Mayock think of the Raiders last three first-round drafts? We're glad you asked.

In 2016, the Raiders selected West Virginia safety Karl Joseph with the No. 14 overall pick. He struggled during his first two seasons, but 2018 was seen as a breakout campaign for the 25-year-old.

Here's what Mayock wrote about Joseph when the 2016 NFL draft had concluded:

"With his range, toughness and ability to drop down in the slot and cover man, he's like a poor man's Earl Thomas. He says he models his game after Brian Dawkins. Some say he's much like Bob Sanders. This is a dynamic playmaker."

Joseph certainly hasn't lived up to the Earl Thomas comparison. Thomas is a three-time First Team All-Pro. After three seasons, Joseph isn't at that level yet.

The next year, the Raiders addressed the secondary again, picking Ohio State cornerback Gareon Conley at No. 24. It was a risky pick due to the baggage that came along with Conley. Just before the draft, he was accused of rape.

Injuries cost him most of his rookie campaign, but Conley played in 15 games in 2018, and finished with three interceptions and 37 total tackles.

At the time, Mayock focused on Conley's legal troubles when he wrote this:

"You can't make that pick and be wrong because your owner is gonna hold you accountable for it if this kid ends up with any kind of jail time."

Two years later, Reggie McKenzie is out as general manager.

Last year, the Raiders wanted Mike McGlinchey at No. 10, but the 49ers snagged him at No. 9. So Oakland traded the No. 10 pick to Arizona No. 15 and two later picks. They used the No. 15 pick to select UCLA offensive lineman Kolton Miller.

Miller had his ups and downs during the 2018 season. At one point late in the season, he was leading the league in sacks allowed. But big things are still expected from him, and some pressure will taken off Miller with the addition of high-priced free agent Trent Brown.

Here's what Mayock wrote about Miller at this time last year.

"They get the No. 2 offensive tackle in this draft to put behind Donald Penn, the incumbent left tackle. He can start on the right side. He only answered the bell 23 times in three years. Durability is a concern."

[RELATED: Mock draft has Raiders trading up for a QB]

Miller erased any concern about his durability by starting all 16 games as a rookie.

Now, instead of critiquing the Raiders draft class, Mayock is in charge picking the players others will critique.

2019 NFL mock draft: Analyst has Raiders trading up to No. 2 for ... a QB

2019 NFL mock draft: Analyst has Raiders trading up to No. 2 for ... a QB

The 2019 NFL Draft is just around the corner, and we hope you've soaked in as many mocks as you can possibly handle. If not, how about a game-changing one?'s Chad Reuter's devised a mock that had some "selections that may be off the beaten path." Basically, a mock that would shake things up -- which we love.

This included five first-round trades, one of which has the Raiders projected to move up to take ...  a quarterback.

"Projected trade with the 49ers. Jon Gruden gets his quarterback [Drew Lock] by moving up two spots," Reuter writes. "Gruden coached Lock at the Senior Bowl, and it's easy to see him appreciating the former Missouri quarterback's demeanor and physical tools. If he doesn't move up to get him, Miami or Denver could make a deal with the Jets to land the Mizzou QB."

The Raiders, as you know, have Derek Carr pegged as the starter next season, but newly hired general manager Mike Mayock mentioned that as much as they love Carr, the team is "going to do all of their due diligence." They complimented the three-time Pro-Bowler, but Mayock made it clear that at that position, and every other position if they found someone they liked better and "had bigger upside," then they would do what they need to do.

[RELATED: Raiders send scouts home over lack of trust]

It was also reported the Raiders are "super impressed" with Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Dwayne Haskins.

All moves appear to be on the table.