While too much is often made of rookie camp impressions, this is the first on-field activity fans have to go on in quite some time. Nonetheless, there are undoubtedly key takeaways.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s practice was the only one open to the media, but the Raiders’ local beat writers made plenty of valuable observations.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Oakland Raiders’ rookie mini camp.
As is the case with any minicamp, the performance of the quarterback is easiest to notice. No, he wasn’t facing a pass rush, but all indications are that Tyler Wilson was quite impressive in Saturday’s practice.
According to the Contra Costa Times’ Jerry McDonald, “Wilson displayed a strong arm, great accuracy and touch and the composure of a veteran player.” McDonald furthered the praise by putting it into a perspective likely just as important for all Raiders fans—stating “he looks miles ahead of where JaMarcus Russell, Andrew Walter, Marques Tuiasosopo and Terrelle Pryor were when they arrived as Raiders' draft picks.”
Rookie minicamp is far too early to make meaningful evaluations, and especially so for a quarterback. At the same time, the potential that Tyler Wilson has to make an immediate impact is undeniable.
Wilson steps into what should be an open quarterback competition in Oakland, and has every opportunity to show that he is still the first-round talent he was once touted to be. While he may not be the favorite to win the starting job early on, he has the talent to come out on top.
Raiders fans are quite familiar with how important the backup running back position can be in the NFL, and especially so when so much of your offense is built around a star at the position.
In Darren McFadden, the Raiders undoubtedly have one of the NFL’s best running backs when healthy, but finding a complementary back for him is imperative. In Latavius Murray, the Raiders may have that very player.
Head coach Dennis Allen was very pleased with Murray’s performance in practice:
“He runs nice routes, he’s extremely intelligent, so he’s picked up the offense really well, and he’s got really soft hands so he does a nice job not only catching the ball,” Allen said. “But when you look at it, he’s done a nice job of picking up in pass protection.” (via Contra Costa Times)
This season, Latavius Murray has a great opportunity to seize the primary backup role behind McFadden.
What’s more, the situation may present itself heading into the following season. Should the Raiders allow Darren McFadden to hit the free-agent market when his contract expires, this season’s performance will dictate whether or not they are comfortable moving forward with Murray as their primary back.
Of course, that situation is a ways down the road, but Latavius Murray continues to show the physical ability to be a very capable three-down back in the NFL.
It is now seemingly a yearly event for the Raiders to draft a receiver in the mid-late rounds that makes an early impression when they get on the field.
After Denarius Moore, Juron Criner and Rod Streater, Brice Butler now seems to be that guy.
According to Silver and Black Pride’s Levi Damien, Butler was consistently getting open downfield throughout the day, and was clearly quarterback Tyler Wilson’s favorite target.
For quite some time now, the Raiders have been looking for a consistent vertical target. While they have always had speed receivers, those players have either had trouble translating that physical ability, or even just staying on the field.
Of course, Butler’s performance in rookie camp, like everyone else, came in shorts. It remains to be seen if he can show similar ability when both he and the defenders in coverage put on the pads.
But with his combination of size and speed, the potential is there.
In the first round of the draft, the Raiders were able to trade down and still get their guy in cornerback D.J. Hayden.
Ranked by some as the top cover corner in the draft, Hayden has had a solid start to his on-field work with the Raiders.
According to Levi Damien, it was clear that Hayden was the best defensive back on the field, making plays on the football throughout practice.
“He was shadowing receivers all day and if he gave up a catch, I didn't see it.” (via Silver and Black Pride)
Hayden has all of the necessary coverage ability to be a No. 1 corner at the NFL level, and the Raiders hope that transition can be made as quickly as possible. If he can be an impact player right away at a position the Raiders have had difficulty at in recent years, it will help the entire defense in more ways than one.
One of the biggest news items from the Raiders’ first on-field work of the offseason actually came from Dennis Allen’s media availability. During which, he essentially put to rest any questions surrounding what base defensive scheme the Raiders may employ heading into the season.
“We’re basing out of a 4-3, just like we did last year,” Allen said. “But we’re going to have the ability to have some 3-4 looks, being able to implement those things and try to make them as simple as we can for our players, as well as try to make it complicated for the offense.” (via Contra Costa Times)
With the number of free-agent linebackers added, as well as the drafting of Sio Moore in the third round, many assumed this would signal a shift to a base 3-4 front.
While that is something the Raiders can surely employ to vary the looks they give an opposing offense, the player personnel additions signal more of a depth-building process at key positions than an overall scheme change.
The building of positional depth, and the resultant competition from which, is a welcomed change amid the Raiders’ rebuild, and is goal to strive for up and down the rest of the roster moving forward.