5 Things We Learned from the Oakland Raiders' OTAs
There’s good news, encouraging news and ominous reports coming from Oakland Raiders OTAs.
The coaching staff is setting the tone in the early beginnings of minicamp. It’s part of head coach Jack Del Rio's plan to change the culture by altering the mentality of the players.
Change starts from within, and there’s a reason for the optimistic outlook despite a slight bit of uncertainty surrounding the franchise.
Let’s get into the good, the encouraging and uncertainty surrounding the silver and black.
Ray-Ray Armstrong Very Impressive in Minicamp
The early achiever award goes to linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong for an incredible start to the offseason. He’s caught the attention of teammates as well as the coaching staff in a short time.
According to Raiders.com writer Eddie Paskal, Armstrong is benefiting from a full offseason with the team:
Armstrong arrived in Oakland in early October of 2014, just days before the team’s Week 6 match-up against the San Diego Chargers, and while he grew more comfortable as a Raider as the season went on, there’s no substitute for going through a full offseason program.
It’s very important, very important,” said Armstrong following OTAs Week 2 Day 1. “It helps you a lot, just learning your teammates.”
Every time you come into a new season, new opportunities for guys and certainly with a new staff, there are opportunities for guys to reinvent themselves,” Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. “A guy like Ray-Ray [Armstrong] has really had a productive offseason. As a staff, we’re really excited about where he’s tracking.
In 2014, the Raiders claimed Armstrong off waivers after the St. Louis Rams released him. As a result of linebacker Sio Moore’s hip injury, Armstrong stepped into the starting lineup for the final three games.
It’ll be interesting to see who claims the strong-side linebacker position when Khalil Mack lines up on the line of scrimmage as a defensive end. If he moves to defensive end permanently, it will open a starting spot for a reserve in a crowded linebacker corps. Linebacker Malcolm Smith is Armstrong’s most viable competitor for an extended role during the season.
Derek Carr Back on the Practice Field
Derek Carr taking snaps at practice but not throwing #Raiders— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 26, 2015
Any sighting of quarterback Derek Carr is good news for Raiders fans. The centerpiece of the offense was back on the practice field, but he isn’t slinging passes to his receivers yet. Nevertheless, it’s clear surgery isn’t an option for the second-year QB. Carr’s agent Tim Younger dispelled the concerning possibility of surgery on the injured finger.
Wide receiver Rod Streater waits in high anticipation to once again reunite with his QB on the field, per Levi Damien of SilverandBlackPride.com:
It seems Raiders wide receiver Rod Streater and quarterback Derek Carr have been like two ships passing in the night for a while. No sooner was Streater back on the field, ready to go but Carr was sidelined with his finger injury.
He's out there, so I feel like he is learning." Streater said of Carr. "He is a pro. He is going to do what he has to do to make sure that he understands the plays. Obviously the timing won't be there, but we have plenty of time for him to get back and get in the rhythm. I think he is a good enough player to do that."
It's frustrating (for me) but we'll get out there together soon and make some plays. I talked to him and told him to just be tough during these times and continue to keep your head in the game no matter what.
Carr and Streater were only on the field for three games before a foot injury sidelined the wideout for the rest of the 2014 season. Fortunately for Streater and the offense, it’s likely Carr resumes normal activities in early June—a timetable set by his agent.
Christian Ponder Getting Extra Reps
Quarterback Christian Ponder has filled in for Carr in the early stages of minicamp.
According to Raiders.com writer Rebecca Corman, Ponder has come to terms with his new role as the backup after falling out of favor in Minnesota as the starter:
My job, I understand, is the backup and I’m here to help Derek and help this team out. It is exciting for me to be out there right now taking first-team reps, but I know that this is Derek’s team right now. But I am bringing a competitive nature to it. I know Derek is a very competitive guy, and so is Matt McGloin. Bringing some competition in the room only helps all of us.
Personally, I prefer quarterback Matt McGloin as the primary backup due to his ability to move the ball at a more efficient pace. In 2013, he was effective with limited offensive weapons compared to Ponder's offensive personnel during his tenure with the Vikings.
At least there’s some competition for the backup role.
On a positive note, Ponder is familiar with the pressure of holding the keys to an NFL franchise as a highly drafted QB out of college. Hopefully, Carr has much more success than Ponder, but that doesn’t mean Carr cannot learn a thing or two from a teammate with a similar experience.
T.J. Carrie Leaning on the Woodsons
The Raiders' starting cornerbacks are the most inexperienced positional group on the roster. Cornerbacks T.J. Carrie and D.J. Hayden have a combined 14 starts in the league. However, Oakland has one of the most experienced and accomplished teammate-coach teaching tandem.
The current free safety, 18-year veteran, eight-time Pro Bowler and former Super Bowl champion, Charles Woodson fulfills the role as a coach on the field. The Hall of Famer, former Super Bowl champion and 11-time Pro Bowler, Rod Woodson brings a wealth of experience to the coaching staff. The combined expertise between the two Woodsons should provide enough guidance for the young corners to soak in and emulate some of their Pro Bowl-caliber play on the field.
For Carrie, it’s about using the information and putting in the effort to succeed, per Corman of Raiders.com:
You have a sense that every question you could imagine asking, they have the answer to it. It’s really up to you as a person, as an athlete to say that I’m going utilize them as much as possible as a backbone to certain situations, how I should play and my technique and how they view things within their careers. That’s a huge factor.
It will be interesting to see the duo of Hayden and Carrie perform under pressure in the upcoming season. Hayden has expectations to fulfill, while Carrie hopes to overachieve early in his career as a seventh-round pick in 2014.
Cornerbacks Keith McGill (6'3") and Neiko Thorpe (6'2") could potentially play major roles as taller defenders in a more physical style of pass coverage, pending the performances of Hayden and Carrie in the starting lineup.
Raiders Relocating to St. Louis or San Antonio?
This topic goes beyond the X’s and O’s but still affects the franchise and player decisions.
According to NFL Insider Ian Rapoport, the city of Oakland hasn’t been as aggressive as St. Louis and San Diego in discussing plans for an NFL team. The lack of communication with Oakland officials pertaining to financing the Oakland Coliseum has frustrated owner Mark Davis.
The delayed communication leaves the door open for relocation to cities like St. Louis and San Antonio. Rapoport cites a league source’s suggestion to lease the stadium for 2016 and then make a decision on where the team plays going forward.
How do these infrastructural decisions affect the players on the field? Players often move their families to the cities in which they play eight games per year. Football is the main concern, but the wives, children and close relatives also have a say on decisions when it's time to pack up and move to a new city. Relocation potentially weighs on the mind of players who aren’t eager to move.
Philip Rivers' hesitation to sign an extension with the San Diego Chargers provides a perfect example of the game off the field. Will future free agents sign with the Raiders without knowing where they’ll end up in a year or two? Are current players banking on a move in-state to Los Angeles?
What happens to the identity of the Raiders if the franchise has to reinvent the brand in St. Louis or San Antonio?
Now back to the X’s and O’s. Jack Del Rio is aware of potential changes, but as any football coach would say, “it’s all about the guys in the locker room and we control what we can control” or something close to that.
Here’s his take courtesy of Conor Orr of NFL.com:
We're not naive to know that there are things going on but, really, our focus is just on trying to be as good a football team as we can be," Del Rio said. "Inside these walls, it's all about football, about competing, about learning the system and challenging each other and building a brotherhood, beginning to get that chemistry and that bond and all of that.
I think those business issues are not issues that we're going to have a say in anyhow, so really it's best for us to focus on the job that we have, and that is to be as good on Sundays as we can and make sure that we're ready to put forth great effort every day to do that.
For Del Rio and that coaching staff, it’s about winning games. However, the ominous future of the Oakland Raiders as we know them could go through some drastic changes by 2017.
The Raiders have a passionate and loyal fanbase that has been waiting to see progress. This year could be the start of a rebirth in some way. Del Rio has the added task of keeping players focused on the field. Hopefully, he’s successful in his crusade to change the culture before the franchise changes its location.
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