Oakland Raiders OTA Standouts Worth Keeping an Eye on This Offseason
Impressive OTAs are a small part of finding the regular-season standouts on the roster. The mental component is what separates good performances from average performances this early in the offseason.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio has made a concerted effort to alter the mindset of a team packed with physical talent but in need of psychological redirection.
After the first two weeks of OTAs, it’s clear which players are drinking Del Rio’s Kool-Aid more than the rest. And that’s not a negative. Before the team can achieve any goals, the players must buy into the system and believe in their abilities to contribute.
Who’s taking the bull by the horns and coming into the offseason ready to flip 3-13 into a winning record? Let’s take a look.
When you look at any photo of wide receiver Amari Cooper, you can tell he’s all business. Oakland couldn’t have selected a more focused talent out of the draft primed to make an impact.
Cooper was impressive in the early beginnings of minicamp. In the absence of quarterback Derek Carr, he has made backup quarterback Christian Ponder look like the promising talent he was out of Florida State.
According to Levi Damien of SilverandBlackPride.com, the No. 4 overall pick continued to impress during OTAs running with the first-team offense:
Cooper came as advertised, just as he had in rookie minicamps. He does well fighting to get open and once the ball is in his hand, he can pick up speed quickly and leave his defender in the dust. One particular catch, he came back to pull it in, faked inside, and went outside and streaked up the right sideline.
Goodbread attributes his choice to the fact that Cooper will likely step into the starting lineup, has a decent QB and the team will likely play from behind in a fair amount of games, which all increase the rate of Cooper's production.
All points made by Goodbread are plausible. Cooper is the No. 1 option and the Swiss army knife within the offense, a rare combination.
There were questions about who would mentor Cooper within a young Raiders WR corps. Why not wide receiver Rod Streater? He’s the longest-tenured WR on the roster and essentially made something out of nothing.
According to Raiders.com writer Rebecca Corman, Streater has been more than willing to mentor less experienced players at the position. He also takes pride in helping develop the guys around him:
So I just try to mentor them. Being an undrafted guy making the team, I try just to guide them like, ‘You’ve got to work hard. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.’ I just want to be like the guy that helped them anytime they need any advice.... I want the whole group to do good. Whatever I can do to help, whatever problems I went through and I can give advice to the young guy, I try to be there for him. That’s going to help us grow as a team and grow as a unit.
There’s no word of wide receiver Michael Crabtree taking any of the receivers under his wing, but that isn’t a detriment to Crabtree. Some players are more comfortable being vocal leaders in the locker room, and Streater appears to have embraced it so far in OTAs. Entering his fourth year in the league, the 27-year-old WR is progressing into a solid locker room leader.
As reported last week, per the team's official website, linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong has grabbed offseason headlines with an impressive showing within the first two weeks of OTAs.
Armstrong has even caught the eye and garnered respect from veteran defensive end Justin Tuck.
@JustinTuck Can you name a player or two that is not really known right now, but you believe will make a name for themselves this year?— Raider Nation Ron (@RaiderNationRon) May 31, 2015
Ray Ray Armstrong https://t.co/nwU6WK2Cnv— Justin Tuck (@JustinTuck) May 31, 2015
Armstrong played his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams and is now well on his way to making a household name for himself in Oakland. He’ll have the opportunity to solidify himself as a solid plug-in player with linebacker Sio Moore out at least for the entirety of OTAs.
General manager Reggie McKenzie described Moore’s hip surgery as “major,” per Silver and Black Pride's Damien, and it shouldn’t be a surprise if the injury holds him out for a portion of training camp. Those reps for Armstrong will be critical in helping him claim a starting spot on the field if strong-side linebacker Khalil Mack gets a spike in snaps at defensive end.
Tight end Clive Walford is the only other player as impressive as Cooper on the offensive side of the ball during OTAs. Teammates, coaches and writers have been awestruck by his skill set and size. Twitter was buzzing with good things to say about the Raider's third-round pick:
One takeaway after the second OTA session open to the media: Clive Walford may have a very big rookie season.— Jason Leskiw (@LeskiwSFBay) May 26, 2015
It’s clear from listening to Del Rio over the last few weeks and Ponder today that TE Clive Walford is making a solid first impression.— Scott Bair (@BairCSN) May 26, 2015
Ponder said rookie tight end Clive Walford “has really stood out. Big guy, catches ball well and is faster than I thought he would be.”— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 26, 2015
As much as I love Amari Cooper. Clive Walford is potentially the key to the Raiders offensive revival.— Christopher Hansen (@ChrisHansenNFL) May 15, 2015
Bleacher Report’s Matt Bowen describes Walford as a hidden gem that caught his eye early this offseason.
Walford has the potential to become the most influential factor on offense. The former Miami tight end can significantly effect the blocking schemes and cause matchups issues for linebackers and safeties in the passing attack.
He instantly becomes a safety blanket for Carr when under pressure and a huge red-zone threat because of his catching ability at his size.
Seventh-round pick Andre Debose is already placing claims on the kick and punt returns job.
In 2014, Travis Carrie and Latavius Murray were the primary returners on special teams. Both players are expecting larger roles for the upcoming season and Debose is taking advantage of the opportunity, albeit a limited role.
Debose wasn’t known for exceptional wide receiver skills at Florida. In his most productive season as a WR, he recorded 16 catches for 432 yards and four touchdowns. Although, no one can deny his blazing speed, which caught the eyes of many during OTAs per JustBlogBaby.com’s Chase Ruttig:
Working with no pads and the full opportunity to show off his speed, Debose has drawn the attention of the media members on hand as the Raiders look for a consistent kick return specialist to add to their roster. The team employing a list of mediocre return weapons in recent years, unable to find the right man for the job of trying to hit the occasional home run play from the back of the endzone.
Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle makes a very early prediction in favor of Debose returning kicks for the upcoming season via Twitter:
Here's way-too early observation from no-pads OTA in May: Rookie WR Andre Debose is making #Raiders as a kick returner. Burst with capital B— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) May 26, 2015
The talk of Debose’s speed is something to lookout for going forward. The return game isn’t what it used to be, but football is still a game of inches. The only remedy for a good punt is an even better punt return. Good field positioning will help this revamped Raiders offense tremendously.
If Debose provides a lift in the return game, the offense would keep opposing defenses reeling with all of Carr's options on a short field.
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