Oakland Raiders: Notes and Quotes from Week 1 of Training Camp
The Oakland Raiders have officially begun training camp, which means that for the first time in a very long time, we have some actual football to talk about.
More importantly, Oakland has begun the process of answering the questions that have been floating around all summer, including:
- Will Trent Richardson turn his career around?
- How will the cornerback depth chart take shape?
- Will Khalil Mack live up to the hype and become a superstar?
- Is Amari Cooper really as good as he seems?
These questions (and others) haven't been answered yet, but we're starting to see evidence of how they might turn out.
It was an interesting four days for Oakland that included players missing time for both football and non-football reasons, a key player returning from injury, surprise performers and more.
Here's a look at some of the highlights from Oakland's first week of training camp.
Trent Richardson Begins Camp on the Wrong Foot
When the Raiders signed Trent Richardson this offseason, a lot of people had a similar thought: After already failing to keep his job with two teams through his first three NFL seasons, this could be his last shot at making it as a pro.
So far, things aren't looking good for the much-maligned running back. He's spent all of camp so far on the non-football injury (NFI) list, which means he's yet to participate in a practice. The team hasn't made it known why he's on this list. All we do know is that Richardson is missing out on valuable reps.
To make matters worse for Richardson, rookie Michael Dyer has been very impressive. ESPN.com's Bill Williamson points out:
Undrafted free agent Michael Dyer has stood out in the early stages of camp. Dyer has performed well while the expected backup, former first-round pick Trent Richardson, has yet to get on the field... Dyer continued to take advantage of his extra reps on Sunday and he broke off a few long runs.
With Richardson out, Dyer has benefited from additional touches, and he's making the most of them. Latavius Murray remains the favorite to start, and the undrafted rookie is making a very strong case to be his primary backup.
It's not all bad news for Richardson. CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair tweeted, "Trent Richardson is working on the side for the first time this camp. I'll say this: Trent looks like he's in GREAT shape." It appears Richardson might not be far from a return to the field, and it seems he's physically ready to impress.
But the longer he's out, the harder it's going to be for him to secure a spot on the team. According to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, the running back has about a 50-50 shot at making the team (via NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman). Those odds will only go down with each missed practice.
Mychal Rivera Not Giving Up Starting Job
The tight end position battle between rookie Clive Walford and incumbent Mychal Rivera was expected to be fierce. But because of Walford's absence due to an undisclosed injury, that battle hasn't taken place.
The Raiders haven't clarified what the injury issue is or how severe it is. As SilverandBlackPride.com's Levi Damien notes, all we know at this time is, "Since attending the team's pre-camp warmup with his fellow rookies, he [Walford] has been out with an undisclosed injury the first four days of training camp." Through the first week of training camp, Walford is yet to participate in a single practice.
That could be a major issue for the offense given that for much of the offseason, Walford has been seen as a player with the explosiveness and all-around ability as a blocker and pass-catcher to be a major contributor right away. Some, like ESPN.com's Bill Williamson, even see him as possibly starting right away:
He has been smooth and has shown an ability to stretch the field. There is hope inside the Raiders' building that Walford can become an instant impact player and become the second best option for Carr behind Cooper early in his career...If Walford is not already starting in Week 1, it shouldn't be too much longer after that.
But while Walford's absence is a problem for the offense as a whole, it creates an opening for Rivera. He's taken advantage of the opportunity to impress the coaches, and head coach Jack Del Rio has taken notice (via Damien):
He's [Rivera's] an athletic guy. I think he showed some of that athleticism here early in this camp with a couple of nice catches. We like the way he's worked throughout the offseason. He's continued to strengthen himself, continued to develop as a player.
It remains to be seen how the competition will play out, but that won't happen until Walford returns. For now, Rivera continues to show that he's a viable NFL starter with the ability to be a consistently dangerous receiving threat.
The longer Walford is out, the tighter Rivera's grasp will become on the starting job.
Uncertainty at Right Guard and Right Tackle Starting to Clear Up
One of the biggest issues the Raiders have to resolve in training camp is what to do along the right side of the offensive line. The starting jobs at right guard and right tackle are both up for grabs, and there are several players at each position fighting for these spots.
After the first week of camp, it appears the winners could be J'Marcus Webb and Menelik Watson. According to ESPN.com's Bill Williamson:
As was the case at the June minicamp, J’Marcus Webb was working with the first unit ahead of Khalif Barnes and rookie Jon Feliciano at right guard. At right tackle, third-year player Menelik Watson continued to work ahead of Austin Howard, who is entering the second of a five-year, $30 million deal.
Webb getting the first-team reps at right guard isn't really that surprising. Before he joined the team in April, the Raiders only had rookie work-in-progress Feliciano and a temporary solution in Barnes at the position.
Webb, a 6'7", 333-pound, 26-year-old mauler, has exhibited surprising quickness early on, according to CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair: "Right guard J’Marcus Webb, a career tackle, showed some surprising athleticism pulling in the running game." He was a likely candidate for the starting job if he could stay healthy, and he has been so far.
The more surprising development has been at right tackle, where Watson has taken the early lead in the competition for the starting job. Howard was the early favorite given his experience playing the position and Watson's generally disappointing play since he was drafted in 2013.
However, Watson was drafted to secure the position, and he'll keep it if he can remain effective.
If Watson does end up securing the job, the question for the team will be what to do with Howard. His contract likely makes him too expensive to keep on as a backup. If he loses out on the start job, he could end up losing out on a roster spot all together.
Cornerback Position Remains Unclear but Competitive
As training camp has gotten underway, the top of the cornerback depth chart has played out as most expected it would. DJ Hayden, TJ Carrie and Keith McGill are the top three players at the position. What's yet to be determined after four days of camp is what order they'll be in on the depth chart.
There have been some early signs of how the overall competition at cornerback might play out. CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair pointed out that so far, presumed starter Hayden hasn't been used in that role: "McGill and Carrie have been first-team cornerbacks, with Hayden stepping in on sub-packages."
This suggests that Carrie and McGill will start, while Hayden fills in as the No. 3 cornerback. However, according to head coach Jack Del Rio, it's still an open competition for the starting jobs: "Keith has had a solid spring. DJ and TJ, all three of those guys, we feel like they had good springs and will be productive players for us and we’ll let them determine who’s No. 1, who’s No. 2 and who’s No. 3."
With such a young group at cornerback, the coaches are currently as concerned with the development of the entire unit as they are with individual performance, something defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. stressed (via Bair):
The young corners that I’ve been with in the past, they started out with no one knowing who they were, then all of the sudden they’re the stars of the league. And it’s a matter of coaching, developing, time, energy, effort and just the group. The whole group. A village raising everybody. So I’m real happy with where we are and we still have a long way to go.
Norton went on to add, "The competition and the talent is all there. It’s just a matter of work. It’s a matter of experience. It’s a matter of time. It takes time. Winners aren’t built in a week. It takes time. That’s what camp is for, and they’re working their tails off."
Oakland's top three cornerbacks have been identified. How they end up lining up is yet to be determined. However, what's more important at this point than any one cornerback standing out is having the entire unit be effective.
Khalil Mack's Role Starting to Be Defined
Much of the talk surrounding the Raiders this offseason was about how to help Khalil Mack make the leap from very good to All-Pro. The expectations have always been lofty, and Mack has the talent to meet them. The question is how to make it happen.
While Mack remains officially listed as a linebacker on the Raiders' official roster, that designation doesn't seem like it'll stick for much longer. At the very least, it's a label that'll only be loosely applied.
Early on, signs are pointing toward a more permanent move for Mack from linebacker to defensive end. According to CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair, "Mack’s been working a ton at defensive end during training camp, in the base defense, sub-packages and even during individual drills."
The fact remains, Mack is Oakland's most effective pass-rusher, regardless of position. As general manager Reggie McKenzie succinctly put it (via Bair), "He’s [Mack's] pretty dog-gone good getting after the quarterback."
While Mack is excellent against the run and very good in pass coverage, any snaps on which he doesn't rush the quarterback could be doing the defense more harm than good no matter how productive he is in other areas. This could lead to a permanent move to defensive end. The move hasn't been made official yet, but the evidence suggests that it's only a matter of time.
This move would play to Mack's strength, which is attacking the line of scrimmage and the quarterback. Moving him to defensive end would let him do what he does best on every down without having to worry about dropping into coverage and playing away from the line where he can't be as effective.
This might be seen as a blow to Oakland's strong linebacking corps, but it could prove to be the best decision. Moving Mack to defensive end would create a very dangerous pass rush on every down, something the defense is desperately in need of. And with the depth the Raiders have at linebacker, the team is in position to effectively fill Mack's departure from the position group.
Mack has the skill to be a devastating pass-rusher. At 6'3 and 252 pounds, he also has the size. It's still early, but this could prove to be a franchise-changing decision. As good of a linebacker as Mack is, he could be an even better defensive end.
Return of Sio Moore
With Sio Moore still recovering from offseason hip surgery, it wasn't a surprise to see him start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Fortunately, that didn't last long. After missing only one practice, Moore was back on the field for Oakland's second practice, and he hasn't missed a day since.
In a surprise to no one who's ever seen the linebacker play, Moore got back to his normal high-energy self as soon as he joined his teammates.
CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair reported that in only his second day back, "Linebacker Sio Moore was incredibly active in run drills, albeit against the second unit, and made a few nice plays in the backfield. Moore also worked to energize a crowd of roughly 1,000 season-ticket holders on hand for Sunday afternoon’s practice."
As for head coach Jack Del Rio, he's taking a wait-and-see approach with Moore (via Bair):
We need to find out what he [Moore] can bring. I haven’t really seen him full tilt, but he is active now. He has joined the team again in a full-go capacity. I’ll get to learn more about him, so we’ll learn more as we go with him. We need all of our players to grow and to improve and to become great teammates, and he’s no different.
It's understandable that Del Rio wants to see just how close to 100 percent Moore really is before making any decisions regarding the linebacker depth chart. However, that doesn't seem like it'll be a problem as Moore seems to already be back to his old self.
Assuming that he is, he should be able to secure the starting weakside-linebacker spot over the course of training camp.
With Khalil Mack very possibly (and even likely) moving from linebacker to defensive end, Moore's presence and return to form will be especially important in order maintain a high level of play from the linebackers as a whole.
Michael Crabtree the Star of First Week, Amari Cooper as Good as Advertised
Everyone was waiting to see what rookie Amari Cooper could do once the intensity and competition picked up in training camp. But through the first week, it's been veteran Michael Crabtree who's made headlines at wide receiver.
The praise for Crabtree has been a daily part of Oakland's training camp so far. He's exhibited what the Raiders hoped he would when they signed him, which is great route running and hands.
CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair shared an example of this following Oakland's first practice:
New Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree made several outstanding catches during training camp’s first practice, and was in great sync with quarterback Derek Carr. One in particular, stood out from the rest. Crabtree ran down the sideline, but was covered well by cornerback Keith McGill.
Carr threw it up anyway, and safety Charles Woodson tracked right once the ball was in the air. Crabtree jumped and snared the pass in a mess of hands and secured it while both defenders tried to rip the ball away.
Crabtree might have had the more impressive first week, but that's not to say that Cooper hasn't impressed in his own way. He joined the Raiders with a reputation for great speed and crisp route running. That's been on display, especially on this play (via Bleacher Report's Kyle Newport) when he shook cornerback Keith McGill out of his shorts. Twice. On the same play.
Cooper hasn't had a special play yet, but he has already shown that the excitement surrounding him isn't just hype. He really is as developed and NFL-ready as advertised.
Behind Crabtree and Cooper, Oakland's wide receiver depth chart remains deep but unsettled. What we have already seen is that between the two of them, the Raiders have the most dangerous starting wide receiver duo the team has had in a very long time.
Here are a few more observations from Oakland's first week of training camp.
Andre Holmes Remains Inconsistent
According to CSNBayArea.com's Scott Bair, "Receiver Andre Holmes has been inconsistent thus far, making great catches and easy drops." Holmes has been seen as a favorite to make the the final roster because of his size and speed, but none of that matters if he can't consistently bring in passes.
It was an issue last year, and it continues to be a problem in camp. If he continues to struggle in this area, his spot on the team will become less and less secure, especially with the depth Oakland has at wide receiver.
Rod Streater Still Not Practicing
Rod Streater has spent all of training camp thus far on the non-football illness (NFI) list. Streater is the early favorite to win the No. 3 wide receiver position, but that won't happen unless he's on the field. There's still time for him to come back and earn his spot, but competition is fierce at wide receiver in Oakland. The longer he's out, the more difficult it'll be for him to earn a substantial role in the offense.
Brice Butler and Kenbrell Thompkins Make Good Early Impressions
Wide receivers Brice Butler and Kenbrell Thompkins are on the roster bubble, but they might have made some progress toward earning roster spots. On the second day of camp, Bair awarded Thompkins the catch of the day:
Receiver Kenbrell Thompkins made an acrobatic grab during a practice where the passing game struggled to stay in sync. Thompkins ran a deep route and faded inside a bit to get open. Quarterback Matt McGloin let one fly, Thompkins leaped up, a snagged a reception in tight coverage and fell to the earth.
Not to be outdone, Butler made this incredible one-handed grab over DJ Hayden (via Bleacher Report's Kyle Newport). With Holmes struggling and Streater still unable to practice, Butler and Thompkins continue to make a strong case for making it onto the final roster.
Max Valles Shows Off His Physical Ability
Max Valles was a young player still learning the game in college. His development has been made even more difficult with the Raiders because of the position switch from linebacker to defensive end. But while he's still figuring out the position, there's one thing he already knows: speed.
Bair noted that in the fourth practice, Valles "flashed some speed-rushing skill, zooming by veteran Austin Howard on an 11-on-11 drill with the second unit." He might still be one-dimensional, but Valles is showing he can still help the team as a rookie based on physical ability alone.
Marcel Reece's Role Remains Unclear
New offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's decision to eliminate the fullback position has left Marcel Reece as a great weapon without a set place in the offense. This matter wasn't clarified through the first week of camp, but JustBlogBaby.com's Chase Ruttig suggests, "The new coaching staff will probably try different things with him in the preseason to see what they want to do with a veteran talent whose full potential has never quite been utilized during his career in Oakland."
This is a matter the coaches will have to address sooner rather than later for Reece to develop a reliable role with Derek Carr and with the offense as a whole.
What stood out to you the most from Oakland's first week of training camp? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and on Twitter @BrianJ_Flores.