As the second day of Raiders 2016 training camp went down, we continue to see some position battle questions being answered. The first day, it was who was currently the team’s first team right tackle – Menelik Watson. Saturday it was who would be manning the middle linebacker spot – Ben Heeney.
Even with the Raiders running a 3-4 the greater percentage of the time, someone had to be the one who received plays from the sideline. Aka the green dot helmet. Aka the Mike linebacker.
"Wearing the green dot, yup, playing Mike," Heeney confirmed. "That's been the goal. It's what I've been wanting to do. Just happy to be there and do whatever I can to keep the spot."
Last year it was Malcolm Smith who took those duties after Curtis Lofton was reduced to a situational player. As the season went on, Smith was increasingly accompanied on the field by Heeney -- a fifth round rookie -- but it was Smith who never left the field. Now that job is slated for Heeney.
"Coach Norton’s got confidence in me going into year two," said Heeney. "It’s just a lot easier for me this year. Same defense. That helps me a lot. Last year I was kinda all over the place during camp, so I was kinda not really knowing what I was doing. But just being in the same defense for the second year in a row has helped me a lot."
Stepping into that role is a big responsibility. One that requires a greater level of film study and conditioning.
Heeney has also leaned more on his coaches and veteran teammates to help him prepare for his new role in the defense.
One thing Heeney has never lacked is the instincts and aggressiveness for the position. He flashed tremendous closing speed and instincts last season, something he said has gotten him in trouble throughout his college and pro career.
"There was a lot of times where I was overaggressive last year," said Heeney. "That’s something that hurt me in college and that’s one of the knocks I had as a guy who missed a lot of tackles or whatever the case may be. It’s just, that’s how I play."
That aggressiveness has shown up over the first two days of camp. He is usually around the ball. That’s not a surprise. Even though he can’t take players to the ground, he play through the whistle and is constantly punching at the ball. He had a forced fumble on Clive Walford day one and another one on Amari Cooper day two. He also sniffed out a screen pass to DeAndre Washington to stuff him at the line.
It think it’s safe to say he is trying to make an impression with his new increased responsibility
Injuries: PUP list still consists of Greg Townsend Jr and Denico Autry. Not seeing much time on day two was Neiron Ball. He was thought to be ready to go by now, but the coaching staff is taking their time and bringing him back slowly. He was relegated to the sideline most the entire practice both for drills and team sessions.
The defense had a good day today. Ben Heeney I already covered, so I’ll move onto others.
David Amerson was back at it, knocking down passes several times.
DJ Hayden picked a Matt McGloin pass intended for Seth Roberts. Hayden has looked pretty good in the slot at times so far. It would appear he’s settling into his new role.
Malcolm Smith was showing off his coverage skills as well. He had a pass defended on a McGloin pass intended for Mychal Rivera and later tipped a McGloin pass in the air and tracked it down for the interception.
There was a pretty good looking throw and catch in which Andre Holmes got a step on Neiko Thorpe up the left sideline. McGloin saw him and placed the ball perfectly to him over his shoulder for a big gain.
McGloin had another good looking pass, again up the left sideline, and again with Thorpe in coverage. This time he went for KJ Brent’s back shoulder and Brent broke back to go up and get it.
Connor Cook had another erratic day. His throws were all over the place. Off target and often wobbly.
Several players got in for would-be sacks as well. Khalil Mack got the edge on Donald Penn to sack Carr, Shilique Calhoun got around Austin Howard to sack McGloin, Stacy McGee found a gap up the middle to get to McGloin, and Damontre Moore got into the backfield for a sack on Cook.
Pads go on tomorrow, so things should get far more interesting.