Whoosh! There goes the Raiders 2016 training camp. Over seemingly right after it began. Camp itself was a total of 14 days. In real time, the team was in Napa for 20 days. And a few more days for those who attended the 3-day pre-camp warm-up.
Camp is a time of learning. For players to learn this year's team, scheme, and playbook and for coaches to learn their players. It's also when we learn a few things about them. So? What did we learn?
1. Chemistry is key
Overall the players on this team like each other. They hang out when they aren't practicing and bond. Derek Carr and Amari Cooper even roomed together throughout camp to better get to know each other. On two occasions the team bonds were strained by fighting in camp. One of those times resulted in two starters being kicked out of practice (Kelechi Osemele, Mario Edwards Jr). The other time one of the players involved was quickly cut (Damonte Moore). Don't mess around with the chemistry on this team.
2. Derek Carr sharper than ever
While there was some question about the backup job between Matt McGloin and Connor Cook, there was absolutely no question who the starter was. And I don't mean just based on the depth chart. Carr looked every bit the unquestioned starter of this team in camp. His passes were lasers and his accuracy and timing with his receivers was the best its been in the pros.
3. Starter competitions unchanged
Most open competitions were won before the team took the field for camp. Menelik Watson remains the starting right tackle, as has Latavius Murray at running back, Justin Ellis came in as the starting nose tackle ahead of Dan Williams and remained so throughout camp, and DJ Hayden was the team's top slot corner from start to finish. The top four receivers appears to remain the same as well, with Seth Roberts and Andre Holmes remaining as the team's third and fourth receivers respectively.
4. Plenty of depth
Honestly I can't think of a time in which the Raiders had more depth. They have strong starters and capable backups at most positions, most notably the front seven.
5. Fifth wide receiver
The leading candidate for that fifth and final wide receiver spot is Johnny Holton. He consistently impressed in training camp and the team has also been looking at him as a return specialist to ensure they get the most out of him. KJ Brent has also shown well for himself. At 6-3, he is the tallest of the undrafted hopefuls vying for a roster spot. Joe Hansley and Jaydon Mickens have outside chances, but at this point the practice squad may be their best chance.
6. Marcel Reece specialized role
In the first three games of the season, Reece's role will be that of spectator. He will serve the final three games of his four game suspension that was imposed prior to end of last season. Based on his work in camp, the Raiders plan to key on his strengths as a pass catcher more than ever. In drills, he worked almost exclusively with the tight ends. In team sessions, he would still line up in the backfield as a running back and full back. This would suggest he could be an H-back this season. He has always been an X-factor type as a receiving threat, but in most cases that was out of the backfield. We can expect to see Jamize Olawale out of the backfield more often now.
7. The new MIKE linebackers
The plan since the day the Raiders used a fifth round pick on Ben Heeney in the 2015 draft was for him to be the middle linebacker of the future. He will wear the green dot and relay plays from the sideline to the rest of the defense. He will align his teammates and cover the middle of the field both against the run and in coverage. It's a lot of responsibility for a second year player, but it's a job Heeney has a great deal of experience in college.
His backup is rookie Cory James, who started all of six games at middle linebacker in college, but who the Raiders also had pegged for the position when they drafted him. With Heeney injuring himself in the second to last day of camp, we should get a long look at James in the rest of the preseason.
8. Utility backup Olinemen
The starting five is set with - from left to right - Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Menelik Watson. Working behind them on the interior is last year's fourth round pick Jon Feliciano who has been mainly playing center but can also play either guard spot. Austin Howard is the backup right tackle, but if for any reason left tackle Donald Penn is lost, Howard would most likely step up to starting right tackle with Menelik Watson jumping over to left tackle. That's how you get the most value out of players with the fewest roster spots filled. From there the leading candidate is rookie seventh round pick Vadal Alexander who has been playing guard.
9. Secondary spots unsettled
Through camp the backup safeties have been Dewey McDonald and Nate Allen. Allen has held his own and has shown why the team signed him last offseason to a long term deal and made him the starter at that time. McDonald had the job all offseason and camp and hasn't stood out in a positive way. This leaves the door very much open for competition. The top competitors for the job are Keith McGill, Brynden Trawick, and Jimmy Hall - who was out with injury for the final week of camp.
At cornerback, the top four appear to be settled with David Amerson, Sean Smith, DJ Hayden, and TJ Carrie. That final spot is up for grabs with incumbent Neiko Thorpe's job being challenged by 2015 seventh round pick Dexter McDonald who had a good camp.
10. Special teams trio still together
For the third year in a row, the Raiders special teamers look to be the same. I am speaking of kicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Marquette King, and long snapper Jon Condo. Janikowski's fellow camp kicker for a second season was Giorgio Tavecchio, who looks very good, but Janikowski has toned up for the first time in his career and doesn't appear to be going anywhere heading into his 17th season. King didn't even have another punter in camp, and Condo remains as the stalwart long snapper and second longest tenured Raider behind Janikowski.