This is the final week of training camp for the Raiders. One of three practices this week as they prepare for their second preseason game. If what I saw in practice today is any indication, we could see a repeat game performance from Raiders 7th round phenom, Shalom Luani.
“Shalom did a nice job,” Jack Del Rio said of Luani’s work in the team’s preseason opener in Arizona. “He got a lot of snaps the other night. He is a really instinctive young man, kind of a ball magnet, kind of just tracks the ball, finds the ball. Good instincts, active. He did some things on special teams that were pretty good too, so he’s one of those young players that you’re excited about developing. It was a good start for him.”
Luani was kinda late to football. He was a soccer star as a teenager on the FIFA American Samoa team. After that he took the football world by storm, the same way he is taking the Raiders by storm. Two years of Junior College led to a transfer to Washington State led to Reggie McKenzie drafting him and calling him a ‘Football playin’ Jessie’.
To this day Luani doesn’t know exactly what McKenzie meant by that, but said “ I take it as a compliment.”
The 6-0, 202-pound safety has been flying around the field every practice since he first arrived in Oakland, just like everyone else got to see him doing in Arizona Saturday night. He made run stops and defended passes, and nearly had an acrobatic interception in the end zone.
“You just gotta find the ball,” said Luani of his playing style. “See ball, get ball, that’s all it is.”
He clearly has great instincts for the safety spot, though he will tell you it comes mostly from preparation.
“It’s all about your preparation and what you gotta go though during the week to play a good game,” he said.
Luani doesn’t say much. He is soft spoken with an easily heard Samoan accent. Being vocal, he said, is not a strong point of his.
It’s interesting that being outspoken and communicating is where Luani needs to improve most, because that’s the problem the entire secondary struggled with last year and have made a core focus all this offseason.
Where Luani speaks in with his play. With his hustle.
“Like the coaches were telling me; effort. They can’t teach effort,” said Luani. “You have to be able to fly around and make plays.”
High off a great performance last weekend, he was making plays today in practice.
In the first team sesson, he had tight coverage to force an incompletion on a pass from Derek Carr to Jamize Olawale.
Later, in 11-on-11s he knocked down a pass from EJ Manuel out right. A short time later, he came up and smacked DeAndre Washington trying to take the right edge.
In the final session, he chased Jared Cook on a corner route and the Carr pass sailed over everyone’s head and out of bounds. But Luani had the best shot at it.
Note that two of those four plays were facing first teamers which means the Raiders are pitting him against stronger competition and he’s rising to the occasion.
Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack returned to practice. Cooper showed no ill effects of his extended down time. He took the first pass in passing sessions and saw a few passes in 11-on-11s as well. Mack suited up for the game after missing all last week, so his return today was to be expected. Jamize Olawale had missed one practice and he was back as well.
Newly out was Denver Kirkland who was injured in the game Saturday. Del Rio said he will not be back to camp along with Keith McGill who suffered a foot injury early in camp.
Obi Melifonwu was suited up again, but he is still not doing much. He does some light walk-thrus, but is parked on the sideline for drills and team sessions.
Others not practicing are Gareon Conley who is on PUP with a shin injury, Jihad Ward who is also on PUP, Ben Heeney (NFI) and Cooper Helfet (NFI).
Catch of the day: I told you Amari Cooper was suffering no ill effects today. Well, he went on a post route from the left side, got behind Antonio Hamilton and Reggie Nelson and Derek Carr’s pass was right in his bread basket for a 55-yard touchdown. It was a thing of beauty. It was also Coop’s third straight catch. The first was a comebacker out left with TJ Carrie covering and the second was on a cross over the middle in the zone. So, yeah, Derek Carr is glad to have him back.
Best run: Something we’ll be hearing quite a bit during the season, I’m sure. Kelechi Osemele came from his left guard spot on a pull block through the right guard spot, laid a hard block and Marshawn Lynch followed him through for a nice little run.
Defensive play of the day: Sean Smith. Yes, him. The guy who has been demoted to second team most of camp, stayed with Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone to swat down a pass from Derek Carr. I gotta admit, it feels good to be able to say Sean Smith this year and have it be a positive.
Others to defend passes today include Antonio Hamilton on a Carr pass for Isaac Whitney, Rickey Jefferson on a Connor Cook pass to tight end Ryan O’Malley up the seam, Dexter McDonald on a Carr pass to Crabtree, and the Luani breakup mentioned above.
There was one interception today and it was Antonio Hamilton to took the ball off a deflection of a pass from Manuel to Clive Walford. Hard to tell if it was a drop of a batted pass from where I stood.
Run stops came from Khalil Mack on Marshawn Lynch, Bruce Irvin on DeAndre Washington, Treyvon Hester on a Connor Cook scramble.
Connor Cook seems to be having trouble keeping his passes down. He missed high on his first pass in the game Saturday and was too high on several passes in practice today as well. Ishmael Zamora had to use every bit of his 6-3 frame to pull down a pass from Cook on a curl out left, and later at the goal line, Cook sailed a ball too high for Isaac Whitney near the pylon.
Offensive linemen won most of the battles in pass rushing/blocking drills. The only real destruction was Denico Autry who had some nifty hand fighting with Jordan Simmons to shuck him by in an instant and shoot into the backfield.