A major story of camp has been the demotion of top cornerback Sean Smith. Preparing for the 2017 season with a strong emphasis on improved secondary play, Smith was visibly struggling. So, just four days into camp, he was replaced with the first team at the outside corner spot by TJ Carrie.
After the demotion, his body language was terrible. He also continued to struggle even with second team receivers. He certainly wasn’t doing anything to earn his way back to the first team. He seemed like he didn’t even care. He has too much guaranteed money ($9.5 million)for the team to simply cut him, and the season is still more than three weeks away.
The final practice before the team’s preseason opener in Arizona, Smith was suddenly back with the first team. And he entered Saturday’s game on the second play with the rest of the first team secondary.
Back in Napa the past couple days, Smith appears to be back in the Raiders’ good graces and working with the first team. And for what it’s worth he seems to have responded well.
Tuesday’s practice he had a pass breakup on a throw from Derek Carr intended for Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone. There were a few passes knocked down on the day, but that was the best looking one among the first teams in drills.
Today he was defending KJ Brent — whom the Raiders seem to line him up against quite often — and he got a hand on the Derek Carr pass to deflect it. Nicholas Morrow laid out to pick it off. Earlier in practice Smith held tight coverage on Michael Crabtree up the left sideline and turned back to look for the ball to force an incompletion.
Three plays in two days may not seem like a lot, but Smith hadn’t made a single play that I can recall in camp prior to that, whether early with the first team or while lining up with the second team.
“I think he’s growing every day,” said John Pagano, Assistant Head Coach - Defense. “There’s always highs and lows in this game. You don’t want to make it, as we term, inconsistent. We’re always looking for the consistency. It’s how you build. It’s how you learn. It’s how you come off those things. There’s always room for improvement in the backend, in the front, all across our defense. There’s guys we’re asking them to go out there and make plays. Has he been improving at practice? Yeah. Then our job is to take that practice stuff and take it to the game field and have that consistency and that carry over to those types of games.”
Smith was exposed last season against speedier wide receivers. The key for Pagano and the other Raiders coaches to not put him in situations where the opposing offense can exploit the speed mismatch.
At 6-3, 220 pounds, Smith isn’t your typical cornerback. He can’t be looked at to do typical cornerback things. Find his strengths and play to them like anyone else on the team. That means facing receiving like Brent, not like Amari Cooper.
- No surprises on the injury front today. Still out are Denver Kirkland (leg), Kieth McGill (foot), Gareon Conley (shin), Jihad Ward (foot), Ben Heeney (NFI), Cooper Helfet (NFI).
- Obi Melifonwu is still not nearly 100%. Today he participated in some drills, but at about half speed. Still no team sessions work.
- Mike Tice said rookie Jylan Ware’s injury earlier in camp was a concussion. For whatever that’s worth.
- No pads today, so there weren’t any pass rushing/blocking drills and run plays are hard to judge.
- Things got a little heated between Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards Jr during walk-thrus. You don’t typically see players on the same side of the ball get into it like that. Without quoting anything that was said, it was clear Bruce had given Edwards some instruction and Edwards didn’t care for it. That made the veteran Bruce get pretty angry. Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin stepped between them to try and figure out what was going on. Jack Del Rio even stopped by their huddle to check on things. Eventually it was Khalil Mack who was the peacemaker and the Irvin and Edwards shook hands and moved on.
- Catch of the day: How ‘bout a trio of catches by Jamize Olawale. First from Connor Cook who fit a ball to Olawale in the flat just out of the reach of a diving Rickey Jefferson. Olawale then turned upfield and streaked down the right sideline for six. Later, Olawale got a step on Marquel Lee up the right sideline and Derek Carr dropped one right into his arms for a 55-yard touchdown. A bit later, ‘Maze’ ran a shallow cross and Carr improvised a bit, flipping the ball to him in stride for a good pickup. Good to see Olawale get some action in camp.
- Best defensive play: Aside from the Smith deflection into an interception, I’ll take Derek Carr’s word on this one. He looked for Seth Roberts in the right flat, but Antonio Hamilton had him in tight coverage. In an attempt to throw away from Hamilton, the pass was wide and high where even Roberts couldn’t get it. “Good coverage. Good coverage,” Carr exclaimed, pointing at Hamilton.
- Food Network star Guy Fieri was at Raiders camp today. He brought a mobile barbecue trailer with him and was cooking up some whole rotisserie chickens for the Raiders players, coaches, and staff. I snapped a few shots of him with Reggie McKenzie and Beast Mode. See those here.
- Thursday is the Raiders’ final day of camp. With no pads today, it’s possible they could be padded up and make the most of it in preparation for their preseason home opener on Saturday against the Rams. It could be a quick practice though, as everyone will be looking to scoot.