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Raiders training camp day 9 wrap: Game week starts with more players missing ‘than even we expected’

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After a day off, you usually expect some players to have returned from injury. For instance, after last week’s day off, both Mario Edwards Jr and Bruce Irvin returned to practice from the Non-football Injury list. That didn’t happen today. In fact, a couple other players were lost.

Even at 12-4, the Raiders are not a finished product. The defense is especially in need of upgrading and that seems to be the area most stricken by injuries this training camp, making it that much more difficult to discover their assets and possible upgrades.

The team’s top three draft choices all came on the defensive side of the ball and they were all watching from the side today, much to Jack Del Rio’s dismay.

“Had a few guys that weren’t able to go,” said Del Rio after Tuesday’s practice. “A few extra guys that maybe added to the list. . . probably a larger number than even we expected coming off a day off. Should be short-term guys, a bunch of them are younger. We’ll get them back as quick as possible.”

Top pick Gareon Conley has been sidelined all camp with reported shin splints. He was supposed to at very least compete for the team’s slot corner job and perhaps even a starting position.

It’s very possible it would have been Conley who was seeing looks with the first team while Sean Smith has been demoted, but instead it’s fourth year corner TJ Carrie. Even undrafted rookie Breon Borders has seen first team looks in the slot.

Second round pick Obi Melfonwu has missed the last four practices with an undisclosed injury. He had been running as the second team strong safety and as an extra linebacker with the first team. He has never played linebacker before so these are valuable reps he’s missing.

Today third round pick Eddie Vanderdoes joined them on the sideline. Vanderdoes had been one of the pleasant surprises of camp. He has quickly worked himself up to first team despite missing the entire offseason due to UCLA graduation requirements. If he is lost for any significant time, that wouldn’t help the team’s hopes for him being an upgrade to their interior pass rush woes.

Sometimes players get days off. Khalil Mack didn’t practice today and it’s possible that was the case for him. Whether he is able to go tomorrow should answer that question. Del Rio didn’t specify Mack’s status, but said for the most part that was not the case.

“It looked like a veteran rest day except it was mostly rookies. It was not by design. We’re making progress.”

Getting work in Mack’s place at the defensive end spot was undrafted second year man, James Cowser.

“James Cowser’s had a real nice camp,” said Del Rio. “He’s done a nice job so far. That’s part of the benefit, that’s part of the positive spin there if you look at it that way – when one guy’s had something happen that’s misfortune – another guy gets an opportunity that might not have been there.”

That interior defensive line has been walking wounded all camp so far. They were without both Mario Edwards Jr and Jihad Ward for the first four days. Edwards came back, but Ward has yet to return. Part of the talk this offseason how the team hoped Ward would take a big leap in production in year two after a disappointing rookie season. It’s hard to do that from the sideline.

No position was more in need of an upgrade this offseason than inside linebacker. Luckily, other than Ben Heeney, the team’s current top inside linebackers have been healthy (knock on wood) so they’ve been able to get a good long look at rookie fifth round pick Marquel Lee alongside second year man Cory James.

Second team safety Keith McGill broke his foot last week which means he will miss the rest of camp and likely some of the regular season as well. With Conley and Melifonwu also missing it’s difficult to get a bead on what role they will play in the secondary this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, the main problem has been on the offensive line. Donald Penn’s contract holdout has reached 12 days (9 practices) causing the team to move right tackle Marshall Newhouse to the left side and put second year man Vadal Alexander as first team at right tackle.

The second team is depleted too. Center Jon Feliciano has been out all of camp, and both the tackles the team drafted — David Sharpe and Jylan Ware — are now out with injuries as well.

Others out with injury include Amari Cooper, Fadol Brown, LaTroy Lewis, Cooper Helfet.

That’s 13 players currently out with two practices left before the team’s first preseason game. Not great.

“My feeling on it is that we cherish every rep that we get,” said Del Rio. “We’re going to work our butts off to get them out there whenever we can. Ultimately, it comes down to the player being ready to go. We’re doing everything we can to do the right things by our guys.”

Notes:

Johnny Holton showed up well in wide receiver blocking drills, clapping pads with defenders on a couple of occasions. He has a good deal of experience after the amount of special teams work he got last season. He was tied for the team lead with 11 solo special teams tackles.

Catch of the day: On a day short of highlight reel catches, there was one that stood out well above the rest. In red zone 7-on-7 drills, Seth Roberts went on a corner route from the slot and Karl Joseph was covering him. Derek Carr put the ball up high and Roberts climbed the ladder with Joseph draped all over him to pull it down the touchdown catch. Carr pumped both fists in celebration as the crowd cheered. There was really nothing more Joseph could have done.

Best run: Marshawn Lynch had a couple good runs. I liked the one he had up the gut that went the distance. He found a seam, shot through it, made some jukes to freeze the linebackers and took off. Elijah Hood had a pretty good run as well.

Also see: Marshawn Lynch the super star of camp, ‘fully committed’ to comeback

Best defensive play: Derek Carr rolled right and looked to throw into the flat to Lynch, but Shilique Calhoun was right there to get in the way of any pass attempt. He then finished it off by closing on Carr for the ‘sack’.

Winners of pass rush drills today were Denico Autry, Oni Omoile, and James Cowser. Autry destroyed Jordan Simmons on both of his rushes against him. Denver Kirkland stopped Cowser on one rush, but Cowser drove him back onto his ass the second time around. Omoile put a nice pancake block on Paul Boyette.

Sunday’s practice ended with EJ Manuel and the second team offense getting a good deal of work. So today’s practiced ended with Connor Cook getting the bulk of the reps with the second team. It was the first time this camp that Cook has gotten second team reps. He has played much better the past couple days and he very much needed to step up and show something.