Tomorrow the Raiders will report to Napa for training camp. Here are a few storylines to watch this year.
1. How well is Derek Carr picking up Jon Gruden’s offense
Things seem to be going pretty well so far. They’re saying all the right things and Carr looks to be in command of Gruden’s demanding playbook. Training camp will kick things up a notch. Gruden has made it very clear he doesn’t care for the limited time he is allowed to coach his players. The league rules are a lot different than they were when he last coached in 2008. Which means he will be cramming as much instruction as he can and Carr will be tested like he has never been tested before. I’m here to see him run this machine.
2. Will Khalil Mack take the training camp field?
If he doesn’t strike a deal by Friday, he won’t be joining the team initially. He will show up if and when he and the Raiders get his extension done. And there has yet to be any indication that is close to happening. Missing the offseason program is not a huge deal. For the most part, Mack is plug and play, sic the QB guy. He will likely remain in good shape. But once you hit training camp, it becomes far more important that he can be up to speed mentally with his new coaches and teammates. Not to mention he is a leader on this team and chemistry goes a long way.
3. Could Kolton Miller create a position controversy when Donald Penn returns?
Penn will begin camp on the PUP list. He has been recovering from foot surgery the entire offseason. Gruden still views him as the starter, which is why he has taken the first team reps at left tackle in walk-thrus. It seemed to me that Penn would be back by now, so it’s hard to say how long it will be until he returns. When he does, will he simply retake his starting job? Or could Miller give the coaching staff a tough decision to make?
4. Who lines up as first team 3-tech defensive tackle? And will it stay that way?
The biggest position battle on this team right now is probably between Mario Edwards Jr and Maurice Hurst for the starting defensive tackle job. Edwards is the incumbent and he has lined up with the first team most of the offseason. But Hurst carries the hopes of the staff as a top five talent who slipped to the fifth round due to a heart condition. Hurst was banging on the door throughout the offseason, so it will be interesting to see whether he has earned first team work right away in camp and if not, whether eventually he will. Or alternately if Edwards can step up to the challenge in a contract year, he could stave off the young challenger for his job.
5. What’s up with Martavis Bryant?
So much for the supposed fear the Raiders had he was going to be suspended. At least you have to figure at this point if he was going to be suspended, we would know by now. His presence will be key to this offense being as explosive as it needs to be. Not only because of what he can do with the ball in his hands, but for what he does for the offense as a threat. He made some special plays in offseason practices and seeing a few deep connections between he and Derek Carr would make training camp a lot more interesting.
6. What is going on with the safety position?
When the safeties last took the field it was the same duo that held the position last season who got the bulk of the first team work. Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph figure to continue to be the first teamers, but there are some interesting contenders in the mix as well. There is last year’s second round pick, Obi Melifonwu, who has been buried on the depth chart this offseason while recovering from a knee injury. Then Gruden has spoken highly of newly signed Marcus Gilchrist and return special teams maven, Erik Harris. Nelson will turn 35 in September, but he knows Paul Guenther’s system quite well. Karl Joseph was a ball hawk this offseason, which suggests he could be ready to live up to his potential as the team’s top pick in the 2016 draft.
7. Who will be the nickel corner?
There will be several suitors for this job as well. Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin are the starters on the outside. Among those competing for that nickel spot are several new additions. The aforementioned Marcus Gilchrist as well as Daryl Worley, Leon Hall, Shareece Wright, and rookie Nick Nelson. Gilchrist is versatile enough to play most any DB spot. Worley is a talented corner who has started 25 games in two seasons but could be looking at a DUI suspension this season. Hall is familiar with Guenther’s system, but at 33 has started just 7 games the past three seasons. And Shareece Wright has not been getting many first or second team reps in the offseason. Nelson was injured all offseason, but wasn’t placed on PUP, so he could be ready to go to start camp. Lots of competition with lots of questions. By training camp’s end, we should have many of our answers.
8. Can Johnny Townsend make us say good riddance to Marquette King?
For some, they are saying good riddance to King anyway. For others, they are lamenting the loss of a great punter. For those people, it would take some booming punts from Townsend to seal the deal. He showed some impressive directional punting in offseason practices, but nothing that was awe inspiring as far as hang time or moon shots. He was the third punter taken in the draft, but Reggie McKenzie swears he was the guy they wanted all along. Townsend is the only punter in camp, so the job is his. His must now go about proving his GM and head coach right for dumping King and selecting him.
9. Who is the odd man out at running back?
Gruden has gushed bout Doug Martin. That’s one of his guys, so it would seem he has a pretty good shot of not only making the team, but getting a significant number of carries. After him it’s the couple of scat backs from the past two seasons, Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. They are very similar backs, and neither is an every down back, so one will have to go. Chris Warren III is a very long shot here.
10. How set are the linebacker spots?
I think it’s safe to say Tahir Whitehead is the starting strong side linebacker. After that, there may be some wiggle room. During offseason practices it was Derrick Johnson in the middle and Emmanuel Lamur on the weak side. The first question is if Lamur will continue to be the first team on the weak side. Lamur has familiarity with Guenther’s system on his side, but Nicholas Morrow played well last season and drew praise from Gruden during minicamp. Kyle Wilber worked in as well. Will Marquel Lee be able to push for playing time? Has the NaVorro Bowman ship sailed?
It will be exciting having these questions answered over the next few weeks.