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Raiders training camp day seven report: Bubble players seeking roster spot through special teams

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t always the more talented players at given positions who make the team each year. When it comes to sneaking onto the roster, the key is almost always special teams. If a player can do it well, they will land a roster spot even if they may not be a star at their given position.

The first coaches Jon Gruden brought onboard with him were Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther and Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia. Then he listened to Bisaccia when it came to who the team added from a special teams perspective.

Among the players they added in free agency were two Bisaccia special teams guys in Dallas in linebacker Kyle Wilber and linebacker turned fullback Keith Smith. Then they traded for his punt returner Ryan Switzer.

Often seeing time fielding punts along with Switzer is Dwayne Harris who Bisaccia coached in Dallas for two seasons in 2013-14. Both Harris and Switzer play wide receiver and could also factor in the, playing out of the slot, especially Switzer.

Though Harris has been back with Switzer on punts, he is more often the up man who does his best work either getting down field to take out the opposing return man or protecting for his own returner.

“Certainly we went and got Dwayne Harris, and if you look at the last five years in the National Football League, Dwayne has always been in the top five in double-digit tackles, not only on kickoff but at the fire position,” said Bisaccia.

Last season the gunner role was filled by Johnny Holton and Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson’s return abilities made him trade bait, but Holton remains. He hasn’t made a lot of noise as a receiver in camp, so his hopes rest on whether Bisaccia likes him as a gunner.

“We had a lot of respect for Johnny getting ready to play against him last year. We have a lot of receivers out there working, a lot of the corners out there working. Obi’s [Melifonwu] been working out there at flyer so, we got a bunch of guys out there competing to be the flyers for us.”

Bisaccia said Erik Harris — who led the Raiders in special teams tackles last season (5) — was a “vital” part of the special teams units as a personal protector. Aside from Melifonwu, Bisaccia mentioned a couple other players who have stood out to him including an undrafted rookie and a couple of third round picks, one of whom is clinging to his NFL hopes.

“I’d say the one young guy in [Dallin] Leavitt. We’re putting him in a lot of positions and he’s doing a lot of good things for us as a young player,” Bisaccia said. “Arden Key has kind of moved around on the punt and doing a good job. And then, I call him ‘Big Shaq’, 91 [Shilique Calhoun], been putting him in a lot of different positions and he’s responded really well also.”

Camp is important to shake these spots out, but live game experience is where the real decisions are made. We are a week from that.

“I think the preseason game’s going to show a lot,” Bisaccia added. “A lot of those young guys are going to play a lot of football for us in the kicking game, and they’re going to play on offense and they’re going to play on defense. It turns into a high school game to some degree. They kind of show us a lot about their will when the preseason games start.”

Practice notes:

Injuries: Still out are Gareon Conley (hip), Donald Penn (foot), Eddie Vanderdoes (knee), and Brandon Parker (ankle). Newly out are Gabe Jackson (undisclosed), Breno Giacomini (undisclosed), DeAndre Washington (undisclosed), Erik Harris (finger), and Shaquille Richardson (undisclosed).

Returning: None

Lineup notes:

Ian Silberman played first team right tackle with Breno Giacomini not practicing. David Sharpe was second team right tackle.

Jon Feliciano played right guard in place of Gabe Jackson.


Another day in pads and more grinding without a lot of high flying.

That said, today there was this Adam Schefter tweet today and my response to it:

To be completely fair, Carr may have had one picked on the first day by Tevin Mitchell, but Mitchell may not have been able to stay inbounds to complete the interception. So, it depends on how you look at it. But if we’re going letter of the law, Carr hasn’t thrown a pick yet.

In sessions versus the run, both Marquel Lee and Derrick Johnson had solid stops. Lee kept containment out left to stop Marshawn Lynch from getting the edge and stuffed Jalen Richard up the gut with Tahir Whitehead helping sandwich him. Johnson held his gap discipline up the middle and had a nice spin out of a block attempt to make the stuff on James Butler.

A chink in Arden Key’s armor was shown as he didn’t seal the edge to allow Chris Warren III to get outside on him. He still took Jylan Ware’s lunch money in pass rush drills though.

Treyvon Hester played the run well in those sessions and did well in pass rush drills too. He kept driving to get some late pressure on Kelechi Osemele, then put a nice swim move on Oday Aboushi. He was twice held by the offensive lineman as well, by Aboushi and James Stone.

PJ Hall got inside pressure a couple times facing Denver Kirkland. Hall is looking like he’s starting to come into his own after being slow to show up well during the offseason program and then starting camp on the PUP list.

The other rookie defensive lineman, Maurice Hurst continues to show well. He had a couple pressures, one winning the hand fighting battle with Jordan Simmons, the other was just forcing the QB to step up into the pocket against Jon Feliciano.

Justin Ellis still gets nothing against Rodney Hudson, but he got pressure on Cameron Hunt.

Even with Gabe Jackson out, the trio of Osemele, Hudson, and Feliciano stonewall opposing linemen on stunts. They get nothing.

Today was Giorgio Tavecchio’s day to kick. He went 6 of 6 with makes from 39, 42, 45 (squeaker), 47, 49, and 50. He and Eddy Pineiro had gone 4 for 6 in their previous two days so now Pineiro will try and answer the bell. He is back up tomorrow as they have rotated all camp.