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Arden Key leads several Raiders camp surprises and standouts at the halfway point

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Oakland Raiders

We are eight days into training camp and some standouts are emerging. None more so than third round defensive end, Arden Key. Every day of camp, I find myself talking about his pass rush abilities. He has been dominating his match-ups in pass rush drills and it hasn’t seemed to matter who he faces.

Key’s instincts, speed, bend, and array of pass rush moves are something to behold. What may be more impressive, is he may just be scratching the surface of what he is capable of becoming.

He has had a couple of great moves on tackles in camp, including one on Kolton Miller on the first day in pads that had him jab step one way and shuck past him to get inside pressure. It was a great move he said “I just made it up.”

He doesn’t make these moves up on the spot, mind you. And he isn’t just flying around on instincts alone. He said he keeps his toolbox big and studies a lot of different pass rushers.

“I look at a lot of pass rushers to try to steal some of their moves and try it in one-on-ones. If it works, it works, and if I like it, then I’ll stick with it.”

“I always work on one move first and see if he beats it. If he beats it, then I’m going to counter with something else. If he beats my counter move, then I got to counter with another counter. So, different tools and I keep my pass rush tools wide.”

It’s important to note the he has rushed around the left side much of the time. That’s important because he has yet to face the Raiders Pro Bowl left tackle, Donald Penn, who hasn’t taken the field this offseason while he recovers from offseason foot surgery. Therefore, Key has faced rookies Kolton Miller and Brandon Parker as well as last year’s 7th round pick Jylan Ware.

Don’t let his competition downgrade his abilities too much. These are still NFL tackles he’s facing. Not only that, but he gets pressure nearly every time. Even the worst NFL tackles should win more battles than they lose and from what I’ve seen, it’s Key who has won the majority of the battles he’s had, regardless of who he has been across from him.

At this point, he is showing he can be a tremendous asset as a third down pass rusher. What he still must show is if he can play the run. Pass rush drills are just that. He can pin his ears back and go one-on-one with a tackle. In real game situations, he would have to remain disciplined and know when he must protect the edge from a runner or a screen pass. But thus far he has been everything the Raiders wanted from a pass rush perspective.

Other standouts:

Derek Carr has been outstanding at meeting Jon Gruden’s high expectations and implementing it on the field. The offense is fast paced and demanding of all its players, starting with him and extending to everyone on the field. Carr has yet to throw an interception through eight days.

Marshawn Lynch looks as tough to bring down as ever. He goes from laid back to violent in an instant and even with defenders not allowed to bring players to the ground, it’s clear he would make that a difficult prospect.

Keith Smith is a classic fullback type. That much we know. But what is surprising about this former linebacker is just how good his hands are. He is a smooth pass catcher with soft hands who will likely sneak up on a few defenses with his receiving abilities.

Interior trio of Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, and Gabe Jackson need no explanation. They are the best interior line in football and do their work as per usual.

Jon Feliciano hasn’t been a super star, but stepping in for Gabe Jackson the past few days at right guard, he has been impressive. If only for the fact that he has been working primarily as the second team center this offseason and camp and didn’t miss a beat moving to guard. He and Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele have shown to be a smothering wall when blocking as a trio in pass rush drills. That’s the kind of versatility the Raiders need from their reserve utility interior lineman.

Jordy Nelson draws raves from his teammates for his presence in the wide receiver room and shows his savvy abilities on the field. If he has lost a step, it doesn’t show, because he consistently gets open for long catches just as he did for Aaron Rodgers for years.

Ryan Switzer’s footwork and quickness is fun to watch. Then once he uses those abilities to shake his defender, he can separate and make catches often times makes some shocking plays. There have been a few times I’m watching him run a route and when the ball is released my mind finishes the play as an incompletion and yet he still gets to it. The other day it was on a deep ball which is noteworthy considering he is the team’s slot receiver.

Marcell Ateman shows up pretty much every day. First it was a lot of high point jump balls and back shoulder catches. Those are the plays the 6-4 receiver made a lot in college and primarily what he was drafted to do. But as he’s earned the confidence of his quarterback, he has branched out to show he has more catches in his repertoire.

Maurice Hurst has been standing out since day one. That has continued in camp. Going against the Raiders dominant interior trio is tough on any defender to consistently stand out, but not only has Hurst given them all they can handle, he has performed well against the second and third team linemen.

Treyvon Hester showed a lot of potential last season, but being drafted in the 7th round while Eddie Vanderdoes was drafted in the third round meant Hester would have a steeper hill to climb to prove his worth. The season finale saw Vanderdoes tear and ACL and has had him on PUP all of camp. Hester still has an uphill battle with the team drafting PJ Hall and Maurice Hurst, but he has been showing up both against the run and in pass rush drills to give the coaches a lot to think about.

Erik Harris continues to see first team work at safety. Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph still seem to get the bulk of first team work, but Harris has worked in a lot and the team loves what he has been doing as a personal protector on special teams. He has missed a few days with a broken finger that needed surgery, but is expected back when the team returns to practice Monday.

Shown flashes

PJ Hall didn’t show much in the offseason and came in late due to a torn pectoral muscle. After a couple days of camp, he has finally began to show off the power that made him the Raiders’ second round pick. He has some catching up to do, but his arrow is point up.

Nick Nelson missed all offseason recovering from a torn meniscus he suffered in workouts. While he was able to keep up with the new scheme, there’s no substitute for reps. In the past couple days he’s made a couple plays including getting up high to defend a pass for 6-4 Marcell Ateman in the end zone. The coaches have spoken of his length and he showed it on that pass.

Tevin Mitchel is a name you may not recognize. He spent most of last season on the team’s practice squad and was brought back on a futures deal. He has quietly had a very good camp, showing why, despite never appearing in an NFL game, the former 6th round pick has been signed several times to different teams and is heading into his fourth season as a practice squad player. He’s got talent. Mainly he has been unable to stay healthy. He was the closest to picking off Derek Carr this camp, swooping over from the deep safety spot to pick it off, but couldn’t keep possession inbounds before touching out of bounds.

Keep an eye on: G Jordan Simmons, T David Sharpe, WR Dwayne Harris, WR Saeed Blacknall, LB Marquel Lee, DE/ST Shilique Calhoun, S Erik Harris, and S Dallin Leavitt