Camp has officially wrapped in Napa. The trucks are pulling out and are heading for Alameda as the Raiders begin their regular season routine. There was a total of 13 viewable practices in camp and a lot was to be gleaned from it.
AB will always be the story
Not a day went by that Antonio Brown wasn’t a story or THE story. So much so that I wrote an entire timeline of it. AB seems to like it that way. And you all tend to think we (the media) like it that way too. Stories are great and all, but at some point it’s too much. We passed that point a ways back. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can tell you the news I wanted to report on more than anything was what AB was doing on the field in camp. Instead I was giving updates on frostbitten feet, helmet grievances and celebrity chef lawsuits. That’s not my idea of fun. Though Hard Knocks is sopping it up like pigs at a trough. Can you blame them?
The defense has a brain...and a mouth
I was a bit skeptical about the Raiders signing Vontaze Burfict. Still am, in fact. His penchant for getting suspended for personal fouls is concerning. As for his control of this defense, however, there is no question his value. His knowledge of Guenther’s scheme and ability to communicate it to his teammates is impressive. He demands communication from his teammates and one in particular is more than happy to talk — rookie safety Johnathan Abram. The first round pick has swagger for days and the mouth to match it. While Burfict has to ride some players to get them to talk, he’d kinda like Abram to talk a bit less. He’ll take the bad with the good on that one, though.
Easily the most noticeable difference between this team and last is speed. Most notably on the offense. Once Amari Cooper was traded to Dallas midway through last year, the Raiders top receiver was the 36-year-old Jordy Nelson. Others cycled in were Seth Roberts, Marcell Ateman, and Brandon LaFell. Not exactly a group of burners. Enter the long striding Tyrell Williams, quick slot target Ryan Grant, blazer JJ Nelson, and, of course, (if he returns any time soon) Antonio Brown. Toss in Darren Waller at tight end and Josh Jacobs at running back and this team just got exponentially faster.
The bubble is real
There will be some tough cuts. Yeah, I know, they say that every year. But this time it may be for real. The Raiders are looking deep at receiver, running back, defensive interior, and cornerback. For that reason, you may see some surprises at those positions come the cutdown day. That means cutting players you thought would make it and keeping more players at a position than usual because they just can’t part with them for fear they will get scooped up and used against them.
Hold the line
The guard positions have some big questions to be answered right now. Richie Incognito is suspended the first two games and Gabe Jackson figures to the out the first month with an MCL injury. They’ve been working on finding replacements for those spots ever since Jackson’s injury. At this point it appears backup center Jordan Devey will step into the right guard spot for Jackson while the left guard spot will either be Jonathan Cooper or Denzelle Good who returned from PUP this week.
WE NEED SOME F—KIN’ EXECUTION!
This time of year, the talk is always that the team is better across the board and they expect big things this season. Whether they truly believe that is another story. Gruden flipped the switch from lovable motivator to angry dad in the recent episode of Hard Knocks because he wasn’t getting the execution he wanted in practice. The scrimmages the Raiders had with the Rams were revealing in that they showed that regardless if this team is improved — and it is — it’s still got a long way to go before it can hang with a team like the Rams.
Gruden started the rebuild in Oakland the moment he arrived last year. With that he told the rookies he needed them to not play like rookies. Well, they did. The best looking rookie was Maurice Hurst and he still had room to grow. The rest of that draft was a rough one to start things off. But this time, for real, the Raiders REALLY need these guys to step up right away and produce.
Currently all three of the team’s first round picks are starters. Fourth overall pick Clelin Ferrell is being asked to upgrade their pass rush, 24th overall pick Josh Jacobs is being asked to carry the load at running back, and 27th overall pick Johnathan Abram is starting at safety alongside former first round pick Karl Joseph. You could also add AJ Cole who is replacing last year’s 5th round pick Johnny Townsend at punter. As for the rest of those underachieving second year players, they need to take that year two jump. Namely Arden Key and Kolton Miller.
Livin’ on the edge
There will be new starters at defensive end for the Raiders this season. Rookie Clelin Ferrell and veteran Josh Mauro. Entering on third down will be Arden Key. After them it’s veteran Benson Mayowa and rookie fourth round pick, Maxx Crosby. That’s fairly decent depth especially when you consider last year they have Arden Key and prayers. The thing is though, despite the added talent and bodies, there hasn’t been a lot of evidence to show they are going to upgrade the pass rush enough to drag them out of the NFL pass rush cellar.
Consider that based on last year’s numbers (13 sacks), this team could have had twice that and STILL would have been last in the NFL by 4.0 sacks. I don’t know if I’ve seen in this group one that will be twice as productive in the pass rush as last season. I mean, maybe they can generate more sacks from blitzing linebackers and safeties, but I haven’t seen it from the edge rushers yet. The only possible exception would be Arden Key, though he looked absolutely elite in last year’s camp and then put up just 1.0 sack last season, so I’m reserving some judgment there as well.