Let’s move to the defensive side of the ball and see who has been making an impression in Raiders training camp thus far.
Standout: Johnathan Hankins
Hankins joined the team after week one of last season. He didn’t have a full offseason or training camp like many Raiders players on the team. He just came in and started the rest of the season. He was pretty good too, all things considered. Now he’s lost some weight and is moving around well. Gruden said he is his most improved player this year. He has the tough task of often facing off against the Raiders’ top interior lineman in Rodney Hudson, but he still manages to get some pressure and run stops up the gut.
Sleeper: Ethan Westbrooks
The sixth year veteran was signed a few days into camp and made some noise of late. Gruden decided he wanted someone who could practice right now and Ronald Ollie was injured on the second day of camp, so he was out and Westbrooks was in. The Oakland native has appeard in 63 games over five seasons with the Rams, including every game the past three seasons, so he is no scrub. The other day in practice, he had a pressure, and fought off Gabe Jackson to make a run stuff as well.
Standout/sleeper: Maxx Crosby
It’s hard to say whether he’s a standout or a sleeper, so I’m going to say both. Not to say he’s been THAT good, but he’s certainly stood out. Whether it’s his hustle in warmups and drills or his play in team sessions. He has been flying around making plays. They say control what you can control and that begins with hustle. He’s got that for days. As a fourth round pick with several players who could get playing time ahead of him, he is a bit of a sleeper.
Standout: Vontaze Burfict
He is a vocal leader who insists on constant communication. He even gives instruction to Derek Carr at times. He could run this defense in his sleep but to do it, he needs his fellow defenders to talk to him. It’s forcing some players who might otherwise be the quiet types to come out of their comfort zones. And that looks to be a very good thing. The other players on this Raiders defense can’t stop talking about how smart Burfict is and they all look to him for instruction both on the field and in the film room.
Sleeper: Nicholas Morrow
Every year he stands out and this is his third season with the team. He is a sleeper mainly because he’s again relegated to backup for this team. This time it’s Brandon Marshall who runs with the first team ahead of Morrow. There was a cool moment following a team session in which there were two plays. It was DeAndre Washington vs Marshall and Doug Martin vs Morrow. Washington put a move on Marshall that froze him while Washington hauled in the pass and took off. Then Morrow stuck with Martin like glue, not falling for his fake and batted the pass down deep. Marshall is considered one of the best cover linebackers in the league. Morrow’s skills in that area is only well known among Raiders fans.
Standout: Lamarcus Joyner
On the first day of camp, Hunter Renfrow beat Joyner for a couple catches. He told Renfrow at that point that he wouldn’t be catching any more passes on him. And if he has, I have not seen it. Also, the one day that Antonio Brown participated in one-on-ones, the only Raiders cornerback to could hang with him was Joyner.
Sleeper: Nevin Lawson
A former starter with the Lions, he has looked quite good in camp thus far. He has had a few pass breakups, though no interceptions. Then again, no corners have. One day he had a couple pass breakups and one that he should have picked. Lions fans know this all too well with him. He has 25 passes defended the past four seasons, but has never had an interception.
Update: Well, this is awkward.
Standout: Erik Harris
While Abram’s aggressive and nature gets talked about a lot, there haven’t been a lot of plays made by the safeties this camp. Harris gets the nod mainly because he is the only one who has intercepted a pass. Not just the only safety, but the only anyone. He also routinely shows the most hustle in drills and stays trying to rip the ball out of offensive players’ hands.
Sleeper: Curtis Riley
A 16-game starter last season in Tennessee, he has shown an ability to consistently be around the ball. He and Harris have been the second team safeties this camp behind starters Abram and Karl Joseph. In Sunday’s practice, Riley stuffed a Josh Jacobs run out right and later came on a blitz and fought through a block attempt by tight end Foster Moreau to get a sack on Nathan Peterman.