With the Las Vegas Raiders’ training camp beginning this week, the anticipation for football grows stronger. The rookies and the quarterbacks already arrived, and the rest of the team reports on Tuesday.
The Raiders outlook is unknown, with many question marks. They are a young, inexperienced team different from most of Jon Gruden's time as a coach.
Most of the secondary is from the last three draft classes. Same with the defensive line, running backs and wide receivers. If everything goes as planned, the Raiders will deploy one of the youngest starting lineups in the NFL.
Raiders didn’t let the media watch 11 on 11s during minicamp. It makes training camp even more exciting because it will be the first look at the depth chart.
What are the main questions heading into training camp? Let’s take a look.
Who will be the starting slot corner?
The slot cornerback position is up for grabs. With the departure of LaMarcus Joyner, the Raiders have to find a fill-in for their nickel defense.
The competition is between Amik Robertson, Nate Hobbs, and Nevin Lawson. Lawson received support from Gus Bradley at his press conference but will be suspended early in the season.
This leaves the battle for Week 1 between Robertson and Hobbs. Robertson is learning the transition to slot corner playing outside at Louisiana Tech. He barely saw playing time in 2020, but the Raiders are hoping for a jump in year two.
Nevin Lawson "has really jumped out" at slot cornerback, defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. Rookie Nate Hobbs is also getting a lot of work there. #Raiders— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) June 16, 2021
In comes Hobbs, the fifth-round pick out of Illinois. He was mentioned in Bradley’s press conference as well. Hobbs has the opportunity to take the starting role. He might never give it back if he plays well, which is an excellent outlook for the defense.
Which receiver builds a connection with Carr?
Tight end Darren Waller is the top pass catcher on this team. However, establishing a receiver who Derek Carr can count on to win outside is paramount for this offense. At least, one receiver must build a connection of trust with Carr during training camp.
From minicamp whispers, the early front runner may be Henry Ruggs. Carr spoke about Ruggs working with him after practice on routes to polish his game.
“Even what he did last year, with no OTAs, was impressive,” Carr said of Ruggs at minicamp, “Maybe he didn’t have a breakout season, a 1,000-yard season, or anything like that. But things he did for us in certain moments, it was impressive. So now he knows the offense, he knows the quarterback, he knows who’s around him, all those things. He’s working with me after practice. I’m very excited for Henry. Now he’s gotta go do it.”
The former Alabama standout is who the Raiders brass wants to take the next step.
Bryan Edwards was the star of the 2020 training camp. He will be on Ruggs’ heels fighting for targets with a chance to be the X receiver in this offense. Edwards traits and college production project him to be a starter in the NFL. Last year he moved the chains with nine of his 11 receptions becoming first downs.
Free-agent addition John Brown is a solid receiver, but a lot of draft capital has been spent at the position. The young players need to step up, but if they don’t, Brown may have to.
Does Damon Arnette have a role on this team?
Cornerback Damon Arnette was a surprise pick in the first round of 2020. His disappointing play and injuries have allowed rumors to swirl like an ice cream cone about his work ethic. All of this has caused a slide in the depth chart for the former Ohio State Buckeye.
Casey Hayward's signing was the first sign of doom for Arnette. The two-time Pro Bowler has 23 career interceptions and spent years in Bradley's system. Trayvon Mullen displays he is a solid second cornerback in the league, leaving Arnette in the abyss.
Raiders in Cover 3. The amount of time Mahomes hold the ball before throwing will break most zone coverage. Still Raiders not on the same page on how to adjust to Yankee. Arnette passes Kelce off to nobody. pic.twitter.com/en0XPGkGYe— BD Williams (@BDWilliams18) July 2, 2021
Training camp now becomes crucial for Arnette with no starting spot. Other veterans like Rasul Douglas are primed to beat him out with their zone coverage expertise. Zone coverage was an area where Arnette struggled in 2020 with route recognition. Teams were able to create big plays from his mistakes.
Worst case scenario, here is a trade that would be devastating. After trading third-round pick Lynn Bowden in 2020, if Arnette doesn’t step up, it could be the same story. Let’s pray that doesn’t happen.
Is Andre James as advertised?
Rodney Hudson was a pillar for this offensive line since 2015. He’s known as one of the brightest centers in the league, and the world was shocked when he was shipped to Arizona. The Raiders believe his backup the last two seasons is ready for the bright lights. The Raiders are counting on Andre James to fill the void left by Hudson.
James is a mystery for Raider fans. The Raiders felt confident to pay him starting center money based on how he looked in practice. His first two performances in the NFL were up and down. He played well against the Houston Texans coming in for Hudson but struggled against the Detroit Lions with plenty of bad snaps.
Tom Cable should get the benefit of the doubt here. Kolton Miller’s development is tremendous and the same with Simpson during the season. James could be progressing behind the scenes and prove he is worth the money.
If he doesn’t perform well, the Raiders have an insurance plan. Nick Martin from the Houston Texans is a solid center which is known more for his pass blocking. If James can’t cut it, Martin will take the spot and run with it for the rest of the season.