Carrying over the good vibes and optimism built during OTAs and minicamp is often the name of the game for NFL teams when they enter training camp.
For the Las Vegas Raiders, progression from the initial year under head coach Josh McDaniels and his coaching staff to Year 2 is the focus. The Silver & Black training camp will showcase if lessons were indeed learned and there’s tangible improvement in a re-tooled roster with all eyes towards bettering a 6-11 performance the season before.
Training camp is a solid barometer of that. Especially when the pads come on and contact is allowed. Impressing in shorts and shirts is one thing. Performing with full shells is an entire universe altogether.
That all said, the Raiders minicamp provided insight on the progression heading into the second season with McDaniels and general manager Dave Ziegler at the helm.
And here’s a look at under the radar Raiders who have a shot at impressing in training camp and potentially strengthening their chance at making the 53-man roster:
Running back Zamir White:
Workhorse tailback Josh Jacobs blew the entire “running back by committee” approach up by dominating snaps and producing in 2022. That limited White’s rookie workload as the fourth-round pick got 17 totes for 70 yards on 40 total snaps. Raiders coaches are speaking highly of White’s work in OTAs and minicamp and it’ll be intriguing to see him take that training camp. White appears more confident and perhaps that’ll mean a more patient approach carrying the rock and improved vision when he gets some carries.
Offensive tackle Brandon Parker:
A triceps injury in last year’s training camp seemed to seal Parker’s fate — ending his stint in Silver & Black. But the Raiders brought back the 2018 third-round pick this offseason and he’ll find himself again fighting for a spot on the offensive line. Offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo spoke highly of Parker in media sessions earlier this month and Parker is expected to compete with Jermaine Eluemunor and Thayer Munford for the starting gig at right tackle. Eluemunor has the inside edge but can bounce inside to right guard if supplanted from tackle.
Tight end O.J. Howard:
McDaniels wasn’t pleased with his tight end’s blocking ability last season and the group is remade. Don’t sleep on Howard, though. The veteran may not be as spry as he once was as a 2017 first-round pick, but he’s an effective blocker. Weather it’s seal blocks or keeping defenders at bay in the pass and run game, Howard holds his own. He may be TE3 material with promising rookie Michael Mayer and Austin Hooper likely duking it out for the top spot, but having a trio of tight ends that can block will please McDaniels.
Wide receiver Cam Sims:
A huge target at 6-foot-5, Sims offers a mismatch option at wide receiver. His receiving numbers dwindled in Washington, but he begins anew in Las Vegas. Where Sims can make an immediate impact is on special teams as a gunner — in the mold of Mack Hollins. He played a career-high 244 snaps on special teams last season in Washington.
Cornerback Tyler Hall:
If Nate Hobbs is again playing on the boundary and covering outside receivers this coming season, there’s a high likely hood it’s because Hall shined in the slot. An in-season acquisition in 2022, Hall was a regular from Week 11 on and was a stingy corner. According to Pro Football Reference, Hall was targeted 16 times allowing nine receptions for 90 yards (56.3 completion percentage) in 219 total snaps. He didn’t miss a single tackle last season racking up 20 total.
Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao:
The tallest defensive back on the roster at 6-foot-4, the rangy USC product can come into his own in Year 2. The Raiders deployed Pola-Mao sparingly like the Trojans did — playing him close to the line of scrimmage as as hunter-killer type that attacks and blitzes. Las Vegas tends to place three safeties on the field at the same time and at his size and speed, Pola-Mao can be the in-the-box safety.
Linebacker Drake Thomas:
A tackling machine during his N.C. State career, the undersized Thomas (5-foot-11, 223 pounds) has a solid opportunity to become a backup middle linebacker. The Raiders depth at the position is unsettled at best as Robert Spillane is the likely starter. Thomas impressed the Raiders coaching staff earlier this month and if he can do the same in training camp with pads on, the undrafted free agent can earn a spot.
Edge rusher Adam Plant:
The UNLV product drew high praise from veteran Chandler Jones earlier this month and for good reason. The undrafted free agent is an angular 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and showcases relentlessness required at the position. He racked up 62 total tackles, 13.5 stops for loss and eight sacks last year at UNLV. That’s the kind of production the Raiders need more of from the defensive end group.