Raiders training camp roundup

The Raiders elected to go without pads for the first time since they were allowed, which was planned early in the offseason head coach Jack Del Rio said, which is a perfect time to roundup what we’ve learned at camp.

Receiver battle is a close one

The Raiders revamped secondary has looked good, so good in fact, that it’s been tough to evaluate groups on the offense. Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree continue to progress in honing their craft as receivers, and it remains too close to call for the fifth and sixth receivers.

K.J. Brent, Johnny Holton and Joe Hansley have shown up as undrafted rookies, and the competition figures to be within those three for the remaining spots behind Cooper, Crabtree, Andre Holmes and Seth Roberts.

A big question mark heading into the Raiders first preseason game in Green Bay, though, will be whether Roberts is solidified as the number three wideout.

Holton and Brent are both bigger than the 5-foot-8 Hansley, with Brent touching tree tops at 6-foot-4 and Holton at 6-foot.

The Raiders like ’em big, and Brent could be one guy who surges up the depth chart this preseason.

Still no answers at running back

Latavius Murray is the presumed starter to line up behind quarterback Derek Carr, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess as how the depth chart will shake out. Despite drafting DeAndre Washington in the fifth round, undrafted rookie Jalen Richard has flashed over the last week and could be the second to go.

Coming out of Southern Missouri (Conference USA), Richard averaged 5.9 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns during his senior season, and seems to have figured something out in his game. He also caught 30 passes that year, signaling that he can do any number of things the Raiders might ask of him.

Washington, meanwhile, was seen as more of an outside the hashes, change of pace back, which limits what the team can do with him until he proves otherwise.

Jamize Olawale could also be a player to watch, along with Marcel Reece, if the Raiders want to double down on size at tailback.

Good Luck Mr. Rivers and Mr. Smith

It’s anyone’s guess as to who will start at quarterback for the Broncos, but Alex Smith and Philip Rivers won’t like the four combined games they have to play against the Raiders’ secondary.

Rookie Karl Joseph has looked as advertised, and Reggie Nelson could do even better than he did with the Bengals last season, where he intercepted eight passes and added another 14 passes defensed and 50 tackles.

Free agent add Sean Smith, David Amerson and T.J. Carrie also appear ready to stifle opposing wideouts, and any hint of rust is hard to find. The Raiders have secondary depth in spades this season, and it might turn into the best group the team has ever had.

Hey Rook! Grab these pads while you’re at it!

Linebacker Shilique Calhoun was carrying Khalil Mack‘s pads after Sundays practice, and didn’t seem to have a problem with it. The pass rusher Oakland drafted in the third round has been all over during camp, making tackles in the backfield and out-maneuvering running backs in the flat.

Calhoun says that he is where he expected himself to be in the process of becoming a pro, but that he’s still looking to improve wherever he can:

“I still have a long way to go, honestly, but I think it’s a process. I think that I do believe I’m in a great position for understanding the concepts of the defense. Whether it’s being a run defender and understanding my gap or being out in the pads and understanding what coverage I’m supposed to be in. Who I have over the top of me, or where my help is at. I think that I’ve matured mentally, definitely in that aspect, as well as physically.”

Closing thoughts

I won’t be in Napa Saturday — it’ll be a family fun day, in San Francisco perhaps — so here are some random thoughts to close:

There is no doubt in my mind that these Raiders will achieve more that any Oakland team, save for the 2014-15 Warriors, have over the last 10 or 15 years. But it will be an uphill climb.

In order to take the step from 7 wins to 10 or 12, the units will need to work together cohesively, and that also includes the coaching staff. This season might be more crucial for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave than any other player or coach.

His schemes are unique to the NFL at times and have created some interesting questions. Will Cooper catch a lot of balls in the flat, similar to screen passes again? What will the tight end usage look like? The boom or bust run game?

There is plenty of talent to work with, and Oakland boasts arguably the most well-rounded offensive group in all of football, so there’s no reason not to win games there. For the sake of the Raiders and the fans, I hope that Musgrave will stick with the running attack more than he did last season.

Too often would the running game be washed away after some stagnant drives stalled the offense, with Musgrave seemingly forgetting that his starting back is a feast or famine player who will get the ball well downfield with enough opportunities.

It was a painstakingly difficult thing to watch as someone who loves ball and played it until there was no more light through the years (essentially until my son was born and my runs downfield turned to runs for the diaper pail) when the offense turned into an easy-to-predict game of find the open tight end.

There was little deviation from that during the final eight games of the season, and an element that I largely attribute to the Raiders not breaking even on the season. To be fair in that regard, though, the number one reason I will give is injuries and lack of depth in the defensive secondary.

So here’s to the end of the first chapter or training camp, and maybe some Ghirardelli┬áice cream sundaes.


Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of Raiders football.