After today, the Raiders are through four training camp practices and have a day off tomorrow. You may not have been able to follow every snap of every practice so here are the main story-lines I’m following at this point:
- Ben Heeney is looking like a starter
One of the most interesting developments of the first week of practices is that second year linebacker Ben Heeney is starting camp as the designee for the little green dot. The dot, of course, marks the helmet of the defensive player who will be receiving the playcalls directly from the defensive coordinator and then relays the calls to the rest of the defenseThis is a big step up for Heeney, who was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft but who worked his way into the starting rotation late into the season after ineffectiveness (Curtis Lofton and Ray-Ray Armstrong) and injury (Neiron Ball) thinned the linebacker corps. As the designee for the helmet with the speaker that allows him to hear Ken Norton Jr’s calls, Heeney would be on the field much or most of the time and so the fact that he is the front-runner for this position speaks well of his development.Heeney has had a decent camp thus far and he is working on playing aggressively but not overly so – he recently referenced pre-draft opinions that said he would get out of place or miss tackles due to being over-aggressive. In the first 3 days of camp, he’s had some pressure into the backfield and forced a fumble from Amari Cooper on Saturday.
- DJ Hayden is first in line for the slot
One of the big surprises through the first days of camp has been that DJ Hayden is slotted over TJ Carrie and getting most of the first team reps in the slot. Coming into camp, I thought that Hayden may have a struggle to even make the team, much less being essentially a starter with so many multiple receiver sets on offenses these days.Perhaps even more surprising, Hayden has looked pretty good! Operating out of the slot when runing with the starters and then rotating outside for the 2nd unit Hayden achieved 2 INTs in first two days of camp…something I doubt many people saw coming. He will, of course, need to carry it over into preseason and the regular season to keep seeing playing time but this is a welcome development for the team.
- Menelik Watson has the edge at RT
Coming into training camp, it was unclear who would get first team reps: Watson or Austin Howard, who started for the team at RT for most of last season. Through the first 4 practices, first team reps have been going to Watson for the most part, with Howard getting a few.Watson, a former 2nd round pick, has a lot of potential due to his size, strength, and speed but he has never been able to stay healthy and contribute for an extended period of time. The Raiders are hoping that the previous injury issues are over, now, and have pencilled him in as Carr’s protector on the right end. Watson will need to continue to prove himself in camp but the initial edge is his.
- Karl Joseph working hard to be an impact player
Joseph is coming off a season-ending knee injury and hadn’t practiced with the team in any of the off-season activities until Day 1 of training camp. He was immediately inserted into the starting lineup opposite Reggie Nelson.Joseph is working on getting back into football shape after not playing for months and he is also having to make the difficult transition from college to the pros. To assist, Joseph has frequently spent time after practice working on his skills with a trainer so that he can make an impact as soon as possible.Typically after the last horns sound at camp, the players will exit into the workout facility next to the field, do a quick session of weight-lifting, shower, and then leave the field area for the day. Instead of immediately exiting the field like many of his teammates, Joseph has been staying on the field to work on his reflexes.On Saturday, he stayed behind and caught footballs shot from a Jugs machine:
— Jimmy Durkin (@Jimmy_Durkin) July 30, 2016
On Sunday, he stayed after again and again worked on his hands. You can see him in the background, here, again catching passes:
— Eddie Paskal (@EddiePaskal) July 31, 2016
Reportedly, Joseph also spent some time catching the tennis balls that Ellis was practicing in the foreground.
- Backup battles starting to shape up
- At quarterback, fourth-round rookie Connor Cook has struggled in his first two days. It’s way too early to read much into this other than it’s very likely for the Raiders to carry three quarterbacks into the season – Carr, McGloin and Cook.
- Speaking of fourth-round picks, last year’s pick in that round, guard Jon Feliciano, is currently looking like the top option at backup guard and center. He has played both through the first 4 camp practices at both guard and as the center with the second team. When Kelechi Osemele missed Sunday’s practice due to a minor leg injury, Feliciano got the first-team reps at left guard in his absence.
- Several UDFAs are standing out in practices thus far:
- The UDFA I’m most interested in watching in pre-season is running back Jalen Richard, who has earned his way into the 3rd running back spot in camp (behind Murray and fellow rookie DeAndre Washington) with great speed. It will be very interesting to see how he does with live tackling in a game experience.
- DE/OLB James Crowder – nicknamed “Sunshine” has had some good plays throughout the offseason and that has continued in training camp. He remains a dark horse candidate to make the team.
- WR Joe Hansley caught two deep TD passes from McGloin in Sunday’s practice, which certainly caught the attention of the coaches. The wide receiver position is pretty set but he may be able to hang on to either the last spot or parlay his upside into a scouting team experience.