Yes, it’s the dog days of summer. That six week period between now and the start of formal training camp is enough to drive football fans crazy. Our own Hayden Nadolny closes the book on minicamp with his take on what we learned about this remade Oakland Raiders roster.
The Raiders wrapped up their off-season program with their mandatory minicamp last week and are now set for an almost six-week break before heading to Napa for training camp. Let’s take a look at the top takeaways and standouts from the past week’s work:
Erik Harris is Flying Up the Secondary Depth Chart
I’ve been saying for a while that Erik Harris was an underrated pick up for this team and how he’ll need to use his speed and distinct talents to separate himself from other competition at safety to ensure he gets a spot on the 53-man roster. Harris has been a shining light this off-season, exceeding all expectations and will likely get a chance to have significant snaps on defense during training camp. Jon Gruden joked that Harris’ performance made him go back and figure out what other teams and coaches have missed on him. Harris then backed up Gruden’s praise with an interception on Day 2 of minicamp. In what is going to be a tremendous camp competition at safety, Harris has added extra grit and toughness that will only make Napa all the more interesting.
Past Coaches Thrown Under the Bus – Again
It’s no secret that there was considerable tension between a number of members of the Raiders organization (be it players and front office) and the previous coaching staff. This has resulted in plenty of passive-aggressive remarks not so subtly directed at one another over the off-season. This trend continued during minicamp last week. Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele was asked about the difference between coach Tom Cable and previous coach Mike Tice, and he didn’t hold back, claiming that Cable was really pushing the group to be their best, while Tice at times was “babying” players. This is in stark contrast to comments Tice made some months ago, in which he claimed that “players don’t want to be coached anymore.” Regardless, a new regime has reinvigorated a considerable portion of the team, giving fans reason for optimism that 2017 was a blip on the radar in the Raiders’ pursuit of greatness.
2018 Rookie Class Showing Plenty of Promise
Analysts across the board have said the 2018 Raiders draft class will either be boom or bust for Gruden and company. So far, things are looking good.
With Donald Penn still rehabbing his foot injury, Kolton Miller has had extensive work with the first offensive unit at left tackle and pleased Cable throughout minicamp. Cable said that Miller’s play to date has put an “exclamation point” on why the Raiders picked him in the first round. Granted, Cable did go on to say that linemen can’t be fully evaluated until they put the pads on for the first time, but Miller has been a fast learner and demonstrated a number of qualities that you need in a left tackle moving forward. Miller’s bookend Brandon Parker has too been impressive on the right side of the line. Parker is currently in a competition with Breno Giacomini for the starting right tackle position. Having two rookies bookend the offensive line could be a recipe for disaster, but the wealth of experience on the inside may help offset any trepidation here.
It is hard to imagine him getting better in the later years of a long-term deal. Hence, the Raiders may be financially better off doing what many could conceive to be unthinkable – electing to franchise tag Mack over the next two seasons. – Nadolny on Mack
On the defensive side of the ball, Maurice Hurst has been a standout. He has shown an exception football IQ in the meeting rooms and on the field along with his trademark quick first step. Hurst has been getting lots of time with the starters, such that there has been some speculation that should Hurst’s form continue, Mario Edwards could be traded for a draft pick before final cuts. Such speculation at this point makes for entertaining reading, but it would seem unlikely.
Nonetheless, the Raiders feel like they’ve jagged a true gem in Hurst. Hurst’s rookie counterpart at defensive tackle, PJ Hall, has also turned heads with his promise. Like Hurst, Hall has a quick first step and is a hard worker on and off the field. He is at this point more of a raw product and will likely only see the field in obvious passing situations. In keeping with the defensive line theme, third-round pick Arden Key has shown a real pass rushing nous, with great bend and angles in his pursuit of the quarterback. The Raiders have earmarked Key for significant playing time to give Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack a breather during games so that they are both fresh late in games to hunt the quarterback.
Raiders Bracing for Time Without Martavis Bryant?
Michael Gelkhen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week that the Raiders are concerned that Martavis Bryant may be in the firing line of the NFL for another suspension. At this stage, it is not known what may have potentially happened to alter his standing with the NFL to warrant a further suspension. Despite the concerns, neither Bryant or the Raiders have been notified by the NFL of any potential punishment looming. Until anything happens on that front, one should assume he will be available for week 1 of the regular season.
If Bryant is suspended, it would be a devastating blow for Gruden’s offense. Bryant has been extremely sharp in the off-season program, displaying a unique size and speed combination that is currently not otherwise on the current Raiders roster. It would ultimately put Seth Roberts back in the frame to get more game time, which may be a concern given Roberts’ struggles over the last 12 months.
Ryan Switzer is More Than Just a Special Teams Guy
When news broke of Jihad Ward being traded during the draft, the Raiders would have considered themselves to ‘win’ the trade even if it was just for a packet of chips. Instead, getting Ryan Switzer in return has been a masterstroke by Reggie McKenzie and Gruden. Switzer was a Rich Bisaccia special teams ace in Dallas and is expected to feature heavily in that area of the game in Oakland under the same coordinator. Where Switzer has surprised this off-season has been his ability in the slot, getting extensive first-team reps in that position. This would certainly alleviate concern should Bryant be suspended, albeit they are two different types of receivers. Switzer adds a ‘wiggle’ to the wide receiver group that Oakland hasn’t had in the slot in well over a decade.
Khalil Mack’s Holdout
Though expected, Khalil Mack’s absence at the three-day mandatory minicamp last week can’t be construed as anything other than a disappointment. The Raiders are in a bit of a catch 22 situation. Mack is going to be 28 going on 29 at the start of next season, so the number of years he has at the elite level may be limited. This ultimately means that Mack’s next payday (assuming he gets a long-term deal) will likely be the only time he gets to truly cash in on his talents. From the Raiders perspective, giving Mack a five year deal in the $100 million range may not be in their best interests given that three years of the contract will be seasons in which Mack is aged 30 or older at the start of the season, and we all know that there can be a quick drop off in production once players hit 30. That’s not to say that Mack will fall off a cliff, but his prime years are from now through to the end of 2018.
It is hard to imagine him getting better in the later years of a long-term deal. Hence, the Raiders may be financially better off doing what many could conceive to be unthinkable – electing to franchise tag Mack over the next two seasons. It would ensure Mack remains a Raider at a below market value price, while still getting him for his prime years. At the same time, such a decision could create bad blood between Mack and the Raiders and potentially be a turn off to other influential players in the locker room.
It will be very interesting to see how the Raiders play this one. If a deal isn’t done by the start of training camp, fans will certainly have the right to start panicking.