Observations From Las Vegas Raiders Training Camp
One of the things I miss most about working in the league is being able to be at training camp practice and watch the players compete and the team come together. There’s something special about training camp as there’s just so much optimism and competition in the air. If your favorite team ever has open practices, I highly recommend attending.
Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending one of my former team's camps in Las Vegas. First and foremost, the Raiders’ new digs are something to behold, and NFL fans are going to absolutely love visiting Allegiant Stadium. I attended both Saturday and Sunday’s practices and was able to come away with some great takeaways a week ahead of the team’s first preseason game. I can tell this team has a different edge about them this season and they appeared to be very dialed in. While I wrote down several things I noticed, below are four of the main takeaways I got from Raiders camp.
Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards Appear Ready
Rewind to the 2020 NFL Draft and it was very clear that the Raiders needed to add receiving help after their attempt to bring in Antonio Brown drastically backfired. The team drafted three receivers in the top three rounds and while one isn’t on the team anymore, the other two are set to be huge cogs in the offense. Ruggs III and Edwards both failed to make a significant impact as rookies, but judging from the way they looked at practice, I believe they are both ready to take a major sophomore leap.
Ruggs III really impressed me by the way he carried himself on the practice field. He was always first in line for drills, looked very confident catching the ball, and displayed that swagger he had at Alabama that we didn’t see last season. His blazing speed was very evident in practice and you can see the added weight he put on looks good. Another reason for optimism for Ruggs III is the way he was being used at practice. He lined up outside, in the slot, at F, and was schemed the football in a variety of ways. It is very clear that head coach Jon Gruden intends to feature Ruggs III in the passing game.
Perhaps no receiver in the league not named CeeDee Lamb has received more hype this offseason than Edwards. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver has drawn comparisons to Hall of Famers such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens—and while those comparisons may be a bit of a stretch, he certainly did look impressive. His size, ball skills, and catch radius separate him from the rest of the Raiders' receivers and he creates a very easy security blanket for quarterback Derek Carr. Edwards flashed his acrobatic body control a few times adjusting to off-target throws and coming down with the football.
Between Ruggs III, Edwards, and Hunter Renfrow, the Raiders have a talented and young starting trio with outstanding depth behind them with players like John Brown and Zay Jones sure to make an impact as well.
Defensive Backfield Should Be Much Improved
Last season, the Raiders' Achilles heel was their secondary. The unit, which was led by three young and highly drafted players, routinely gave up big plays—especially late in games. This offseason, the Raiders' front office prioritized adding more coverage help, and judging from practice, I believe they have done so.
Veteran and former Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward signed with the Raiders this past offseason, reuniting with his former defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. While Hayward appeared to have lost a step or two last season with the Chargers, he looked springy and youthful over the weekend. Hayward was moving around great and was a coach on the field helping Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette with their assignments. His ability and his veteran leadership should be a huge help this season.
The other player in the secondary that stood out was this year’s second-round pick Tre’Von Moehrig. Moehrig appears to have already secured the starting free safety job and his size, athleticism, and instincts really popped in practice. His ability to win in man coverage is outstanding and rare, even compared to cornerbacks who share his size and length. Moehrig’s range and ability to cover will allow former first-round pick Johnathan Abram to play in the box and make plays around the line of scrimmage where his aggressiveness and physical style of play can be best utilized. Expect to see Abrams playing a Jamal Adams type of role and look for him to be an asset rushing the passer off blitzes.
Yannick Ngakoue Looks to Pay Dividends
Ever since the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears, the team has been searching for a difference-maker rushing the passer. The team appears to have swung and missed with their 2019 top-five pick Clelin Ferrell as he is more of a situational player at this point. They did find a diamond in the rough in that same class in Maxx Crosby, as he has proven to be a very solid player in his two years in the league. While Crosby has certainly outperformed his fourth-round status, he isn’t the type of edge rusher that will have offensive coordinators up at night and that’s exactly what the Raiders need.
After finishing 29th in sacks last season, the Raiders went out and signed Ngakoue to help bring some juice to their edge group. Ngakoue, who primarily wins with an outstanding get-off and speed around the edge, was absolutely unblockable in the two practices I watched. He appears set to lead this team in sacks and his presence will only help Crosby and the rest of the defensive line have more one-on-one opportunities.
Kenyan Drake Will Have Major Role
When the Raiders signed Drake to a two-year deal worth up to $14.3 million and $11 million guaranteed, the team was slandered quite a bit. I mean, who gives a backup running back that much money when you have a Pro Bowl back ahead of him in Josh Jacobs and so many other needs to fill? While I may not agree with the amount of money Drake received, there is no denying he is a talented player.
Drake has excellent size, explosive speed, and is an outstanding pass-catcher. Watching Drake at practice, it’s easy to see why Gruden would want to add a versatile playmaker like him to this offense. Drake will see the field a ton this year in the backfield spelling Jacobs, and even will play alongside Jacobs in 21-personnel (two-back sets). Drake will also be utilized as a receiver as well and there were numerous times he was split out wide. His unique skill set should give defenses some trouble this upcoming season.