Training Camp Report: Day One
Henderson, Nev.--People are hungry for information on their beloved Las Vegas Raiders, and I am here with a smorgasbord of food. Let's dig right into the latest on your beloved Silver and Black.
I get a lot of nuggets and information that alone are not big enough for a story. When I have a few that I can assemble, I will. So, welcome to The Black Hole:
I can tell you this: Raider Nation has a ton to be excited about. This article is already long, or I could give you many more reasons and players to be excited about. Keep your eyes out for the next "Black Hole," and please tell your friends about it by sharing it on social media.
- Coach Jon Gruden couldn't contain his excitement as camp opened today, from the moment he arrived at the podium.
- "Everybody has made their playing weight. We asked them to return in shape. It appears every man has done that, that's very exciting," was how he opened the 2021 campaign.
- Gruden again found himself discussing the unquestioned (inside the Raiders team) quarterback and leader of the franchise, Derek Carr.
- Gruden said of his gunslinger, "Well you just can't worry about some of the swirling conversations. I was a part of those swirling conversations for nine years. We had to earn our money, so don't pay attention to everything that's being written. Derek knows what he's all about and what kind of quarterback he is. So, just try not to listen to the elevator music and worry about the things you can control. He's a heck of a guy. He's a really mentally tough guy. And he's a really good quarterback who's really starting to play great for us. I think people are starting to recognize it."
- Gruden tried to explain what he is most excited to see this preseason. To no one's surprise, he sounded like the callers on my radio show: "Yeah, really everyone's new. You know, we have a new offensive line, a new right tackle, potentially a couple new starters up front, as you know. Kenyan Drake made his presence felt, he's really interesting. The addition of John Brown, 'Smoke' can still run. And the defensive line, I'm really excited about (Darius) Philon. He reported at 296 pounds, he's been out of football for a while. Solomon Thomas, I think he's got a chance to really put it all together here. Quinton Jefferson has really had some success in this league. Ngakoue, I just feel Ngakoue. I feel Ngakoue at a different point in his career now. I think he can be a leader and a captain on this team. And a young secondary. I'm most excited to watch these guys compete and play. I'll be really upset if they're not worth the price of admission."
- Here at Sports Illustrated's Raider Maven, we have banged the drum that the 2020 NFL Draft class didn't get a fair shot. Gruden agreed with me.
- "We're still waiting I think to get the dividends from some of these guys, but it's been a challenge. Without an offseason program, I don't think the story has been written on some of these guys yet," was his thought on the matter.
- Jon Gruden laid down the gauntlet of accountability today to his team. Something fans have wanted and have been calling for.
- We reported that he did this during the OTA/minicamp part of the offseason, but today he did it publicly.
- "Just because you get drafted in the first round or any round doesn't mean you're going to make the team or be a great player. There are no guarantees in this league as you know." Message sent.
- Two new starters on the offensive line this year are Andre James and Alex Leatherwood.
- Gruden has no trepidation with either sliding into the role as a starter. He is confident. "We feel like we've got some emerging players, Andre James being one of them. Kolton Miller, we felt we had to get extended. You see some of these young left tackles, what they've extended their contracts for, it's astonishing. It's big money. And we love Leatherwood. We loved him at Alabama. He's off to a great start and he's got to back it up, and we're going to try to help him. I have no doubt about him as a football player."
- Jon Gruden has taken a ton of criticism for his playbook. Some of it is germane, but much of it is hyperbole from a fan base stirred up by the national, click-bait journalists. With that said, he needs something from his young guys to make Darren Waller even better. He elaborated on it.
- "We got to get some of our young receivers to take pressure off of him and we've put some more things in our playbook. We are going to be a lot more demanding of Waller going forward. We've got to continue to try to probe some match-ups and get him places where we can get him the ball."
- Jon Gruden had an interesting take on Damon Arnette. I admit, I didn't pick up on it right away, but after going back and reviewing the press conference, I did.
- Emphasis added by me: "… We drafted Arnette in the first round. He was an opening day starter."
- Gruden went on to talk about his defensive backfield. A significant liability last season. "We think he (Damon Arnette) and Trayvon Mullen, Casey Hayward and some of the other people that are in the mix now give us depth, competition, and some interesting match-ups. So, I'm fired up about the secondary. The safety is completely unsolved. We've got some high draft choices there playing down. We got some high draft choices playing deep, and we have a great secondary coach in Ron Milus. "
- Gruden is controlled. He is brilliant, and he doesn't make mistakes talking to the media. That is why the single most important thing he said today was: "If I am a Raider fan, I'm coming out here watching practice, I'm going to keep a close eye on this secondary. It should be a strength of ours, if it isn't we've made some real mistakes." I added the emphasis.
- I do think the addition of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, Ron Milus, and some new players will make this group exponentially better in 2021. If not, that quote will undoubtedly be revisited early in 2022.
- Speaking of Gruden laying down the gauntlet, he did it with Nicholas Morrow as well. The young linebacker got some high praise from his head coach.
- "He might be one of my favorite players. This is his time. He comes to the Raiders and he makes it as a rookie, he finds a way to get on the field. And now he's got a chance, I think, to be a captain for us, I think he's got a chance to be a difference maker for us in the middle of our defense. But, time will tell. We've got a long way to go, but I really like him. He's had a great spring and I think he's on the rise. I think his time is right now."
- Tanner Muse out of Clemson is a guy who we have written a lot about. A rookie last year, like the rest of the class, he was behind the proverbial 8-ball immediately. Then he was injured. Gruden, however, has him mentally on the roster and is looking forward to seeing what he has. Again, I added the emphasis.
- "Muse can run. He can really run. He played safety at Clemson. No offseason program, I'm not making excuses, it was tough on him and then he got hurt. So, he's another draft choice that is completely an unsolved mystery. But, he's healthy, he's ready to go. (Linebackers coach) Richard Smith has been coaching linebackers for the last 30 years in this league. He likes him, he's going to be a special teams contributor, I know that."
- Gruden has high expectations for a rookie who opens camp injured. "Divine Deablo tweaked his knee. He had a knee procedure done. We expect to have him back in the next couple of weeks. Here's another young guy who can really run, he has a bright eye, really alert understanding for football and has a big upside for us."
- The addition of Gus Bradley to lead the defense was the most critical offseason move by the Silver and Black. Gruden gushes over his new DC. "Gus is a high-energy coach, he's upbeat, positive, philosophical, and fun to be around, he makes you laugh but he also pushes you."
- For an offensive savant-like Gruden, the impotent defense has had to be maddening.
- Something that has changed.
- Gruden couldn't hide his enthusiasm for the men he is charging with stopping opponents and getting his high potent defense the ball back.
- "I think what's going to make this defense go is how we rush the passer, how it goes up front. And Yannick (Ngakoue) is a difference maker. I feel him every time I see him on the grass. And Maxx (Crosby) is on the rise – I think another young player. Really impressed with (Malcolm) Koonce. Malcolm Koonce has made an impression. If we can improve upfront, I think this defense will be much improved."
- Another rookie who put the veterans on notice during the offseason workouts was Tyree Gillespie. Gruden raved, saying, "He's definitely in the picture. He's a big hitter, he's a guy that can tackle in space in 1-on-1 situations, a dominant special teams player and we don't take that lightly. We think he can play in the post and we think he can certainly play down low around the line of scrimmage. Might even have some dime linebacker capabilities down the road."
- We have written extensively about Nate Hobbs, the rookie defensive back out of Illinois. I am very well aware of him from my time covering the Big Ten.
- Hobbs is a big hitter with a high football IQ.
- Gruden likes what he has seen from the young Illini.
- "Nate is very professional for a young man. Very poised, lot of knowledge and doesn't make the same mistake twice. He has good quickness, has pretty good coverage skills and I think he has versatility to play inside or out. Right now, he's doing a really nice job as the nickel corner."
- There is a lot of expectation on Clelin Ferrell in 2021, something Gruden didn't shy away from. "Ferrell is a good player. He's a good player. He's unique. I think he's unique because he can play right end, he can play left end. He's a good run defender. I think his best pass rush might be inside. You saw that against the Jets when we allowed him to do that last year. Certainly, he's going to be competing. He and Carl Nassib, who had a really good spring. They're going to have to earn their snaps. If you know Cle, you'll know he'll compete. You probably should count on him to be a big part of this."
- Anyone who knows anything about football is well aware of how good the Raiders wide receivers are.
- Two guys from last year's rookie class in Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards are looking for extensive sophomore campaigns. Again, Gruden was borderline giddy.
"You have no idea how much I'm excited about those guys. I think I hurt my arm hugging Ruggs when he walked in today. Ruggs got hurt in the first game against Carolina. I think he caught a bomb and then we ran a quick route in Charlotte and he got hurt. Managed to play a little bit against New Orleans, but then he missed the Patriots game. Missed a couple of games when he had COVID. He's a difference maker with his speed. He can beat you bad with his speed. I think the more experience he gets with Derek, with Bryan, Hunter Renfrow and Waller and the guys, I think the better and better he's going to get. I think he learned from Agholor. We're going to miss Nelson Agholor. That's one of the reasons why John Brown is here because Brown can make big plays at top speed. He can teach Henry how to run certain routes that he hasn't run before. It's a unique group of receivers. They're great guys. I don't want anybody to forget Zay Jones. I don't think we have a better conditioned athlete than Zay Jones. Keelan Doss is another guy that if you saw when he got here and you saw when he walked in today, it would really impress you. He's obviously going to compete, too."
- We have already reported that we expect UDFA rookie Darius Stills to make the team. Even though he is injured to start camp, we noted we expect him back to play in games.
- Gruden said of Stills today: "He's got a great pedigree. His dad was a good player in the league for a long time, linebacker with the Chiefs. I never liked his dad much (laughing). But he's a great kid. I think he's got the three-technique traits that (defensive line coach) Rod Marinelli is looking for to get off. He can't slant, he can move, he can pursue. He loves it. He's got a little tweak in his back right now. We hope to get him out here next week."
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