The Oakland Raiders’ first training camp practice will be held Saturday as the team prepares for its final season before a move to Las Vegas.
More than sentimentally, this is an important season in Oakland. This is Year 2 of Jon Gruden’s celebrated return to the Silver and Black. Year 1, of course, was a disaster. Gruden broke down the team and traded stars Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, committing to a rebuild.
Oakland went out and spent big money and made some splash additions this offseason, all of which will be chronicled on HBO’s wildly popular ‘Hard Knocks’ show beginning Aug. 6.
Here, we offer you the five top things to look for in Oakland’s training camp as the Raiders try to become a contender in the AFC West.
Derek Carr: He is the key to it all. There was heavy speculation about whether the Raiders would try to draft a quarterback early. Those rumors, of course, were fueled by the fact that Gruden and Oakland general manager Mike Mayock worked out both Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins before the draft. Oakland is going with Carr again and it built the offense around him. The Raiders want him to succeed. But if he doesn’t regain his 2016 near-MVP form, Gruden may look to bring another quarterback to start the Vegas journey. So, this is a pivotal camp for Carr, who — by the way — looked good in camp the past two years before he struggled in the regular season.
Antonio Brown: If it weren’t for the intrigue involving Carr, Brown would be No. 1. He was arguably the biggest addition in the NFL this offseason. Brown, 30, is a legitimate superstar receiver and Oakland’s best receiver since Tim Brown was in his prime the first time Gruden coached the Raiders. Brown is going to help Carr. These two lit up the offseason program by hooking up with bomb after bomb. Expect more dynamic work between these two. We’ve all seen the importance of quarterback chemistry with Brown in Pittsburgh, so his work with Carr is paramount.
Getting the defense together: This unit has been miserable for years. It was really bad last year without Mack. Oakland had a league-low 13 sacks last season. Oakland added several pieces to Paul Guenther’s unit. It has to quickly come together in training camp. No matter how good Brown and Carr can be, the Raiders will not become a winner unless the defense comes together.
Seeing the offensive line jell: The Raiders have poured a ton of resources into the offensive line in recent years. This year was no different. Oakland paid Trent Brown a four-year, $66 million deal to leave New England in free agency. Brown will be the highest-paid tackle in NFL history. The Raiders are going to use Brown at right tackle and will keep 2018 first-round pick Kolton Miller at left tackle.
Brown was excellent in the postseason, but he has often been mediocre. How many times have we seen players perform well with the Patriots, then fade elsewhere? The Raiders can’t have that happen. They also have to have Miller play better than he did most of his rookie season. He started out decently, but then was injured. Once healthy, he struggled. The Raiders allowed 51 sacks last season. Carr has wilted at times when hit. Brown and Miller must be stout to protect their quarterback. This camp work is vital.
Preparing the rookies: We took a deeper look at the Raiders’ rookies in this piece Wednesday, but it has to be mentioned here as well. After all, it’s not often a team has three first-round picks. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell (No. 4 overall), running back Josh Jacobs (No. 24) and safety Johnathan Abram (No. 27) will be a huge focus this summer. All of them are expected to be Week 1 contributors.