A training camp like no other awaits the Las Vegas Raiders as they stay home in Henderson, Nev. to get set for the 2020 season.
Players have tested for COVID-19, rookies took pictures with their new gear and now coaches can take a good look at who’s on the roster, connecting names with faces. It’s time for the newly minted Las Vegas Raiders to get to work as training camp gets underway this week.
Last week, head coach Jon Gruden admitted that he hasn’t met some of the newcomers. He’ll become acquainted with them over the next several weeks as his coaching staff lays the foundation for the upcoming campaign.
Without the preseason, every team will rely on practices more than the recent past. Expect players to go full throttle through August to show they’re ready for live snaps during the regular season.
What can we expect? Well, let’s take a look into the Silver and Black crystal ball for 10 training camp predictions, ranging from position battle winners to possible roster transactions.
Lynn Bowden Jr. Emerges as a Top Standout
Typically, fans want to see how first-round picks develop through the summer because they’re usually expected to contribute right away. That definitely applies to the Raiders with wideout Henry Ruggs III and cornerback Damon Arnette.
However, we should keep eye on Lynn Bowden Jr. He’ll take on a complex role as the “Joker” in head coach Jon Gruden’s offense. The Kentucky product will open the season as a running back and probably see some targets as a receiver as well.
Devontae Booker landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and Jeremy Hill has battled injuries since 2016, giving them an uninspiring outlook for camp.
Before the games count, this is the time for Gruden to experiment with one of his most versatile playmakers on offense. We should hear a lot of good things about Bowden, who’s a strong candidate to lock down the No. 2 running back spot.
Jadeveon Clowney Nor Yannick Ngakoue Join Raiders at Camp
According to Cecil Lammey of 1043 The Fan, the Raiders, specifically Gruden, had some interest in Jadeveon Clowney.
Tennessee Titans general manager Jon Robinson sees Clowney as a “pretty good fit” with his team. Via Twitter, New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas has lobbied to sign the three-time Pro Bowler.
The Titans stand out as the best landing spot for Clowney. He’d reunite with Mike Vrabel, his former linebacker coach and defensive coordinator from Houston. Also, Tennessee can offer him more money with $24.3 million to spend, per Over the Cap. The Raiders have approximately $5.9 million.
According to The Athletic’s Vic Tafur, the Raiders don’t want to give up a first-rounder for Yannick Ngakoue, which is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ asking price for the Pro Bowl edge-rusher.
“I think the ship left the dock when the Jaguars wanted a first-round pick back at the draft,” Tafur wrote. “And general manager Mike Mayock likes to tell me the ship was never near the harbor.”
This wouldn’t count as a major letdown. Vegas signed defensive end Carl Nassib and defensive tackle Maliek Collins to bolster the pass rush. If Clelin Ferrell takes a sophomore leap, the front line would have a handful of solid contributors.
Prince Amukamara Wins the Starting Cornerback Position
Without a preseason, the Raiders could toss Damon Arnette into his first game against the Carolina Panthers, which isn’t a scary matchup, but they’ll also play the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs before their Week 6 bye.
Above all else, the Raiders must give themselves the best shot to win games. Without a doubt, Prince Amukamara is more equipped to jump in and start right away than a rookie who’s yet to take a live practice snap.
Four weeks isn’t enough time to prepare a rookie for a matchup against Drew Brees or Patrick Mahomes within a month of playing the pro game. Because of Amukamara’s presence, the coaching staff doesn’t have to rush Arnette.
Raiders Will Add More Competition at Defensive Tackle
The Raiders can kick the tires on established guys like Mike Daniels, Marcell Dareus and Damon Harrison.
Daniels can push the pocket on the interior and help against the run. Harrison has more value as a run-stuffer, though he’s still effective on early downs. Keep in mind, the Raiders will see Christian McCaffrey in their first game.
Last season, Dareus landed on injured reserve with a core muscle injury. He just turned 30 years old and could reinvent himself in a rotational role after a strong start to his career.
Gruden isn’t afraid to mix veterans and young players to come up with the best 53-man roster, which could become 55 players only on game day going forward.
Rod Marinelli Makes Immediate Impact
Marinelli’s influence should help the entire defensive front.
Gruden spoke highly about Marinelli in his first press conference since the draft.
“P.J. Hall, [Maurice] Hurst, [Arden] Key, those are three guys that we used high draft picks on,” Gruden said. “Arden has to stay healthy, P.J. Hall, I’m anxious to see where his weight is, he came in overweight last year and at that position that can’t happen. Maurice Hurst has had some good moments, but we need these guys to burst on the scene no question. Getting Rod Marinelli is the best thing I can do to allow that to happen.”
Some feel as though Gruden’s profound respect for Marinelli will lead to defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s immediate exit, though that’s not necessarily the case if the unit improves this year.
Marinelli has coached NFL defensive lines since 1996 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He developed Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp and defensive end Simeon Rice early in their careers—the latter on his second team. Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby and Maurice Hurst can soak up so much from him while they’re still young and moldable.
Bulked Up Clelin Ferrell Looks Impressive
Clelin Ferrell had an underwhelming rookie campaign, specifically as a pass-rusher. He finished with 4.5 sacks and 15 quarterback pressures. Before you prematurely apply the “bust” label to him, understand the Clemson product has put in the effort for a much-improved second term.
This offseason, Ferrell went to the weightroom and worked with his personal defensive line coach Mark Hall.
Hall says Ferrell bulked up to 275 pounds but didn’t lose his quickness, per The Athletic’s Vic Tafur.
“We made sure he didn’t lose any speed with the weight gain,” Hall said. “And he is using his hips more — that’s something he didn’t use a lot last year. He is better able to attack angles now. He understands the angles better now.”
Expect to hear encouraging reports about Ferrell through the summer. Of course, his play on the field during the regular season will show if the focus on his body and hip movement translates to production on the field.
Marquel Lee is Cut
This projection would leave offensive tackle David Sharpe as the last 2017 draftee on the roster.
The Raiders placed Marquel Lee on the physically unable to perform list, which doesn’t say much about the gravity of his injury. However, times have changed in the NFL, and linebackers must cover in space to stay on the field for all three downs.
Lee has been a solid run defender. On the flip side, he can become a target in coverage, which doesn’t stack up well against incoming linebackers who have experience at safety. Based on skill set, the Wake Forest product seems like the odd man out. We could see a rookie uprising at the position.
Raiders Only Retain 1 Linebacker from 2019
Here’s a look at how the Raiders’ new-look linebacker corps could shake out in September:
- Cory Littleton
- Nick Kwiatkoski
- Nicholas Morrow
- Tanner Muse
- Javin White
Notice the shift in the type of linebackers listed above. To some capacity, all of them can or have played well in coverage either as a pro or during their collegiate years.
Kwiatkoski played safety on the high school level. He registered four pass breakups and an interception in a limited role with the Chicago Bears in 2019. Morrow, Muse and White played safety as collegians. Since 2018, Littleton leads the league in pass breakups (22).
Gruden likes old-school football on offense, though the defense has finally caught up with the times, featuring a linebacker unit equipped to defend pass-catching tight ends and running backs.
As a third-round pick, Muse should make the 53-man roster. If White sneaks into the picture, Lee and Kyle Wilber could lose their seats on defense and special teams.
Keisean Nixon Has Another Strong Offseason
Damon Arnette and Amik Robertson have garnered most of the buzz at cornerback. The two rookies could become long-term solutions on the boundary and in the slot role, respectively.
Don’t overlook Keisean Nixon. He’s a tough 5’10”, 200-pounder who can carve out a role on the boundary with Lamarcus Joyner in the slot and Robertson projected to play inside as well.
Defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil talked about Nixon’s skill set and what they asked of him last season, per The Athletic’s Tafur.
“He has done a great job,” O’Neil said. “His whole life, he had just kind of been a press-man corner. ‘Lock that guy up, that’s your guy. That’s your job.’ Obviously, we’re asking him to do a little bit more than that. He has come a long way learning how to play zone coverages and off coverages.”
If Nixon shines this summer, he could see more playing time than 2019 fourth-rounder Isaiah Johnson. Of course, in-house competition will sort that out.
Raiders Keep 6 Wide Receivers on Final Depth Chart
We can assume Henry Ruggs III, Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards will claim the top four wide receiver spots.
While the Raiders could consider a seventh opening for a kick returner at this position, they can save a valuable slot by using the No. 6 wideout on special teams.
Ruggs and Lynn Bowden Jr. had return duties in college. Jalen Richard served as the primary kick returner through his rookie season, accumulating 708 yards. Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia has plenty of options, so he doesn’t have to specifically use one player for that role.
Furthermore, with the potential use of multiple tight ends on offense, Gruden won’t need a seventh pass-catcher at wideout.
Zay Jones, who played 10 games with the team last season, and Nelson Agholor would round out a solid group. Both have made decent contributions as starters in their pro careers and profile as quality depth for a stronger unit.
Roster Fluidity in 2020
As usual, training camp will bring out some surprises, players will land on the physically unable to perform list, the reserve/COVID-19 list or injured reserve, opening up spots for others.
Nevertheless, the Raiders will head into the season with a much deeper roster, which will pay dividends amid a pandemic where we will definitely see positive tests throughout the season. As a result, pay close attention to second-, third-string and practice squad players who may see the field in 2020.