After an offseason like no other in NFL history, the Las Vegas Raiders head to camp in Henderson this week with some questions that need to be answered before we can assess where they are in their third year under Jon Gruden.
After weeks of back and forth between the NFL and the players association, the two sides were able to put the finishing touches on a deal to ensure training camp 2020 will get started on schedule today. It will be the first for the Las Vegas Raiders in their new home in Henderson, Nev.
Things will look a little different this summer, however, and not just because of the sexy new training facility and sparkling Allegiant Stadium. With the lack of offseason programs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams will slowly acclimate their players back into football shape.
Unlike past seasons, the first couple of weeks back for the players will consist of daily COVID testing, physicals, virtual meetings, and conditioning programs before things get ramped up a bit more into actual football activities in the later weeks.
All of this is possible of course because the league agreed to players’ demands and cancelled all preseason games for 2020.
Despite the changes to training camp, Raider fans are as enthusiastic as ever and ready to get the 2020 campaign underway.
After bringing in an impressive haul in both free agency and the draft, the excitement surrounding this young collection of Raiders talent is through the roof. Expectations are high despite the disjointed offseason with fans finding renewed hope and vigor in Las Vegas.
Of course, having talent on paper is one thing. If the Raiders are looking to take the next step forward in this most recent rebuild they will need to turn what appears to be an improved roster and mesh it into a cohesive unit.
With camp official underway today in Henderson, let’s dive into three burning questions for the Raiders heading into camp.
How quick can rookies get up to speed?
Looking at the team’s progress in 2019, a big part was the immediate success of the rookie class. First-year phenoms like Josh Jacobs, Maxx Crosby, Trayvon Mullen, Foster Moreau and undrafted free agent Alec Ingold carved out large roles for themselves early in their careers. They had an impact in year one and are expected to take the expected second-year jump.
This years rookie class will have a much larger mountain to climb in order to reach that same level of achievement.
Adjusting to new terminology and the speed and physicality of the pro game is a difficult transition for any young player. Add in the odd offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that hill becomes even larger to climb – no matter how talented a player may be.
On offense Henry Ruggs III, Lynn Bowden Jr., and Bryan Edwards will be expected to step in and help an offense that ranked 24th in scoring. The addition of the speed and versatility of all three increases the ability of Gruden to call a more flexible and varied offense.
Defensively, Damon Arnette and Amik Robertson have the talent to compete for starting jobs but that may be a hard path considering the shortened offseason. Whether or not they can overcome a steep learning curve in a short period is yet to be seen.
It’s possible these rookies are slow to pick things up and the Raiders coaches choose to lean on the veterans early in the season. Although the Raiders aren’t deep in the secondary, the addition of veterans Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski at linebacker can’t be applauded enough. Their veteran leadership will be vital early in the season as those young players adapt to the speed and pace of the pro game.
Will Clelin Ferrell make a leap in year two?
At the conclusion of the 2019 campaign, after what many viewed largely as a disappointing first year by Clelin Ferrell, he vowed to come back for his sophomore season as a new man.
According to a report from Vic Tafur of the Athletic, Ferrell has added 13 pounds to his frame and is tipping the scales at 275 – up from 262 a year ago.
Ferrell’s trainer Mark Hall said an emphasis was placed on maintaining speed with the added weight and a focus on hip movement as he worked with Ferrell
It shouldn’t be too hard to improve on a rookie season where he racked up only 24 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, eight tackles for loss, and eight quarterback hits. With Maxx Crosby playing on the opposite side of the defensive line it would really do wonders for Paul Guenther and his defense if Ferrell’s development takes a big step forward in year two.
Is it a make it or break it year for Derek Carr?
It has become a tradition in the last two offseasons for football media and pundits to speculate whether Derek Carr will be the Raiders quarterback of the future.
The rumors of a broken marriage between Carr and Jon Gruden reached an all-time high this past winter when the Raiders were supposedly linked with free agent Tom Brady. Brady, would eventually ink a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ending that rumor and, again, showing the often maligned relationship between the two is not on the rocks.
Instead the Raiders decided to strengthen their backup quarterback situation by signing former number two overall pick, Marcus Mariota.
Now entering his third year in Gruden’s system, protected by a top five offensive line, with two Top 100 players in Darren Waller (99) and Josh Jacobs (72), and a trio of explosive rookies, the time for excuses has come and gone for Derek Carr and the offense. Much is expected of Carr and he appears to have everything he needs to make a big step forward for him and the team.
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