Our Sr. NFL analyst, Chris Reed, polled Silver and Black Today staff members for their thoughts on who they will be watching closely when the Oakland Raiders open training camp July 26.
The NFL offseason is mercifully almost over with players set to report to training camp July 26. Fans will also get their first look at the newly installed offense and defense when the Raiders host the Detroit Lions in their preseason opener Aug. 10. It seems like the perfect time to take a look at a player on each side of the ball to see who Silver and Black Today staff members think might surprise or live up to their potential.
Chris Reed – Sr. NFL Analyst
Offense: Martavis Bryant
Martavis Bryant is the offensive player I am most looking forward to watching. There is a great deal of excitement surrounding the wide receiver the Raiders traded a third-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers to acquire, but he certainly has some questions to answer.
Bryant’s production dropped off last year after missing the entire 2016 season due to suspension. While he matched his 2015 mark of 50 receptions, his receiving yards dropped from 765 to 603 and his yards per reception from 15.3 to 12.1. His touchdown total also was cut in half to just three.
Can he provide the deep threat the offense desperately needs? Can he be counted on for all 16 games? He certainly showed flashes of his big-play ability last year, but will he break the 1,000-yard mark with the extra opportunities he should get this season? I’m predicting he will.
Defense: Reggie Nelson
New defensive coordinator Paul Guenther seemed to make a concerted effort to talk up returning safety Reggie Nelson this offseason. Nelson has had his struggles since joining the Raiders in 2016. In fairness to Nelson, he did not fit the role he was being asked to play in former defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.’s system.
Will a return to a two-deep safety role return him to the playmaker who led the NFL with eight interceptions in 2015? Having to read and cover just one side of the field should negate any range limitations he might have. Will that translate into turnovers? Will a younger player such as second-year Obi Melifonwu challenge him for the starting role? This is a scenario I think both the coaching staff and fan base would like to see.
Scott Gulbransen – Founder/Publisher
Offense: Doug Martin
“I may be alone in this one, but I’ll be watching Doug Martin when training camp starts. I like when a guy returns home and has something to prove on a one-year contract. If the pattern holds true for Martin, he’s in for a big year. Marshawn Lynch is going to have a monster year, and if Martin can be 70 percent of what he used to be, it’s going to be fun watching the Raiders when they run the ball. Gruden loves veterans with something to prove, and I still think he’s going to surprise everyone and lead to the Raiders dropping one or both of their other young backs.”
Defense: Nicholas Morrow
“This kid started the 2016 season really showing me something. With the addition of veterans Derrick Johnson and Tahir Whitehead at linebacker, Morrow will have to really show up in training camp to find a place on the roster. I like his chances and think those vets are going to push him to reach his potential.”
Matt Gutierrez – Contributor/C0-Host
Offense: Anyone at Right Tackle
“It will most likely be a revolving door at the right tackle spot once again. I’m anxious to see if someone — anyone — will step up during training camp and take that spot as their own. Is Brandon Parker the guy? Will Miller move over? Will it be a vet in his last stop in the league?”
Defense: Gareon Conley
“The second-year corner that has barely seen the field is the key to the secondary. If healthy, he has the ability to take away an entire side of the field. I want to see him get legitimate practice reps in this new system and become the “shutdown corner” we all think he could be.”
Hayden Nadolny, Sr. NFL Writer/Podcast Co-Host
Offense: Martavis Bryant
“He was the best receiver in the offseason, but is still developing a rapport with Carr. He has as much potential as any receiver in the league, and really could explode from the slot in this offense. His presence at training camp should also open up underneath routes for Cooper, Nelson and Cook.”
Defense: Marcus Gilchrist
“How is this guy going to be used? Can play all over the secondary, but it may depend on how the rest of the personnel go.”
David Stepanian – Silver & Black Today on CBS Sports Radio Correspondent
Offense: Kolton Miller
“The Northern California native surprised many when he was picked in the first round by the Raiders, but GM Reggie McKenzie and coach Jon Gruden both feel confident of his abilities at left tackle. After impressing at OTAs and minicamp, he’s fighting to secure his spot as a starter at training camp.”
Defense: Gareon Conley
“It’s been a wild week for Conley, who filed a lawsuit looking to recoup some of the money he lost when his draft stock tumbled in 2017. But the Raiders took a chance, and, after a rookie season marred by injuries, as well as missing the final days of minicamp due to a groin strain, Conley assured the team he’ll be ready for training camp. He has something to prove. Fans and coaches haven’t seen as much of Conley as we would’ve hoped heading into his sophomore campaign, but training camp will change that.”
J. Burroughs – Contributing Writer
Offense: Amari Cooper
“The guy I’ll be watching is Amari Cooper. There’s no doubt Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant will be game changers. How will the young buck handle being around an upgraded receiving corps? I think my man will pick up his game and only get better, but it’s not a guarantee.”
Defense: Rashaan Melvin
“Rashaan Melvin is a big key to how much this squad can improve in the defensive backfield, so my eyes will be on him. He’s got the potential to be a big addition if Gareon Conley does what we think he will. Melvin’s play will either ease pressure off the young Conley or increase it. He’s a big key for this defense to make that big step up.”