The Oakland Raiders are just two days out from their first game action of the 2019 season. Since July 23, the team has been stationed in Napa, Calif., for training camp, as they continue to gel as a unit; however, you can only practice against your teammates for so long before it becomes monotonous.
Wednesday, the Los Angeles Rams arrived in Napa to kick off the first of two joint practices between the California squads. It was a strong first day for both
sides and each were back on the field again Thursday to conclude the two days of scrimmage, but it won't be long before they face each other again. This Saturday at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the Silver and Black will host the Rams for their first preseason game of the year, and there's expected to be a lot of playing time for the younger members of the Raiders roster.
"You're not going to see some of the starters," Gruden told the media Thursday. "You're just not going to see them. You saw them today. You saw them yesterday. They took about 120 reps so we're going to take a look at some young players, some guys that need the opportunity, and I don't have that for you right now but I'll have it for you tomorrow."
It should come as no surprise that many of the Raiders starters won't suit up on Saturday, as the coaching staff knows what it's getting in the main contributors, which is why Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock are eager to see some of the inexperienced players on the roster get some live reps.
Derek Carr shared with the media the other day he thinks the joint practices with the Rams are more valuable than preseason action, based on the level of intensity.
And really there's no need to see what No. 4 is capable of during the exhibition matches.
"The intensity of practice, definitely the starters because we know how preseason games go nowadays, guys don't play as much so we treat these as games that are competitive and we want to compete against each other and things like that," Carr explained.
This Saturday will be first of four key opportunities for guys on the fringe of making the roster, as well as guys who have already carved out a role for themselves, such as Hunter Renfrow. The Clemson wide receiver doesn't drop passes and it's clear he's got DC's trust, as well as the coaching staff's. When the first unofficial depth chart came out Monday, Renfrow was listed as the starting slot receiver, which is impressive considering he's a fifth-round rookie, but that's a testament to the body of work he's put together in such a short period of time. Despite earning first-team reps, Renfrow knows he hasn't really earned anything yet.
"I haven't done anything; I haven't played a single NFL game yet," he said. "I have to go earn it every day. For me, I never want to get in a position where I'm looking at the roster, I'm looking at how many targets I get, how many catches. For me, it's just trying to do my best every day and I'm just trying to get better. If I do that then the days will be short and I'll just have a lot of fun doing it."
The Clemson legend faced plenty of competition at the collegiate level, but there's nothing quite like facing guys like Rams cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. He's been grateful to get his reps in against the lockdown duo, but he's using every rep as an opportunity to get better no matter who's lined up across from him.
"It's been good to see new faces, and for me it's not like we've been practicing the Raiders for forever," Renfrow said. "It's good to see new faces, but everyone is a new face for me. It's good to see a new scheme and so that when we run three-by-one they're not jumping the middle route every time. It's been good and it's been good experience."
While Renfrow's spot on the roster isn't necessarily locked up, he definitely has a firm hold on his position, but for guys like fullback Alec Ingold fighting for a spot on the roster these preseason games might mean a little more.
"I think just being able to show that there's an ability to close the game," Ingold said when asked about his goals for the preseason. "The four-minute drill is huge for a fullback, and being able to be a physical presence play after play after play for an eight play drive to run out some clock is the most important thing I can possibly do. I just want to show I'll be a consistent player through a whole game."
Ingold has laid the boom on several blocks during training camp, and it's clear the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin is making the job for starting fullback one of the key position battles of the summer. Keith Smith has been sidelined with an injury and hopefully he returns soon, but Ingold is ready to build on a several strong camp performances during his first preseason action.
We see someone emerge every year, last year wide receiver Keon Hatcher went off for 100-plus yards and three touchdowns during the Raiders preseason finale. Who will it be this year? I'm not sure, but I'm fired up to watch the young bulls go to work.