The Oakland Raiders are in full Rookie Minicamp mode, and the players took the field Saturday to continue their workout program. It wasn't a particularly sunny day at the team's facility in Alameda, Calif., but the weather provided some quality conditions to practice in.
The Raiders draft class weren't the only ones on the field, however, they were joined by the crop of undrafted free agents as well. Let's take a look at five observations from Saturday's practice.
Raiders Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown was in the mix.
The Silver and Black have seen a plethora of Hall of Famers walk through their doors over the last five decades, but one still remains in the building every, single day, Willie Brown. During his time as a Raider, Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowler, totaling 39 interceptions, two touchdowns, four fumble recoveries, and played in a total of 154 games, starting in 140 of them. His presence in the facility means a lot, especially to Head Coach Jon Gruden.
"I wish we had more of the Hall of Famers here," Gruden said Friday. "When I was here the last time, Fred Biletnikoff and Willie Brown were on my staff and we leaned on those guys a lot. I'm hoping we can get Fred around more. Willie's presence is huge. We're going to try to get [Ted] Hendricks and a lot of the ex-Raider greats to come around. We had an outing a couple of weeks ago. We got to see Lester Hayes and Jim Plunkett, [Daryle] Lamonica, some of my favorite Raiders. It is very important, I think, for our young players."
Saturday, those young players got to learn from the Hall of Famer up close, as he watched the defensive backs participate in their drills, and chopped it up with the new generation of players.
Defensive linemen Arden Key, P.J. Hall, and Maurice Hurst worked as a unit.
It's easy to get excited about the Raiders' pass rush when you have former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack on one side, and linebacker Bruce Irvin on the other, but the trio of defensive linemen the team selected in the 2018 NFL Draft are going to add even more excitement.
One thing about Key, Hall, and Hurst that's obvious is their explosion. Each of them boasts a unique combination of power and agility that allows them to burst quickly off the line. Not only did the trio get to work with Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac, they were going up against first-round pick Kolton Miller, who was getting some reps at offensive tackle. Between the four of them there was a lot of talent on display, and it was clear they were all building some chemistry in the process.
Head Coach Jon Gruden created a lot of competition.
On two separate occasions, Gruden created situations that would require members of the offense and defense to go toe-to-toe. First, he and Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther selected teams of seven for a best of three, seven-on-seven game. The offense featured wide receiver Marcell Ateman, who was drafted in the seventh-round by the team, but was projected going as early as the fourth round. Off the line, Ateman showed his aptness for creating separation, which allowed him to streak down the sideline and use his 6'5" frame to go up and over his defender to haul in the catch.
The offense and defense split the first two matchups, but it was the "O" who would rule the day, as they completed a pass on the final drive. Going forward, we'll see how the former Oklahoma State Cowboy performs, but I think he has a lot of upside.
The players were hungry.
No one's spot on the roster is guaranteed, no matter who you are, and the rookies are aware of that.
The fight, the grit, and the tenacity were present on the field, with each player giving maximum effort. Ask any coach in the NFL and they'll tell you the way to earn your way on the roster is through special teams, and Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia was quite vocal about that Saturday. One of Gruden's go-to sayings is, "the more you can do, the better," and a lot of the players showcased their versatility.
**Gruden's energy level was at its max.
One thing that's been highlighted and praised about the addition of Gruden is his ability to fire up a team; whether it's in the locker room, on the field, or watching film, he's an enamoring figure. Saturday, he displayed that passion and tenacity, vocalizing and demonstrating what he expected from the rookies. At one point, Coach was so juiced after a defensive play, he chest bumped linebacker Azeem Victor.
Gruden wrapped up the day with a message that resonated with me, and he told the players three simple words, as they took a knee, "enthusiasm is contagious." You hear it all the time, but positivity goes a long way, and it's something Gruden demands from his players.