The Oakland Raiders have Tuesday off, a well-deserved day of recovery for the members of the Silver and Black, some of whom have been putting in work in Napa for over a week already.
While the off day is indeed a time to rest, and get ready to return to the grind of training camp Wednesday morning, it also provides a natural point to take stock off what we’ve seen since the team officially got the 2018 season underway last week.
Even though we’re 10 days out from the start of the preseason, Head Coach Jon Gruden’s squad certainly isn’t lacking in storylines to follow, and a handful of players have already made their presences felt through the first portion of Training Camp 2018.
Let’s take a look at five of them.
1. Defensive end Bruce Irvin
Alright, when we’re talking about hot starts to training camp, we have to start with No. 51.
Not only is he the defacto leader of the defensive line with Khalil Mack still not at work, but he’s been ultra-productive running as the lead dog off the edge in Paul Guenther’s defense.
From interceptions, to sacks, and just being disruptive in general, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a player that’s come out of the gates hotter than Irvin throughout the first portion of camp.
“He’s had a tremendous camp so far,” said Guenther when asked about Irvin. “The other day we had a backup drill, he got the ball out of the back on a strip and he intercepted a ball coming out of there on a blitz that he scored with. He’s been a tremendous leader for us. I’m glad to have him on my side.”
Guenther said that this year Irvin is going to be going forward a lot more than he did in 2017, and so far, that looks like exactly what this Raiders’ defense needs.
2. Tackle Kolton Miller
Let’s give a little bit of love to the man who’s been asked to try to limit Irvin during practice, Kolton Miller.
With Donald Penn still on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform List, the rookie tackle has run with the starting unit all of training camp, and to be honest, he’s done a really nice job thus far.
Yes, Miller has had some rookie moments, and Irvin has certainly gotten the best of him a time or two, but overall, the former UCLA Bruin has performed admirably, running with Kelechi Osmele, Gabe Jackson and Co.
“Kolton looks real good right now,” Osemele explained. “We still have a lot of work to do, you know? It’s our first time working together, so just knocking the rust off on double teams and stuff like that. Making sure we’re going the right way. You know, just the little things rookies go through. Physically his development, his understanding of our play-calling, the game, our scheme, he’s way ahead of where I would’ve been at this point of training camp my rookie year. So, he’s looking good.”
Training camp for any rookie is a learning experience, so I’ll be keyed in on Mr. Miller the next few weeks to see if he can continue to build off his hot start.
Also, somewhat related, but I just have to say that the battles between Irvin and Miller are quickly becoming my favorite of Training Camp 2018.
3. Defensive end Arden Key
Let’s go back to the defensive side of the football for a minute.
Headed into training camp, we knew that above all else, Arden Key knows how to get to the quarterback, and through the first few days of training camp, we’ve had a firsthand look at him doing just that.
Because of Mack’s absence, the rookie defensive end is getting more run than he likely would have if No. 52 was in the mix, but give Key credit, he’s certainly making the most of his chances.
“He’s a really natural rusher,” Bruce Irvin said of Key. “He reminds me a lot of the old 99 that was here. If he keeps his head on straight, which he will, he’s going to be a hell of a player and a hell of a player for the Raiders. Can’t wait to see what he’s going to do this year.”
So far, so good, for the current No. 99; I’m looking forward to him stacking good days over the next month.
4. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead
We’re going to stay defensive once again, because Tahir Whitehead has unquestionably made his presence felt in the early goings of camp.
Working primarily with Derrick Johnson and Emmanuel Lamur in the linebacking corps, the former Detroit Lion has been, in a word, active.
When the Silver and Black signed Whitehead in free agency, we knew that the versatile linebacker had a nose for the football – he did have over 100 tackles the last two years in Detroit – and so far we’ve witnessed that activity time and again at the team’s Napa Valley Training Complex.
In addition to his productivity, Whitehead has also been a vocal leader on defense, which has been good to see as well.
Long story short, dude has been a beast in training camp thus far, and I’m excited to see how his play raises another level when his old pals the Detroit Lions come to town next week.
5. Wide receiver Marcell Ateman
It seems like each day the rookie from Oklahoma State makes some sort of play that makes you take notice of him.
With Amari Cooper, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant all ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s easy to forget about a guy who the Silver and Black selected on the third day of this year’s draft, but like I said, Ateman has been doing a good job of making sure his name gets mentioned each day at practice.
Standing at 6’4”, Ateman certainly looks the part of a prototypical NFL receiver, and he’s a guy you need to be watching once the preseason gets underway.
Also, he’s already drawn the praise of his head coach, which at this point in the game, is a pretty good thing.
“I like Ateman,” Coach Gruden said. “Ateman makes plays every day. What was most impressive about that play is Carr saw him. It was man-to-man, we had a different play called. He saw Marcell in press coverage, he changed the play and he went to him. He knew he had press coverage. He like the match up. That’s rare where a veteran quarterback calls a rookie’s number with the media here. The kid makes the play. Three days in a row he’s gotten behind people and adjusted on the back shoulder.”