NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport made his way to the Oakland Raiders Napa Valley Training Complex Sunday to take a closer look at Head Coach Jack Del Rio, quarterback Derek Carr and the rest of the Silver and Black.
Prior to the start of practice, Rapoport took some time to talk with Raiders.com and spoke about the 2015 outlook for the Raiders, the additions that General Manager Reggie McKenzie made during the offseason and more.
HEAD COACH DEL RIO FITS THE SILVER AND BLACK
Jack Del Rio was hired to be the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in January, and since then he has arrived in Oakland, he has set about to changing the culture surrounding the team.
Rapoport believes that Head Coach Del Rio is a good fit for the Raiders, and likewise, the team fits him.
"This team, to me, seems like a pretty good fit because he can come in and he can teach, and he can reenergize this place a little bit, but he also has a bunch of young guys who can really play, and try to figure out what this team is going to look like. We already know they have a quarterback. We already know they have in Derek Carr. We already know they have his counterpart on defense in Khalil Mack, so you have a coach who's strong and has won in a very difficult place to win, and you have two building blocks, one offense, one defense, so at the least you have the foundation of what you think this place is going to look like."
DEREK CARR CAN "LET IT RIP"
After a rookie campaign where Derek Carr was impressive but also dealt with typical rookie struggles, the former Fresno State Bulldog enters 2015 as the unquestioned starter for the Raiders.
Entering Year Two, Rapoport believes that Raiders fans will see a more mature quarterback under center.
"A lot of it is going to happen for him because he's just going to be a little older. Everything's going to relax a little bit and so I think, to me, what happens for a young quarterback is either you become flustered quickly and you throw it away or you become flustered quickly and you check down. Derek tended to check down, and now he has weapons. He doesn't need to check down as much. He can let it rip, and I think being comfortable in the pocket and being comfortable enough to let it rip will be something you'll probably see more from Derek this year than last year."
EARLY IMPRESSIONS OF AMARI COOPER
Since the Raiders selected wide receiver Amari Cooper in the first round (No. 4 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft, the rookie from Alabama has impressed in every portion of the offseason program, and Rapoport says his presence in Oakland will pay immense dividends for Carr and the Raiders offense.
"He is a pro. He is a legit pro and he's been a pro even when he wasn't a pro. He is gym rat who just only wants to play football. On the field, he's just polished. You're not going to have to say, 'okay, you're only playing this position,' or, 'we're only putting you on this side of the field.' He is smart enough and savvy enough to do a lot of things, and that's great. If he's the kind of player that the Raiders think and a lot of other people around the NFL think, then you're going to have to find ways to get him out of double coverage, and moving him around will help."
MICHAEL CRABTREE HAS A LOT TO PROVE
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree joined the Raiders this offseason on a one-year deal and it's no secret that 2015 is a very important year in the career of the two-time Fred Biletnikoff Award winner.
"I think that he has a lot to prove, and it's really two-fold. Can he still run like he needs to run? We know he's had a lot of lower-leg injuries and that was an issue for some teams in free agency. It doesn't mean he can't run. It just means some teams weren't sure, so all he has to do is go out and prove it. On the field, the best thing that he does is he is amazing at catching the football. I know that sounds weird, but for receivers, it's a skill that doesn't get as much attention. When you throw the ball near him, he will catch it, and for everyone, including a young quarterback, that's pretty important."
THE SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR KHALIL MACK
Khalil Mack delivered an impressive rookie year in 2014, and by the end of the season he had garnered a bevy of awards and accolades.
While he still has plenty of areas where he can improve, particularly his sack totals, the sky's the limit for the young linebacker.
"The best thing that he does is be disruptive and go after the quarterback. The best thing that you want is for Khalil Mack to go get the quarterback. What you're going to see this year from this staff is he's going to be put in position to get after it. I don't know how good he's going to be, but he can be as good as it gets."
KEEP AN EYE ON DJ HAYDEN
Heading into 2015, the Raiders know what they are going to get from Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack, but one player Rapoport is keeping his eye on is third-year cornerback DJ Hayden.
"Talent has never been a question. When he's been healthy and played, and really believed in himself, I think you've seen that this guy can really play. You almost have to forget that he's a first-round pick, and he has to earn his job all over again which is great. I'll be curious to see if he does it. If he plays like he's capable, then he's going to be the player they drafted him to be, but he has to get it too. Just watching his development will I think will be pretty interesting."