When Derek Carr breaks the huddle in 2018, the expectation is that Jordy Nelson, Amari Cooper, and Martavis Bryant will lineup at the X, Y, and Z positions, but even though they’re the presumed starters, anything can happen.
Jon Gruden made one thing clear when he became the Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders back in January: the offense is going to be a dynamic group that intends to stretch the field, and beat defenses deep. Nelson, Cooper, and Bryant all have the ability to slip through secondaries or torch their defenders, but how will the guys behind them contribute this season?
Among all the skill positions on the roster, the wide receivers group arguably has the most talent at its disposal. With Johnny Holton, Ryan Switzer, Seth Roberts, Isaac Whitney, and Griff Whalen all in the mix, distributing reps will be challenging during training camp, which is a good problem to have if you’re Gruden and Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson. Roberts and Holton in particular are proven players on this team, but how can they separate themselves from the pack?
Holton went from being a former flag football player to an NFL pro, and Roberts went from undrafted free agent to a go-to target for Derek Carr. In three seasons with the team, Roberts has totaled 1,332 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns, while Holton has added 252 yards receiving and three touchdowns in two years, including some production on special teams.
Special teams might be the key to finding the fourth, or even fifth, wide receivers on the roster, and to that point, Switzer made a splash during his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 doing exactly that. The former North Carolina Tar Heel finished last year with 902 all- purpose yards, and a punt return touchdown. Not only has he showcased his speed and versatility, but he has history with Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who was also a member of the Cowboys last year.
When asked Friday afternoon whether this was the deepest wide receivers group Carr had ever worked with, he couldn’t help but agree.
“You know, I would say yes because even the undrafted guys…We came in for the pre-camp and Coach Gruden said, ‘If you see something audible, I don’t care. They have to play. They have to know,’” Carr said. “We’re audibling, changing stuff, doing these things with undrafted rookies that you would think they’re trying to learn where to line up. What’s a so-and-so route. We’re audibling, doing those things. They’re on it. They went on their routes. Now, obviously they have a lot of work to do. They’re not all All-Pros or anything like that, but they all have a chance to be very extremely helpful players. It’ll be fun to watch those guys battle every day.”
Everyone has their work cut out for them this year, and the battle for a spot on the 53-man roster should be fun to watch.
Like I said earlier, Nelson, Cooper, and Bryant are likely your starters, and it looks like No. 89 is ready to take another step forward in 2018. It seems like every year, Coop comes to training camp looking stronger and faster than before, and once again he showed up ready to flex.
Listen, I’m done hearing about Coops “drops." Enough is enough. The offense as a whole took a step back in 2017, and there’s no reason he should be singled out. The man is a back-to-back Pro Bowler, 1,000-yard receiver, and Gruden has said he’s excited to make him a focal point of the offense. Not just that, but Carr has seen growth from the 24 year old in the early going of 2018.
“He’s healthy, he looks great, he feels great,” Carr said. “You see him catching balls and finishing all the way down to the goal line. He’s practicing on scoring long touchdowns and things like that and I think that some of that stuff Jordy brought, some of that stuff Martavis brought – just learning from other guys. We have a whole staff of coaches that have come in and taught me different things that other guys did and all of these things and guys that worked with Peyton [Manning] and Andrew Luck and I can go on and on. Anyone who comes in, you learn something like, ‘Oh man, that’s awesome. I want to learn that.’ So, I think the same thing has happened for Coop, where he’s come in better and stronger – he’s always in shape – he takes this seriously. But, he’s also learning some things mentally and some things practice wise that can help.”
The Raiders wide receiving corps is loaded headed into 2018, and with the amount of depth on the roster, Carr and the rest of the offense should benefit from it.
Exclusive photos from the Raiders first practice of 2018 Training Camp at The Oakland Raiders Napa Valley Training Complex in Napa, California.