WR Amari Cooper will look to continue to impress the coaches and the media with his route-running and natural pass-catching ability at this week's mini-camp. Photo by Tony Gnzales/Raiders.com.
The Oakland Raiders conclude the 2015 offseason program with a three-day Mandatory Mini-Camp at their Alameda, Calif., facility Tuesday-Thursday this week. The mini-camp caps an offseason program that has seen the hiring of a new coaching staff, upgrades to the team's facility (some still very much in progress), 10 players selected in the NFL Draft, numerous free agents signed and the implementation of a state-of-the art strength and conditioning program.
As the Raiders prepare for the 2015 campaign, here are several things to look for during this week's practices:
How Much Work Will Derek Carr Get?
How much work will Derek Carr get this week? Christian Ponder, Matt McGloin and Cody Fajardo have been getting the bulk of the snaps as Carr recovers from an injury. Ponder was signed as free agent in March, McGloin is entering his third season, and Fajardo, a rookie out of Nevada, was added as an undrafted free agent in May.
Amari Cooper's Impact
As much as we have discussed the overhaul of the tight end group, the wide receivers have undergone a make-over as well. The Raiders selected Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper with the 4th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Cooper has been impressive so far. We'll see if he continues to demonstrate the crisp route-running he has shown during OTAs. Kris Durham, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, signed last week, and when 7th round pick Andre Debose suffered a season-ending injury, Trindon Holliday was signed almost immediately. Rod Streater is healthy, Derek Carr has been reunited with college teammate Josh Harper and Kenbrell Thompkins has flashed in OTAs. We'll get our first glimpse of this reconstituted group this week.
Running Backs Competition
This is the first time since 2008 someone other than Darren McFadden is suiting up in No. 20. It's also the first time since 2008, there isn't a clear-cut feature back. Latavius Murray burst onto the scene at the end of the season last year and Head Coach Jack Del Rio says Murray will have a chance to compete to be the bell cow. The team added veteran running backs Trent Richardson and Roy Helu, Jr., in free agency, and George Atkinson III, is back for his second season. Taiwan Jones, originally drafted as a running back, switched to cornerback for a couple of seasons, and is now back at running back. Michael Dyer, an undrafted free agent out of Louisville, is also in the mix.
New Man in the Middle – Curtis Lofton**
Nick Roach is out and Curtis Lofton is in at middle linebacker. Lofton recently returned to action after missing time with an injury. It will be interesting to see his command of the defensive huddle develop this week. Lofton comes over from the New Orleans Saints. He entered the NFL in 2008 with the Atlanta Falcons. Lofton has only missed one game in his entire career. Sio Moore is rehabbing from an injury, Ray-Ray Armstrong has been making his presence felt, the Raiders drafted two linebackers, Neiron Ball and Ben Heeney, and added former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith in free agency. But the talk has been Khalil Mack. He's been getting quite a bit of attention and it will be interesting to keep an eye on his role in 2015.
Offensive Line Shuffle
Donald Penn came over from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago and played well, left guard Gabe Jackson became an instant starter, and now Rodney Hudson mans the center spot. This group seems set on the left side, but how will the right side shake out? Former New York Jet Austin Howard, who played right guard for the Raiders in 2014, moves to right tackle. The Silver and Black drafted Jon Feliciano from the University of Miami. Menelik Watson, Lamar Mady Matt McCants, Khalif Barnes, Tony Bergstrom, rookie Anthony Morris, and Dan Kistler are all in the mix.
Cornerback DJ Hayden showed flashes of his playmaking ability last season as he saw the most significant action of his young career. He played in 10 games with 8 starts after missing half his rookie season due to injury. Second-year cornerback and punt returner TJ Carrie are factors along with Keith McGill. Chimdi Chekwa is back after a brief stay with the New England Patriots. This unit is very young, but talented and athletic. Defensive back is the most player-rich position on the roster - a lot of guys, not very many spots. Marcus Robertson was promoted to Defensive Backs coach and Rod Woodson returns as assistant. It'll be interesting to see how these players are mixed and matched this week.
Improvement from Year 1 to Year 2
It is often said that players and teams make the most improvement from year one to year two. Who will those players be for the Raiders? Much is expected from Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. Many eyes will be on the rest of last year's Draft class as well - Gabe Jackson, TJ Carrie, Keith McGill and safety Jonathan Dowling, defensive tackle Justin Ellis, and defensive end Shelby Harris.
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