Head Coach Jack Del Rio and the Oakland Raiders wrapped up their first week of Organized Team Activities [OTAs] this week at the team's Alameda, Calif., facility.
Here are seven things I learned from watching their first week of OTAs.
1. This team isn't lacking confidence
With the music blaring, and energy and enthusiasm abounding off the practice field, one thing is clear – this group is not lacking confidence.
While it's still early in the 2016 campaign, the Silver and Black definitely have a little bit of swagger right now, and it's a confidence that hasn't escaped the watchful eye of Head Coach Del Rio.
"We're gaining in confidence because of the work we're putting in," explained Del Rio. "I think that's where it starts. There are a lot of things being said. This time of year, talk is cheap. I don't really spend a whole lot of time worrying about what is said, but I do pay a lot of attention to what is being done and the work that's being put in, commitment level. To me, that's where my focus is."
Del Rio has been clear that championships aren't won in May – and he's right – but there's definitely a positive vibe surrounding the current roster as they go about their work.
2. Bruce Irvin will quickly become a fan favorite
Linebacker Bruce Irvin brings a lot to the table.
He knows what it takes to win a championship, he's going to be a vocal leader on a young defense, and his presence also provides a complementary pass rusher to pair with defensive end Khalil Mack. On top of all that, he's also gives good soundbites.
Irvin held his first press conference with the local media Tuesday, and during his media session, he didn't mince words – he joined the Silver and Black for a reason.
"They didn't bring me here to be a follower," Irvin said. "I'm a very outspoken guy. You guys will learn that about me. I'm coming to be a leader. I'm not stepping on any toes, but if I have something to say, I am going to say it."
Irvin will speak his mind, and combined with his recruiting persona "Baby Reggie," the former West Virginia Mountaineer will no doubt find himself as a fan favorite before long.
3. Michael Crabtree looks to be in midseason form.
Last season, quarterback Derek Carr said time and time again, that wide receiver Michael Crabtree makes catching the football look easy, and he has certainly done that through the first three OTAs.
The veteran wideout has been impressive over the past several days, gliding through drills and making impressive catches during the team's 11-on-11 sessions.
Carr is right, Crabtree looks incredibly at ease out wide, and he certainly hasn't seemed to miss a beat during the offseason layoff.
It'll be exciting to see what Carr and Crabtree can accomplish in their second year together, and that all starts during OTAs.
4. Karl Joseph is working his way back
The Raiders selected safety Karl Joseph in the first round (No. 14 overall) knowing that he likely wouldn't be ready to hit the field until the team reports to Training Camp 2016.
Joseph has not taken the field with his teammates through the first three OTAS, but he has spent time on the side with the Raiders' training staff rehabilitating. Additionally, he's also been present during the defensive drills, taking mental reps and asking questions of defensive coordinator Ken Norton, Jr.
While it must be hard for Joseph to be sidelined, it's good to see that he's taking the proper steps to ensure that he'll be back on the field with the rest of the Silver and Black as soon as possible, and hopefully without too much of a learning curve in front of him.
5. The Raiders have built an imposing offensive line
Much has been made this offseason about not just the caliber of the Raiders' offensive line, but also the sheer size of the group.
From Donald Penn, to Gabe Jackson and newcomer Vadal Alexander, there isn't a small or undersized player to be found, and just seeing the group go through drills, it's evident that it's a unit of big, powerful men.
It's no secret that Del Rio and his staff covet size and power along the line, and the group that's been assembled in Oakland certainly fits that mold.
Personally, I'm excited to see just how physical they get once the pads come on at training camp.
6. Jihad Ward has raised some eyebrows
Rookie defensive end Jihad Ward isn't a finished product, but it's plain to see that the University of Illinois-product has the raw ability to be a disruptive force along the defensive line.
Standing 6'5" and tipping the scales at nearly 300 pounds, Ward no doubt boasts the prototypical size of an NFL defensive end, and over the first three days of OTAs he's been a player who has stood out to me.
On more than one occasion, the rookie lineman has burst through the offensive line with ease and found himself face to face with the quarterback.
Yes, Ward still needs some fine tuning, but a defensive line that features him, Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin—and hopefully Aldon Smith down the road – is one that will give offensive coordinators nightmares.
7. Sean Smith is ready to embrace a leadership role
The Raiders signed Sean Smith this offseason to lock down one side of the football field, but also to serve as a mentor and leader for their predominantly young secondary.
Smith is just 28 years old, but he has more NFL experience than nearly everyone in the Raiders' secondary, and the veteran cornerback isn't shying away from the responsibilities he's been asked to handle as a vocal leader on the defense.
"We have a very, very young team back there, especially in the secondary," Smith said. "I guess my job is to come in here and make them better mentally because they have all the talent and all the tools to make plays. Just have to get them up to par with me from a football IQ standpoint."
Smith has been working extensively with David Amerson and assistant defensive backs coach Rod Woodson on the field, and he's also shown to be incredibly valuable off the field for the young Raiders' defense as well.