The last of OTAs have officially come to a close, but the Raiders are just getting started.
Going into mandatory minicamp, the Silver and Black caught a first glimpse of what a new and improved roster could look like this upcoming season. While staples of the Raiders such as Derek Carr and Darren Waller were in attendance, many of the new additions that recently joined the roster were upfront and center.
Here's a few of my top takeways from OTAs to stay tuned to moving forward this offseason.
Lead by example
With the young nucleus the Raiders possess, veteran leadership from proven winners is extremely important.
The Raiders picked up several key pieces on both sides of the ball that have been big contributors since the start of OTAs. John Brown, Casey Hayward Jr. and Solomon Thomas were all brought to the Silver and Black via free agency to help command the young team. All three have found success winning: Brown made it to the AFC Championship last season with the Buffalo Bills; Hayward has playoff experience with Gus Bradley with the Los Angeles Chargers; and Thomas played in Super Bowl LIV with the San Francisco 49ers. All three additions have looked stellar and motivated throughout OTAs and have gained the respect of their new teammates.
The trio of weapons have come to the desert knowing the role they bring to the team.
"First, it starts off with respecting each other and we do that real well," said John Brown on building chemistry with the team. "And with the communication on the field, we do a great job with that, and these guys, they want it real bad. So, I feel like we're in a great spot."
"I always had to have a veteran presence and veteran leadership and still be who I am," said Hayward. "For the last five years, I've been the oldest guy in the room which is kind of crazy, so I always had to have that same presence and still do what I have to do. That's the whole goal now. It's the same way."
"Just trying to bring that and what I've learned in my career over here because I'm Year 5 now," Thomas said. "I'm a vet, trying to step up as a leader and be someone that can help guys out over here."
Continue to keep an eye on how the veteran leadership from this trio translates into success on the field.
Darius Stills got skills
A pleasant surprise for the Raiders coming out of the draft was picking up the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Darius Stills went undrafted in the 2021 NFL Draft and has been going out of his way early in rookie minicamp and OTAs to prove he's the real deal. Throughout OTAs, he's looked quick and agile for his size and shifty as a nose tackle. The biggest concern many people had for Stills coming out of college was his size, but the amount of effort and strength he puts into his drills goes above and beyond his 6-foot, 280-pound frame.
Two of Stills' established teammates on the defensive line with him have been impressed with what they've seen from the undrafted rookie so far.
"A guy who I like a lot is Darius Stills, an undrafted rookie from West Virginia," said Clelin Ferrell. "Real, real good dude but he got a lot of twitch. He played three-technique. He got a lot of twitch. You can just tell in the movements when we on drills and stuff like that. He got a little something to him, so I like his game a little bit."
"He's just been a guy who's hungry," added Solomon Thomas. "He's happy to come to work every day, just wanting to get out on the field, wanting to learn."
Watching Stills in OTAs reminds me a lot of Minnesota Vikings nose tackle Michael Pierce, an undrafted player out of Samford University, who's racked up over 140 tackles in five seasons. Stills is not only a prime candidate to make the 53-man roster, but also to maybe get some snaps Week 1 in Allegiant Stadium.
Rave early reviews for Gus Bradley
It's been hard to find someone that has a negative thing to say about the Raiders' new defensive coordinator.
Gus Bradley has taken little time in restructuring the defense to the liking of his new players. The former Seattle Seahawks and Chargers defensive coordinator has taken on the challenge of trying to improve one of the league's lower ranked defenses. Bradley has been implementing his Cover 3 defense at the Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center and is beginning to tinker with the right personnel for it out of the young playmakers at his disposal.
He has been receiving praise from players and staff since arriving to the Raiders not only for his coaching abilities, but for who he is as a person.
"I love Coach Bradley," Thomas said. "He's awesome. He's full of energy. Amazing guy, amazing person and an amazing coach. The way he's able to describe the defense and teach the defense to us is incredible. Breaking it down in the room, making it real understandable for everyone, available for players to come to him and ask him for help and try to understand why we're calling this defense."
"[Bradley] cares about a lot more than just football and he wants guys to be a part of each other, be a team, learn together," said Trayvon Mullen. "He's going to put us in the best positions. He's going to give us the best calls. We just got to go out there and play together. And one thing he told us is, 'It's never the call; it's the players.' And that's true, we got to go out there and come together, play as a unit, and that's how we are going to accomplish our goals."
With Coach Bradley leading the way and players such as Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrell and Trayvon Mullen continuing to grow, many should expect to see a vastly improved defense this upcoming season.
View the best photos from the Raiders 2021 OTAs as the Silver and Black turn their attention to next week's minicamp.