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Training Camp Notebook: Nick Kwiatkoski, Casey Hayward Jr. bring necessary veteran presence 


A couple of days ago, Tre’von Moehrig mentioned he was trying to "stack up the days" and get better. The Raiders have most certainly been stacking up some good days, bringing us to the first day in pads.

Today was the first indicator of how the roster will truly start to shape up. The Silver and Black brought the juice on the field Tuesday, with several interesting position battles beginning to ensue. The most notable thing that I noticed from the first day in pads is the improvement of the overall defense and the energy they bring to the field under new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. The defense shuffled a lot of players in and out Tuesday morning at practice, trying to get the best look possible at some of their young talent and offseason free agent acquisitions.

Here's a few of my top takeaways in my first Training Camp Notebook of the 2021 season.

Casey Hayward Jr. is a necessity

Something that really pleased me to see was how much Casey Hayward Jr. truly brings to this Raiders defense. The young Raiders secondary was missing that veteran piece last year to lead the group and they were able to find a good one in Hayward. No. 29 has done a great job of communicating with the rest of the secondary and making sure everyone knows where they're supposed to be.

Hayward was expected to be a huge component of this defense as soon as he was signed, considering he may know the defense better than any Raider on the roster. Hayward notably has played for Bradley and defensive backs coach Ron Milus -- and it shows on the field.

"Casey brings a lot of experience," Trayvon Mullen Jr. said. "He's a good guy, he helps everyone. He's been in the system for a long time so it's good to go to him and ask questions.

"He has a lot of knowledge of the defense, how to play certain routes in this scheme and how things will play out. ... He's also a great leader as well so it was a great pickup getting Casey."

Early Marcus Mariota/Nick Kwiatkoski "rivalry" brewing

While Marcus Mariota has looked fantastic in Training Camp so far, there's a certain linebacker that's been getting the best of him.

Mariota has looked more accurate and mobile than he's been in several years. The Raiders have a package of players that caters to Mariota's abilities to make plays with his arm and his feet, and it has been coming together pretty well. However, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has been able to read Mariota perfectly on a couple of passes. He's intercepted No. 8 two times over the past two days.

"I think Marcus is a little mad at me right now, I messed with him after practice but it's all in good fun," Kwiatkoski said with a laugh.

"It's all fun and games, but I mean as a defensive player it's an exciting time to go out there and get an interception."

The two interceptions have made Head Coach Jon Gruden wonder if Kwiatkoski and Mariota are on the same wavelength and possibly sneaking off to the Strip for a beer or two.

"I think Marcus and Nick are roommates, I don't know what the deal is on that," Gruden said with a small grin on his face to the media Tuesday. "Mariota is off to a great start yesterday and he looks like the galloping ghost out there – and today he throws four incredible passes, and I think him and Nick are probably having a beer down at the Caesars Palace right now...

"But Nick is an instinctive player, you know when you're in zone coverage you're reading a quarterback and he telegraphed both of those throws. It's really kept [Mariota] from having one hell of a camp. And he is having a good camp, but he could be having an outstanding camp had it not been for a couple of interceptions."

Mad Maxx is back at it again

Another player that stuck out to me on the defensive side of the ball is defensive lineman Maxx Crosby.

Raider Nation is already familiar with Mr. Crosby, the sack leader for the team the past two seasons. This offseason, it appears that Crosby has taken more on his shoulders to be a leader and set the tone for the defense. The Eastern Michigan standout looked fast and energized in his first day of pads. There were several occasions where he was able to beat his man off the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback, with an array of rushes he's developed. Gruden expressed how pleased he's been with the work Crosby has been putting in this offseason to be better for the team.

"He leads our team in effort. He does," said Gruden. "You are talking about a guy that's here in the offseason. I think he lived in the facility. My car is here, his car is here. I drive by the facility and his car is still here. He gets [with] Ricky [NG], our food expert, our nutritionist, helps him with his diet.

"He's incredible. He's in incredible shape. He can go all day, and I tried to wear him out today with a fourth quarter pass rush in the last drill and he's ready for the 15th round. He wants to keep fighting. I love him. I love the way he's working, and guys look up to him."

View the best photos from the Raiders' first Training Camp practice in pads at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center.

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