It was a fun Wednesday morning in Southern California.
The Raiders traveled to Thousand Oaks, California, for their first of two joint practices against the Los Angeles Rams. The last time the Raiders had a joint practice with the Rams was during the 2019 Training Camp, in Napa, California. The two West Coast teams got pretty chippy at times, and pushed each other hard throughout the practice. The biggest things that stood out were the overall good defensive play of both teams and the budding rivalry between two National Champion players.
Here's some observations from Wednesday's practice.
The Return of the Slot Machine
The biggest headline today has to be the matchup between Hunter Renfrow and two-time All-Pro selection Jalen Ramsey.
The Rams first-string defense and Raiders first-string offense were really getting after it today. You could hear Ramsey talking to the Raiders from a mile away, and he was doing all the things that Ramsey is known to do: make plays, be aggressive and be loud and proud about it.
But Renfrow didn't care about all of that.
"For me, personally, I don't really know when people are talking. I'm just kind of locked in and doing my job," Renfrow said after practice. "It was definitely spirited. He's obviously a great player. There's a reason why he's one of the best players in the league."
Ramsey played slot cornerback most of the practice, lining him up with No. 13 on a few plays. While Ramsey made a few plays, as usual, Renfrow really got at him too. Renfrow split Ramsey on one play and left him hanging on a flawless route towards the right corner of the end zone. He also made another great tightly contested catch on Ramsey a few moments later.
"If I can beat Jalen Ramsey, I can beat anybody – because he's one of the best," the receiver said. "And that's how I approach it. He got me a few times today and so hopefully tomorrow, we'll make each other better again."
Out of all the Silver and Black's receivers at practice today, Renfrow was the outright star of the day. Renfrow vs. Ramsey will be at the forefront of everyone's minds tomorrow.
Different Kind of Defense
Today probably wasn't Matthew Stafford's best day, in large part due to the Raiders secondary.
While the Pro Bowl quarterback won a couple of battles against the Raiders secondary, Las Vegas' overall defense convincingly won the war. Stafford threw three interceptions throughout the duration of the practice, one each to rookie safety Tre’von Moehrig, Rasul Douglas and linebacker Cory Littleton, who played for the Rams for four seasons. I also can't forget to mention cornerback Damon Arnette dropping two interceptions on Stafford.
Another big factor was the Raiders' pass rush.
The Silver and Black were relentlessly getting after the QB the entirety of the practice. Yannick Ngakoue, Maxx Crosby, Quinton Jefferson and Darius Philon looked like they were in midseason form against the Rams offensive line Wednesday — not shabby going up against All-Pro tackle Andrew Whitworth.
"It all starts upfront with the guys in the front four," said Maxx Crosby. "I feel like we got after it, our mindset was right the second we got off the bus. The guys on the back end, they played great. Making plays, taking the ball away – that's what Coach [Gus] Bradley talks about all the time. Taking the ball away, but scoring and we had guys flying around and making plays. So it was good to see."
A vital piece in the success of the Raiders pass rush has been recent signing Gerald McCoy. The All-Pro defensive tackle could noticeably be seen pacing back and forth the sideline, coaching up his younger teammates and lending advice to anyone in need.
"Gerald is a guy who's a six-time Pro Bowler; he's done it at the highest level," said Crosby. "Just having him in the room is special. He's a guy I can really learn from; he sees the game a certain way and him just passing on that knowledge is special. We have a lot of guys in the room – Yannick, and Q [Quinton Jefferson] and Gerald – there's just a big mixture of guys who've done it at a high level for a long time and guys who are still proving themselves.
"It's a special room, and I love what Gerald has brought to the table so far."
Throwing Big Wood in the Line of Fire
When you go up against Aaron Donald, all you can really do is pray and hope for the best.
"Obviously, AD, he can ruin practice if he wants," quarterback Derek Carr said about the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"He's a guy that is going to win. He's probably the best three-technique to ever play this game, and that's saying a lot, but I think he's earned that kind of respect and is starting to get in that conversation as we get older in our eighth year."
Going up against one of the best defensive players in history is a challenge for anyone, let alone a rookie. But Carr felt Alex Leatherwood was up for that challenge. The Raiders' 2021 first-round pick got a couple of reps against Donald, who is possibly the best player he'll be lined up against this entire season. The quarterback set it all up for design for his rookie right tackle to either sink or swim against No. 99.
"There was a play today where he went and lined up on Alex, and I slid the whole line to the left just to let Alex have a 1-on-1," said Carr. "Probably not a nice thing of me to do, but I did it just to see. And we'll see how it went on tape. I think he actually did pretty good, but I did it. We made the call, and I just said, 'Yeah, go ahead buddy. Let's see what happens.' And that's what is beautiful about days like this, you get so many different looks, so many different reps that, 'Alright, let's give the young guy a try.' And we talked about it all week.
"I told Oly [offensive coordinator Greg Olson], 'Hey, if I get a look, I know Aaron is going to try at least one time. I'm going to slide everybody the other way and let him go 1-on-1 and see what happens.' So, it was good."
The Las Vegas Raiders hit the field at California Lutheran University for the first of two joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams.