Real football started Sunday afternoon.
After going through the entire Offseason Workout Program without pads, then the first two practices of Training Camp 2018 without pads, the Oakland Raiders finally, finally went to work in pads for the first time since January.
"Today was real football," said defensive end Bruce Irvin after practice. "The past two days and OTAs [Organized Team Activities], the t-shirts is not realistic. It was good to get out here today and see guys tackling and thudding guys up and hearing those pads again. Football is back."
There was indeed a different feel to Sunday's session; players were flying around, mixing it up on both offense and defense, and by nature of the presence of the pads, there was an increased sense of physicality throughout the nearly three-hour practice session.
Some of the best battles of camp so far have been between the offensive and defensive line, and now that the team is in pads, there was a hope that the intensity and physicality of those battles would ratchet up another level.
Well, Bruce Irvin and Kolton Miller certainly didn't disappoint Sunday afternoon; the pair went at it in a variety of drills during practice, and while Irvin has no doubt enjoyed a feverish start to training camp, the rookie tackle has definitely held his own too.
"He's going to be good," Irvin said when asked about Miller. "He's young. He's a big guy, very athletic, takes coaching, what else can you ask for in a kid? He's our first-round pick, so he's coming in with a lot of expectations, but he's doing a great job, and we battle every day. I tell him, look, we're going to go at it every day, because we're in the AFC West. You have to go against Von, you have Bradley Chubb, those dudes in [Kansas City], so we have to get him ready. We need him. He's going to be a really good player."
Both Irvin and Miller find themselves in unique situations in the early days of training camp. With Khalil Mack yet to report to Napa, Irvin is now the team's primary edge rusher, and for Miller, with veteran left tackle Donald Penn still on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list, the rookie has been running with the starting unit since camp opened.
As Irvin alluded, if Miller does get any type of extended run at the left tackle position during the regular season, he will routinely be asked to stonewall some of the elite pass rushers in the league, of which several reside in the AFC West.
After allowing just 24 sacks a year ago, the Raiders offensive line was looked at as a perceived strength of the team, and it's now up to Tom Cable and his players to make sure that remains the case going forward.
As far as No. 51 is concerned, like I said earlier, the now-defensive end has been electric through the first few days of camp, and according to him, credit for that goes to the scheme of Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther.
"The defense is like night and day to me, from past two years to this year," Irvin explained. "[Former Defensive Coordinator] [Ken] Norton is my guy, I love Norton. Guys are flying around. Guys are doing less thinking. First day we had five turnovers. All last year we had 14 combined. We had two yesterday and I don't know how many we had today, I've got to watch the film, but guys are going at it. Guys are battling. Guys are trying to get the ball. That's what we preach, that's what we harp on: getting the ball and getting it back to our offense as much as we can. I think the guys on defense are doing a great job and picking up the system, flying around and making plays."
It's only been three, full days, but the battles between Irvin and Miller are quickly becoming some of my favorite to watch in camp, and I have a feeling the best is yet to come in that respect.
No updates from the trio of Raiders currently on the PUP list, but Paul Guenther did elaborate on what's currently hampering second-year cornerback Gareon Conley.
"He has a little hip strain there," Guenther said. "It's unfortunate. He made a good play on a ball on the one-on-one drill. Just bumped his hip a little bit. He won't be out for too long. We have a lot of guys working out there at corner, it's going to be a good battle to see who come out of it."
Rookie running back Chris Warren III missed practice today.
-Marshawn Lynch runs violently at all times, but with the pads on, it looked like he was running with even more purpose Sunday. Beast Mode constantly looks for contact, and that was indeed the case this afternoon, even in the first padded practice of training camp.
-Even though it was a padded practice, there's always times for a little special teams work, and Johnny Townsend made sure to get his reps in Sunday afternoon, kicking away punts to a trio of return men. The rookie has been as advertised since he arrived in Silver and Black, and having a weapon like him is only going to spell good things for the Raiders' battle for field position in 2018.
-Speaking of special teams, Head Coach Jon Gruden threw in a bit of a wrinkle towards the end of practice, as the team worked on a bit of situational football. The situation was as follows: down by two with only a few seconds left on the clock, Giorgio Tavecchio – with a handful of his defensive teammates yelling behind him – came on to attempt a kick to "win the game." No. 2 got a pair of attempts in this scenario, and knocked both kicks right through the uprights.
-Another guy you should keep an eye on throughout training camp is Arden Key. The rookie defensive end has all the physical tools to be a high-level pass rusher in the NFL, and Sunday afternoon, he looked even more the part in pads. With Key, Irvin, and hopefully Mack back sooner than later, this Raiders' rushing attack could be pretty nasty in 2018.
-Let me say this, after hearing Defensive Line Coach Mike Trgovac go about his business during practice, I want to suit up and play for the man. Trgovac is a ball of energy on the sideline, and hearing him coach up his guys during practice is quite the lesson in all things football.
"He's had a tremendous camp so far. The other day we had a backup drill, he got the ball out of the back on a strip and he intercepted a ball coming out of there on a blitz that he scored with. He's been a tremendous leader for us." – Defensive Coordinator Paul Guenther on Bruce Irvin's start to camp.
The Lighter Side:
The Silver and Black are in the midst of their annual alumni weekend, and a handful of notable folks were on the sideline for Sunday's practice. It's not every day that you see Bill Romanowski and Akbar Gbajabiamila roaming the practice field; definitely a cool wrinkle to an already-entertaining day.
We have a flipped schedule tomorrow, so the Silver and Black will hit the practice field at 2:30 in the afternoon instead of going through a morning session like they've done the past few days. After that wraps up, the Raiders will be off Tuesday.