Defensive End Khalil Mack
The 2016 Oakland Raiders are a team with expectations. No longer are the Silver and Black looked at as a reclamation project, and with a talented young core, the outside perception is that they're a team that could challenge for an AFC West title.
So what is the biggest difference between this team and team's past? ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan thinks the difference is quite apparent – depth.
"Talking to the personnel people here the past couple of days, they are really happy – if they have an injury, they know that there's depth," said Caplan. "They're happy that they can have someone come off the bench, and you didn't have that in years past. Heck, last year they're trying to figure out who their starting two cornerbacks would be, now they're four or five deep at corner. When you have depth in the National Football League that is tremendous because injuries are going to happen."
Caplan spent the weekend at the team's Napa Valley Training Complex watching the Raiders hit the practice field, and during his time observing quarterback Derek Carr and Co., he was struck by how well the team's roster has been constructed by General Manager Reggie McKenzie.
"When you look at what the Raiders have done the last three years as well as probably anyone, is draft," Caplan said. "The reason why they've done that is they've stuck by the core belief of not worrying about how tall a guy is, or how fast he runs, [and] just drafting really good football players. When you do that, you keep building, and building, and building, and then you add some good veteran free agents like Sean Smith, a guy who will come in right away and give them stability at cornerback, and Bruce Irvin, a young, ascending player, these are the type of core players that you want on your football team."
Last year the team saw a four-win improvement from the season previous, so realistically what does Caplan think they're capable of in 2016?
"When you do well in the draft and you do well in free agency, you're just going to keep taking incremental steps," Caplan explained. "They had seven wins last year, who's to say now that they won't really challenge for the AFC West? I think they will this season."
-The Raiders saw nearly perfect attendance in Sunday's session; however, guard Kelechi Osemele and quarterback Connor Cook did not hit the field with their teammates.
-Sunday was the first padded practice of Training Camp 2016, and defensive end Khalil Mack sure looked happy to have the pads back on; in back-to-back plays he tore through the offensive line and brought down the running back in the backfield for a would-be loss.
-Mack wasn't the only defensive player to join the fun either; rookie linebacker Shilque Calhoun looked comfortable in pads, showing an impressive burst of his own and blowing up a designed run play during team drills.
-Rookie wide receiver Johnny Holton flashed on the offensive side of the ball Sunday afternoon, hauling impressive back-to-back catches in from quarterback Matt McGloin in the latter stages of practice.
-Don't sleep on undrafted running back Jalen Richard either. After a quality day of field work Sunday, he's now put together consecutive days of solid play on film.
-Justin "Jelly" Ellis may be listed as a defensive tackle on the roster, but that didn't stop him from working on his pass catching after Sunday's practice. Once the fieldwork concluded, he, along with defensive end Damontre Moore spent time catching tennis balls shot out of the ball machine, and I must say, for a man listed at 335 pounds "Jelly" did pretty well.
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