By Kevin Saito @Kevin_Saito on July 30, 2014
Training camp is underway for the Oakland Raiders. And though it's been said many times over the last 12 years, this time it really does feel different. The players have commented on the different atmosphere and attitude around the team, brought on by the new faces. The vibe may be different, but will that translate to more wins? We'll have to wait and see. Until then, here are 11 things you should know about for now.
It doesn't come as much of a surprise, but the Raiders parted ways with LB Kevin Burnett. A starter last season, Burnett was reportedly unhappy with a reduction in his snaps with the presence of first-round pick Khalil Mack. Already the odd man out, a bum ankle that kept him out of OTAs (and ultimately led to a failed physical) as well as the depth at the position made Burnett expendable.
After having surgery on his foot four weeks ago, there is still no set timetable for D.J. Hayden's return. With a recovery that could take up to eight weeks, Hayden may miss all of camp, a setback to his development that he can ill afford after last year's injury-plagued season. If he does indeed miss the entirety of camp, Hayden may find himself buried on the depth chart for a while.
With the absence of Hayden, seventh-round pick T.J. Carrie has continued to make his presence felt. His rapid development and sharp play has earned the praise of the Raiders' coaching staff and thus far, he has eclipsed the development and performance of the Raiders' fourth-round pick Keith McGill. A virtual lock for special teams play already, if Carrie continues to play at this level, he may see significant time in the secondary this year.
With the level of competition raised by the offseason acquisitions, the offensive line could be a real source of strength for the Raiders in 2014. Thus far, they've acquitted themselves well, and head coach Dennis Allen has been very complimentary of the unit. It's a big, physical, versatile, and most importantly deep group in the trenches for the Raiders, whose play will be key if the team is to rebound in 2014.
After a rookie season that was marred by injury, Watson arrived at camp healthy and ready to go. He says that he learned a lot about preparing himself mentally and physically for the challenges and rigors of the NFL, and he's looking to fulfill the potential that made him a second-round pick for the Raiders in 2013. Thus far, he's impressed the coaches with how far he's progressed, and many expect him to fight for a starting job this season.
After having what turned out to be surgery for a sports hernia in the offseason, a procedure that kept him out of OTAs and minicamp, veteran DT Antonio Smith is healthy and ready to be a disruptive force along the defensive front once again. Smith said that he's feeling good physically, and is feeling even better about what the Raiders are building in Oakland, something he says is “special.”
On the first full day of practice in pads, Rod Streater, the receiver best positioned to be QB Matt Schaub's No. 1 target, suffered an apparent head injury. It's not believed to be serious, but it will likely keep him out of camp for a couple of days as he goes through the NFL's standard concussion protocols.
It's a foregone conclusion that Jones-Drew and McFadden are going to split the lion's share of the carries this season, health permitting. But the fight for the backup spots in the Raiders' running back rotation has been fierce. Latavius Murray, Kory Sheets and UDFA George Atkinson III have all broken some good runs that have turned some heads. The edge goes to Murray, but Sheets and Atkinson III may find themselves in the rotation as well.
To keep them both fresh and healthy, Allen is limiting the reps of both McFadden and Jones-Drew. But when they've been on the field, they've both been explosive and fast, neither showing any lingering effects of the injuries they've suffered. Their speed has fueled an optimism about Oakland's running game. If they can stay healthy – and splitting the workload will help with that – the Raiders may have a lethal ground game.
His throws have been crisp, confident, and most importantly on target, especially in red zone drills. Early on, Schaub has more closely resembled the solid and consistent QB he was in Houston for a decade, and less like the train wreck he was in 2013. He's quickly becoming a leader in the clubhouse and seems to be the steady, productive veteran quarterback the Raiders believed they were getting when they rolled the dice on him.
People laughed when GM Reggie McKenzie snatched Little up after his release by the Browns, but it may be McKenzie who gets the last laugh. Little has been impressive in camp thus far, reeling in a number of tough catches and battling with the physical corners. He's looked far more consistent in camp than he has in his first three seasons in the league. It's early still, but if his solid play continues, look for him to earn a roster spot.
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