Jack Del Rio must keep his team focused amid increased hype and expectations.
The Raiders finished among the league leaders in knowing nods of approval after the dust settled on free agency and the draft this spring, spending big on pieces like guard/tackle Kelechi Osemele and pass rusher Bruce Irvin with the goal of bringing out the best in franchise building blocks, Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. But their track record of off-season champions is well-documented.
Jack Del Rio’s task in August: Run a tight ship, something the veteran coach is well-versed in, as evidenced by his nebulous injury reports and measured reactions to big wins during his first year in Oakland. If his team assimilates all those new parts quickly and flashes the potential to translate those off-season victories into on-field ones, the Raiders’ hype machine (and their corresponding bandwagon) will kick into overdrive in the run-up to Week 1.
The Rookie: With Derek Carr’s star steadily rising, August may end up becoming the most interesting month of quarterback Connor Cook’s year over the next few seasons. Cook is much more polished than his selection early in the fourth round of this year’s draft might suggest, but since he probably won’t pass the indomitable Matt McGloin for the backup job, it’s worth watching how aggressively the Raiders test his mettle with camp reps and preseason playing time.
Position Battle Spoiler: The Sean Smith signing bumped 2012 first-round pick D.J. Hayden into a battle with the versatile T.J. Carrie for the nickel cornerback job. Tabbing Hayden for the role would simultaneously give the 2012 first-rounder his last best chance to stick in the starting lineup and free up the versatile Carrie to be moved around the secondary as needed.
The Stat: 71.89%, the percentage of Oakland’s 2015 rushing attempts handled by Latavius Murray, who saw 266 of the team’s 370 carries. No running back in the league handled a larger percentage, and the Raiders signaled their intention to lean on Murray yet again by adding only fifth-rounder DeAndré Washington to their RB stable this off-season.
Preseason Watchability Guide: Thanks to a scheduling quirk, the Raiders play the Titans twice in less than a month, in Week 3 of both the preseason and regular season, so expect a cagey meeting in Oakland at the end of August. Road trips to face Carson Palmer in Arizona and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay should make for quite the early test for a first-team secondary that might not have a single player in common with 2015’s Week 1 lineup.