Training Camp Report: Day Five

Sports Illustrated's Raider Maven takes you inside the Las Vegas Raiders training camp with the latest inside information from the NFL's elite franchise.
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Henderson, Nev.--People are hungry for information on their beloved Las Vegas Raiders, and I am here with a smorgasbord of food. Let's dig right into the latest on your beloved Silver and Black.

I get a lot of nuggets and information that alone are not big enough for a story. When I have a few that I can assemble, I will. So, welcome to The Black Hole:

I can tell you this: Raider Nation has a ton to be excited about. This article is already long, or I could give you many more reasons and players to be excited about. Keep your eyes out for the next "Black Hole," and please tell your friends about it by sharing it on social media.

  • Theo Riddick's retirement came as no surprise.
  • He is a very good man and has had a good career. But, he would not make this team, and his time had come to an end.
  • He will never be glorified as a Raider great, but he is a wonderful human being and a great teammate.
  • The Raiders are pleased with the way linebacker Tanner Muse is moving around. The feeling inside the building is that he is versatile, can do a lot, and has a tremendous upside to develop into a solid OLB. I expect him, at this point, to make the 53-man roster.
  • Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said of Muse: "Yeah, he's done a good job. He plays outside linebacker for us in base personnel, we moved him there. He's got really good speed, very good speed. As you know in college that's what showed up for him, so to have an athletic guy like that on the perimeter and we just got to see how he is when we get the pads on."
  • Jon Gruden is loud and colorful at practice.
  • Gus Bradley is loud. Bradley discussed if he and Gruden are trying to outyell one another.
  • "No, he does a great job with that. We've got a lot of good guys on the defensive side, a lot of good spirit, coaches. I think that it helps that there's a lot of familiarity with the coaches as far as understanding scheme stuff, so with that there is a lot of trust, and you can let loose a little bit. Hopefully players have a lot of juice too at this time, they're excited."
  • When defensive end Yannick Ngakoue declared that he could tell rookie tackle Alex Leatherwood was "Going to be a stud," it struck many people.
  • Tight end Darren Waller praised Leatherwood as well. Calling him one of the most focused rookies he has ever been around.
  • I had a longtime NFL scout tell me before the draft: "I know he (Leatherwood) is a monster of a human and plays on the line, but his mental makeup reminds me of Russell Wilson. I scouted both of them heavily, and while entirely different in body type and position, in the brain they are both two of the most disciplined players with some of the highest football IQ's I have ever scouted."
  • We had Arkansas State coach Butch Jones on my radio show before the draft to discuss Leatherwood because we had heard how much Tom Cable and the entire staff loved him.
  • Like with tackle Kolton Miller, many people are going to look incredibly stupid for their comments. I hope Raider Nation does a better job of holding media and others accountable; they didn't with Kolton Miller.
  • The Raiders talked at length with running back Josh Jacobs about Alex Leatherwood before the NFL Draft. They asked about him long before the draft. Of course, Jacobs loved the idea, and his praise for his former Alabama teammate was significant.
  • The Raiders made a conscientious decision to get their defensive linemen looking different this season. Even at minicamp, it was evident. Gus Bradley is delighted.
  • "Our strength and conditioning team has done a great job with those guys," Bradley said. "They've leaned up, some have lost weight and good weight to lose. And we talk about that fourth quarter rush, it's been a little bit of an emphasis with us throughout the offseason and in training camp, so the guys are gearing up for that part of it."
  • Credit Damon Arnette for his work this camp.
  • While not running with the ones, he is in the rotation, and he is working hard.
  • Additionally, credit Casey Hayward for Arnette's improvement, but Yannick Ngakoue has also impacted this team.
  • Bradley said:, "It's great. Guys like (Damon) Arnette has really spent a lot of time with Casey (Hayward). When we brought Casey in that was one of the conversations we had with him, was not only come in for your skill set but also to bring that energy and help the younger players. So, he's done a great job with that. These guys know what it looks like and when they're on the field they are just another set of eyes other than the coaches to share with the players what it looks like, and that's always a good thing in my mind."
  • The starting defensive backfield as of right now hasn't changed from our prediction earlier this summer.
  • S Trevon Moehrig S Johnathan Abram CB Trayvon Mullen CB Casey Hayward.
  • Another area of excitement is the play of the linebackers. We will see more, especially starting Tuesday, but Gus Bradley is pleased with the competitive fire.
  • "Well, I mean it's great competition there, but we've always said that if guys really practice well and show that they've earned the trust of the coaches, we're going to try to find a package for them; whether that's a dime package or a nickel package, a big nickel, something, where if a guy performs well try to find different packages for him. So, we keep an open mind to that but obviously we are going to have our core guys that we go with. At this stage of this game everybody's got to be ready to play, you never know what could happen."
  • One player that Raider Nation has embraced and has a robust affinity for is linebacker Nicholas Morrow. More importantly than the fans' love, Bradley likes what he sees from the young rising star.
  • "I really like Nick. Very sharp. Here's a new system, he's a guy that you come into the building, we are trying to have him even bring other guys along with him. Sitting in a meeting room, taking notes, rewriting the notes. It's very important for him to take charge of the defense and he's in that position where he's able to do that. So, so far so good with him. Really, really enjoy him, like his leadership and like his attention to detail playing that position."
  • Gus Bradley loved coaching Yannick Ngakoue when he was the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ngakoue loved playing for him. So Bradley spent some time talking about how different of a player Ngakoue is now since the last time they were together.
  • "He is a pro now. He's always been a pro. I mean a meticulous note taker. You wouldn't know that about Yannick. He's in there. Attention to detail. He's a very, very prideful man and he's always been that part of it. I think what I'm seeing him do more now is he's helping everybody. He's helping younger players. It's very important for us to be a strong unit, those type of conversations with him. But he's very focused. He knows what he needs to do, and I see him sharing more of those things with some of the younger players."
  • Another young player that the Raiders are very high on is cornerback Nate Hobbs from Illinois. He is on track to make this team and to have a significant role. Bradley loves his head-hunting ability, like an old-school Raider.
  • "Yeah, the nickel corner now, Hobbs has done really well. I really like (Nevin) Lawson, he's shown up. Amik (Robertson) has done some good things. Again, this is all at the tempo that we've been practicing at, but still we keep track of mental errors to see are guys playing fast, and Hobbs is a guy that is playing fast. It's almost from day one that he's stepped in, so very pleased with his progress."
  • If you enjoy hockey, you are going to love the Las Vegas Raiders defense in 2021. Bradley wants to rotate his defensive line units like they do in hockey.
  • Right now, that means they will have at least eight players in the rotation.
  • Since we reported about defensive end Clelin Ferrell getting a look at the inside, people have been asking me where he is in the rotation. As stated previously, he will get some reps inside, but as of tonight, here is the two-deep for the Raiders defensive line.
  • First Team: Yannick Ngakoue, Quinton Jefferson, Johnathan Hankins, Maxx Crosby.
  • Second Team: Clelin Ferrell, Darius Philon, Solomon Thomas, Carl Nassib.
  • Bradley said of Philon's play: "Well, I give Coach Gruden credit to that. We were sitting there watching film and he brought up his number and name and said, 'Hey, whatever happened to him, that player that you had down there?' And we were talking about him and then Mike (Mayock) took a look into it and did some research and next thing you know he's here. So, Coach Gruden was really the one that brought his name up to us and then we just evaluated him, and Mike saw where he was at. He's good, he's got really good initial quickness. He's tough, but he's another one that the consistency part of it, we need to see him just be more consistent."
  • Bradley did a terrific and frank job of letting us inside the mindset of him, Mike Mayock, and Jon Gruden when it came to the philosophy of the defensive line. "Mike Mayock and Coach Gruden have done a good job when we interviewed for this position, and we talked it all over. One of the big things that we talked about was you can never have enough rushers. That's just kind of our mindset since the time I was at Seattle, and if you can come in waves. You got a first group and then get the second group out there, and it's very, very good for morale and the room because everybody knows they're playing and they have an impact on the game, that's extremely important. And they know that they just got to fight man, and they know if they earn it, we're going to find a way to get them on the field. So, I think some of that mindset is you can see some of the guys we brought in was geared toward that. You got a guy like Hank (Johnathan Hankins) in there that is so good you really count on him and his leadership, and bigger body guys like a (Darius) Philon in the inside, Solomon Thomas, Q (Quinton Jefferson); so I think that on the edge you're seeing where now a guy like we drafted with Malcolm (Koonce), that edge rush you can never have enough of those good rushers."
  • I have reported extensively that Bradley has to develop and teach multiple players on playing at this level and addressing their mindset.
  • To Bradley's credit, he handled it delicately, not wanting to trash Paul Guenther, but he made his point clear.
  • "I mean it was tough last year with really no offseason, so I understand that. When you're trying to put in some new things that's really tough. Look at our offseason, I don't know how many reps we got but it was a lot and very grateful for that, especially now that you watch them in training camp, they have some understanding. So, that is hard to come back in now. As far as their mindset, these guys have been hungry from the day I walked in, and my understanding is that's how they were last year too. They want to learn, they want to do well, so it's been very good. I've been very pleased, as well as our staff, on their mindset."
  • Another player we have covered with immense praise for how he has approached this season is Johnathan Abram. His coach echoes my sentiments as well.
  • Bradley expounded on Abram's play in camp. "He's done a good job. Very much a student of the game, a guy that takes a lot of pride and does not want to make mistakes on the field and wants to understand it so well that he understands all the positions so he can be part of that accountability group that can hold each other accountable. So, I like him. I think we'll get a better feel for how he is. I would say just in the past, players that have played in this system, it's the art of repetition. Over and over and overdoing the same things to where it becomes muscle memory and the skill set, you utilize it so guys can pick up on it, then they'll start putting their own personality into the techniques. So, until you go full speed, I think we'll get a better feel for it. As of right now, he's done a nice job."
  • One thing Bradley has done is build quality relationships with his players, and he hasn't been here long. He addressed the off-field battle plan for creating such a successful connection.
  • "Well, I think our coaches, we talk about really an ownership and to help everybody get better with no personal agenda. I think that's another thing I've learned. We want to help them get better so they get better, not so we get coaches of the year. Just to try to keep it pure like that. So, I think if it starts with that, then any time you see a player in the office the conversations you have, they open up and kind of share things with you. I've learned from rookies and veterans, so I think conversations like that just bring in that trust level. With communication it starts with trust and that's why I think relationships are so important."
  • The Raiders have spent an immense amount of draft capital on the defensive backfield. There is a lot of talented players in that room that need to step up.
  • Bradley discussed the need for them to improve and how he is getting them there.
  • "I think that's a great question. There is talent back there, but consistency breeds credibility, and if they play consistent then we are going to start seeing coaches trust them more. And that's what we're working on right now. I think a guy like (Trayvon) Mullen, boy is he consistent. That's one thing I have noticed. Arnette is building consistency. He had a really good day yesterday, now the challenge for him is to keep stacking those up so he can build that trust. So, I like where he's at right now. We'll take a look at today where he's at. Casey Hayward, I think over the course of time has built that trust. So, I think that's what the message is with those corners in the backend, is we got to play consistent and continue to do the jobs that the coaches teach you. There is a lot of different ways to do it, but we kind of have to have it done this way for us to be successful and they've done a great job of buying into that part."
  • Cory Littleton is a player that we have reported about in great detail. He had a bad 2020, but we expect him to rebound back to his highly productive self in 2021.
  • Bradley discussed getting his star linebacker back on track. "Again, until we see it. I think he's already done a really good job. We looked at him in free agency a couple years ago and his seven-on-seven, defending the pass, his skill set, very good. I really like his movement skills. I know Coach (Richard) Smith and I talked about that, so now it's just, alright, now you're a B gap linebacker, or an A gap linebacker in our scheme, how are you versus the run? So, that's the biggest challenge for him but he's got length and in our system some guys that are a little bit lighter, back in the day like a Telvin Smith who was a little bit lighter but fast, those guys have a place in our system."
  • Having Kenyan Drake and Darius Stills back in action is enormous. We told you not to worry about either player, and they are back.
  • Just remember this name: Malcolm Koonce. The youngster is the real deal.
  • Earlier this summer, we projected nine players to make the Raiders 53-man roster on the defensive line: five defensive ends and four defensive tackles.
  • I can tell you that I would project as of right now that the Raiders will have ten defensive linemen make the team. That will be fun to watch.

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