Five Things to Keep an Eye on During Raiders Training Camp

The 2018 Raiders start training camp practice Friday morning.

It's gonna be a circus.

Jon Gruden's the main attraction, drawing national interest in his return to coaching. They'll come for the raised eyebrows and the passionate banter and, maybe, a few four-letter words.

They stay to see how Raiders players adapt to new schemes and staffs, how they come together under new leadership. The Silver and Black must get better this preseason to compete in the AFC West. Here are five things to keep an eye on during training camp.

Draft class revival?

Gruden has said several times the Raiders need more from the 2015-17 draft classes. He's dead right.

Receiver Amari Cooper's the only star in the group. Safety Karl Joseph's a steady starter. And that's about it. The Raiders need more from that crew, even with nearly half the 90-man roster spending their first summer in wine country.

The Raiders have moved on from some higher draft picks from that era, including defensive tackle Jihad Ward and tight end Clive Walford.

The young foundation must expand with guys still here. Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. (2nd round, 2015) must be better, healthier and far more consistent.

The Raiders expect big things from cornerback Gareon Conley, the roster's most talented cornerback. He has star quality, if he can stay healthy.

The 2018 class features several intriguing prospects, including offensive tackle Kolton Miller (first round), edge rusher Arden Key (third round), cornerback Nick Nelson (fourth round) and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst (fifth round) are all capable of making an immediate impact.

Raiders hope old guys (still) rule

The Raiders roster features 15 guys at 30 years old and beyond, many of which play prominent positions. Gruden likes his veterans, and he got some good ones in free agency. The group has leadership in spades, but must prove they've still got it on the field.

This is an important summer for some, an opportunity to show time hasn't sapped great effectiveness. Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson (35 years old), left tackle Donald Penn (35), safety Reggie Nelson (34), receiver Jordy Nelson (33) and running back Marshawn Lynch (32) have plenty of Pro Bowls between them. Can they remain productive against the young kids? They'll need quality from all five and quite a few more to compete against the best.

Battles on the offensive flank

Penn starts this training camp on the physically unable to perform list, still recovering from foot surgery last December. That leaves first-team reps to Miller until the veteran's ready, which will help the athletic blocker develop quickly.

Penn won't lay down, and remains highly motivated to finish his career (this year or next) in the starting lineup. Miller could challenge, but Penn should secure the give he comes back as strong as ever.

There's a real battle on the right side, between Breno Giacomini, David Sharpe and rookie Brandon Parker. Each guy has a legit chance to win the job.

Khalil Mack's contract

Edge rusher Khalil Mack won't be in Napa to start camp, holding out for a big-money contract extension. We explained that situation in detail here, including why he deserves a huge deal.

There's no telling when Mack will report, but a pact isn't imminent. It's possible the two-time All-Pro will be out a while.

The Raiders have a plan to give him a crash course in Paul Guenther's scheme, but they'd prefer him in camp ASAP.

In the meantime, expect Key to get heavy reps. He could develop into a solid third rusher and benefit from this situation. Mack will be ready to go when he returns, but his presence (or lack thereof) will be a storyline all summer.

The Carr-Gruden mind meld

Franchise quarterback Derek Carr had a down year in 2017, caused by a bad back and some struggles from the offensive coaching staff. He wasn't as efficient, and couldn't right wrongs when things hit the skids.

Gruden believes he can get Carr back on track and do it quickly. The Fresno State product can match Gruden's work ethic, and has an elite quarterback's physical skill. They've worked well together – Carr looked great during the offseason program – and must be of one mind to execute a varied, complex scheme that heaps responsibility on the quarterback.

That should develop quickly this summer, allowing the offense to run well when it matters most.

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