With the start of training camp, Raiders watchers will focus on a couple of people in particular.
The first is Jon Gruden, who is returning to the NFL as head coach in Oakland after years away from coaching. The second will be quarterback Derek Carr, who will try to bounce back from his first disappointing season.
Yet there will be intriguing players to watch across the roster, including these five who could have a big impact on how the Raiders perform in 2018:
Martavis Bryant: There’s no question the former Steelers wide receiver, 26, can by a dynamic player. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has 17 touchdown catches in 36 NFL games and has averaged 15.2 yards per catch. But he was suspended all of 2016 for a violation of the league’s drug policy and there were reports earlier this summer that the Raiders feared the league was looking into another possible suspension. If those reports were inaccurate — and they surfaced two months ago and nothing has yet happened — and Bryant finds his rhythm during camp and exhibition games, the Raiders will have an additional big-time pass catcher for Carr.
Gareon Conley: The No. 1 pick of 2017 lost almost all of his rookie season to a shin injury but now appears healthy and fit. He was rated by some as the top cornerback of last year’s draft, and if he can show over the next few weeks that he can have the impact in silver and black that he did at Ohio State, the Raiders will have a gem.
Maurice Hurst: The former Michigan defensive tackle could prove to be the steal of the 2018 draft. The 6-foot-2, 296-pounder was ranked as one of the best defensive linemen of all time for the Wolverines but was discovered to have a heart condition before the draft. Doctors have since cleared him to play, but all other teams shied away from him, allowing Oakland to select him in the fifth round. Now, going into camp, Hurst is projected to start at defensive tackle. It will be fascinating to see how he fares against seasoned NFL linemen this summer.
Derrick Johnson: One of the big question marks for the Raiders’ defense is at middle linebacker, where the 35-year-old Johnson, formerly of the Chiefs, will try to be the rock in the center of the field. Reports out of Kansas City last year indicated Johnson had lost a step, but Johnson said after signing with Oakland that he has a fire to prove his doubters wrong.
Kolton Miller: The former UCLA offensive tackle was a surprise first-round pick by Oakland and now is the front-runner to win the starting job at right tackle. The Raiders wanted him to get stronger, and reports are that he’s gained 12 pounds of muscle. But coming out of college, Miller’s critics said he didn’t have great flexibility and needed to learn to get better leverage on defenders. Often, too, they said he had technique flaws. Since joining the Raiders, however, he’s impressed the coaching staff. Now those coaches will get to see how he handles the likes of Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Hurst every day in practice.