NAPA – Arden Key's spin move is lightning quick. He's in front of you one moment, and around you in a flash. First-round pick Kolton Miller has learned that the hard way a few times in one-on-one pass-rushing drills, but he isn't alone.
The third-round edge rusher has victimized several offensive linemen, flashing the immense talent he showcased as a junior at Louisiana State.
"You go back two years ago and watch him at LSU, he's as good an edge rusher as there is in the country," head coach Jon Gruden said after Monday's practice. "He struggled a little bit his last season in Baton Rouge but Chuck Smith, who is his private coach in the offseason, sent us a lot of videos and kept us up to speed. There are some things this kid can do that is very special. Hopefully we get it full strength some day at the defensive end position and we can show our true colors."
Full strength. Gruden wasn't talking about an ailing player healing up. He was referencing Khalil Mack's absence waiting for a new contract. Those true colors could be dynamic up front. Mack, Key, Bruce Irvin and Maurice Hurst or Mario Edwards could form an intimidating pass-rush line on obvious passing downs.
Key's a large reason why the Raiders believe an improved pass rush is coming this season. He iss long and athletic, with an arsenal of pass-rush moves.
"I watch a lot of different players," Key said. "I even watch three-techniques like Aaron Donald. I'm not scared to rush from there, so [if I] end up working there I know what to expect from guards. I look at a lot of pass rushers, steal their moves and try them in one-on-one situations. If it works and I like it, then it's going to stick with me."
Key believes practices are going well because he's comfortable with his new team.
"I'm playing much faster," Key said. "The playbook is getting locked down, so I'm able to just react much faster. That's a good thing."
Key will see extended time in the preseason, where he'd like to translate solid practice into on-field production.
NFL officials visit Raiders camp
NFL officials came to Napa on Monday, as they do for each team each year, to explain rules changes and how they'll be officiated.
The new helmet contact rule has been controversial, and will be a point of contention among defenders and referees throughout the preseason, and likely beyond. Under the new rule, players leading with the helmet on a tackle or hit can be penalized or ejected for the offense, depending on the severity of infraction.
Players on several teams have expressed confusion and worry over the rule. Don't count the Raiders in that crew. Gruden believes the rule is clear, and the team has a tackling machine where proper tackling is emphasized.
"It's pretty self-explanatory," linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. "You don't lower your head to initiate contact. At the end of the day, it's designed to protect the offensive player. But you're also protecting yourself. … It just makes sense to me. You're always taught to see what you hit. … That's the way I've always played the game, so I don't see it impacting what I do."
Pre-snap penalties make Gruden sick
The Raiders were flagged several times during Monday's practice, mostly for what happened before the snap. That drives Gruden nuts.
"I wasn't happy with that," Gruden said. "The defense jumped offsides twice. Pre-snap penalties make me sick, they really do. I'm sick now. I don't feel like eating."
Pineiro sad to see Tavecchio go
Giorgio Tavecchio was released Friday night. Eddy Pineiro wasn't happy about it, even though it clears the way for him to secure a kicking job he was always expected to get.
The kickers became fast friends, and Pineiro didn't want Tavecchio to go so soon.
"It sucks that it happened," the rookie said. "Giorgio's a great kicker and he helped me out a lot."
The Raiders brought veteran Mike Nugent in to help mentor Pineiro and push him throughout the preseason.
"Working with Mike has gone well so far," Pineiro said. "He has a lot of knowledge. There's a lot I can learn from him."
Lions come to Napa
The Detroit Lions arrived in Napa on Monday before participating in joint practices with the Raiders on Tuesday and Wednesday. These sessions are popular among players and fans, and can be productive and intense.
"(Lions head coach) Matt Patricia and I have talked and we'll talk again tonight," Gruden said. "We'll meet them, their coordinators, tonight to make sure we're on the same page. There's an etiquette and a professionalism that we want to have, number one. We don't want a bunch of screaming and yelling and brawling out here. We want to have good, solid, fundamental football. Teaching moments. See a different opponent, block some different looks and get better. That's the number one thing. You will see similar periods. You'll see the two-minute drill. You see some third-down work. You'll see moving the ball, working on substitutions. You'll see some live goal-line periods. It'll be exciting. Hopefully our players, I know they will, will maintain good professionalism and get something out of it."
This ‘n that
The Raiders are down several safeties. Erik Harris (finger), Marcus Gilchrist (foot) and Karl Joseph (groin) all missed practice with minor ailments, leaving Obi Melifonwu to take some first-unit reps in practice. He has been buried behind several safeties in the pecking order. … Cornerbacks Tevin Mitchell and Gareon Conley also missed practice with injury. Running back DeAndre Washington is away from the team due to a personal matter. ... Maurice Hurst and Tank Carradine were productive in one-on-one pass-rushing drills. … Defensive tackle Mario Edwards and linebacker Jason Cabinda have also flashed at times in recent days. … Running back Marshawn Lynch had some nice runs during Monday's work, and showed great ability to cut back against the grain and find space in the second level. … The Raiders signed cornerback and Oakland native Reysean Pringle, who made a few nice plays in his first practice here. Shaquille Richardson was waived-injured in a corresponding move.