Raiders Camp Report: Jon Gruden Tests Young Players in Physical Practice

NAPA – NFL teams rarely go "live" any more. They don't allow tackling to the ground in practice to preserve health and save the most physical aspects of football for the games themselves.

It was common practice in the old days, but not so much in this modern era.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden called for it during Wednesday morning's practice, primarily with younger players in a rushing drill and when running backs were working on pass protection.

He wanted to see how his players respond to increase physicality, as he evaluates a roster that will suffer some tough cuts in September.

"We're going to have some live periods," Gruden said. "We had a live blitz pickup period today, 10 minutes of live blitz pickup. That's what it's all about. You can teach people who to block. You can have drills to teach them how to block. But in that period, you can find out how much they really want to block."

He let off the gas after that, having player take pads off for roughly the last half hour of practice. Tempo remained high, as players got significant reps down the stretch.

It's a good time to go live, with the preseason opener still a week-plus away. It might not be the only time. Gruden will pick spots to do so, as he did during his previous stint as Raiders head coach.

"That's a huge period, going physical, live," Gruden said. "I want to take a look at some of our young players, live. We did that today. Took the pads off after we had an extensive amount of work."

Nelson shows speed, savvy

Jordy Nelson split deep coverage on a post route, and found a way to stay open with a safety and cornerback closing in. Quarterback Derek Carr dropped the ball right to him for an easy touchdown and an example of Nelson's prowess even at 33 years old.

He made two other nice catches, including one where he was covered well.

"I think there are a lot of guys that are like him at different sports that are able to play at a high level no matter how old they are," Gruden said. "I think he's proven that since he's been here. I was really pleased with him today. He's a difference maker for us."

Townsend hits the target

Rookie punter Johnny Townsend had a solid practice were special teams and punt coverage in particular was an emphasis. The University of Florida product lived up to his reputation as an accurate directional punter, pinning returner against the sideline during drills.

The Raiders need that done consistently, especially against some of the NFL's best returners. Townsend has several punts at his disposal and can do so with power, accuracy or a combination of both.

"We really don't want to punt the ball down the middle of the field to that guy, or any guy, nor does anybody else in this league," Gruden said. "You want to try to pin the guy between the numbers and the sideline, give your punt coverage team an idea of where the heck the ball is."

Second-round pick starts practicing

Defensive tackle P.J. Hall was taken off the active/physically unable to perform list on Wednesday and practiced with the team for the first time in training camp.

The team's second-round pick missed roughly a week from a strained pectoral muscle. Gruden was alarmed by it last week, and wanted Hall to ease his way back into practice. He remains limited to individual drills, but those reigns should be taken off relatively soon.

Injury update

The Raiders injury list is growing, though there isn't much concern for players on it. Receiver Martavis Bryant missed practice with an illness, and tight end Derek Carrier is a little sore after taking a big hit from Marquel Lee on Monday. He isn't expected to be out long.

Neither is Jalen Richard, working back from a calf strain. Brandon Parker also missed time with an undisclosed ailment.

Chris Warren and Cameron Hunt returned to work after a few sessions missed with injury.

This ‘n that

Rookie edge rusher Arden Key continues to flash, showing great athleticism and bend rushing the passer. He put a great move on fellow rookie Kolton Miller, faking a spin around him before charging right through to the quarterback during a one-on-one drill. He has been a pest off the edge, and is showing the type of pass-rush ability the Raiders hoped to see. The LSU product has been working with the second unit. …Safety Erik Harris left practice early with a finger injury not believed to be serious. Gruden said after the workout Harris remains in the mix for a starting spot. He could be an unexpected member of the defensive rotation at the least. …Giorgio Tavecchio was the day's kicker – he and Eddy Pineiro alternate – and made 4-of-6 field goal attempts. …While others took reps returning punts, Dwayne Harris and Ryan Switzer are the primary options doing that job. … Linebacker Nicholas Morrow is quietly having a strong camp. He could have a role defensively even with everyone relatively healthy. …Quarterback Derek Carr continues to throw well, fitting passes within tight windows time and again.

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