NAPA – Raiders are more than halfway through their training camp practices. Strides have been made. Chemistry has been built since the full squad came to Napa on July 26.
They believe they're better and more competitive for this camp experience.
It's time to test that theory.
The Raiders will finally see different colors starting Wednesday, when the L.A. Rams come to Napa for a pair of joint practices. The NFC champions are loaded with talent and will provide an excellent progress report for a Raiders team trying to rebound from a dismal last season.
The Rams will offer a great test in all areas, and head coach Jon Gruden is excited to see how his team measures up in these important sessions.
"You get a chance to see a great team, number one, and you get a chance to take a look at your young corners against talented, veteran receivers," Gruden said after Tuesday's workout. "You get a chance to look at different aspects of your football team, your red zone offense, your red zone defense. We already talked about two-minute. We are going to take a look at our pass protection. Have we improved it? Or have we not? Tomorrow will be a great gauge because they are loaded up front."
The Rams will practice the Raiders twice before playing a preseason game against them on Saturday night at Oakland Coliseum. In many ways, these practices are more valuable than the games.
As long as physicality doesn't turn into fights, the Raiders should get in plenty of productive work these next few days.
"It's good to go against a different scheme. I really enjoy it and especially when it's two really professional teams that aren't trying to prove their manhood or prove their toughness to each other," quarterback Derek Carr said. "Obviously, football is a physical game, but when there is just fights and brawls, I think that's pointless, but when you can get good, physical, hard, fast work against a different scheme that kind of stuff is invaluable, honestly.
"I think it's more valuable than a preseason game if I am just going to be honest. Doing these joint things, you get different situations. A third-down situation, you get some of [defensive coordinator] Coach [Wade] Phillips' stuff. You get first-and-10 versus this personnel and you get this look and that look, different blitz patterns and things like that. You are getting more reps and it's way more valuable than a preseason game to me."
Antonio Brown away from facility
Raiders receiver Antonio Brown remains away from Raiders camp, trying to make sense of a foot problem that has kept him out of all but one training camp practice. We've all seen photos of his feet peeling in large, thick segments on social media, and they aren't well enough for a return.
There are plenty of theories about how Brown's feet got so bad, but the Raiders refused to discuss it or even acknowledge the nature of the injury.
Gruden said there was no news to pass along despite his absence.
"He's gathering information," Gruden said. "I'll bring you up to speed when I know something, but I'm not going to sit up here and speculate anymore."
It's hard to imagine Brown practicing either day against the L.A. Rams. A return under such circumstances would seem difficult, though nothing can ever be counted out with Brown's unpredictable nature.
Missing early practices isn't a big deal, though the Raiders certainly wish he would be active against the Rams. Those joint sessions offer a chance for real growth as a team, especially since Brown probably wasn't going to play in the preseason.
Easing Waller back in
Top tight end Darren Waller suffered a shoulder injury on Friday that isn't considered major, but will keep him out of the Rams practices. He suited up for action on Sunday and Tuesday – Monday was an off day – but has been limited to individual drills. There's no point in risking a setback for a player so integral to what the Raiders want to do offensively this season.
Gruden said Waller will be out until after the Saturday's exhibition against the Rams.
Singling Morrow out
The Raiders starting linebackers are all veterans. Brandon Marshall, Tahir Whitehead and Vontaze Burfict should play most of the time, with young players Marquel Lee, Jason Cabinda and Nicholas Morrow in reserve.
Gruden singled out one reserve in particular for an excellent start to camp.
"Morrow is really playing well," Gruden said. "He's finding the ball and he is fast. I'm really impressed with Nick, and [Marquel] Lee has also gotten better."
-- The Raiders top offense struggled in a two-minute drill, and looked disjointed at some points in this padded practice.
-- The Raiders went live in a goal line situation, with Josh Jacobs, Doug Martin and DeAndre Washington getting a scoring opportunity.
Jacobs went over the top, took a big shot but held on for the touchdown, in an impressive showing.
"It's not an easy yard to make down there, so it wa a good run by Jacobs," Gruden said. "He's doing a lot of things well. We're pleased with him."
-- Marcell Ateman continues to impress and keep challengers for his roster spot at bay. He had several nice catches for a second straight day.
-- Cornerback Daryl Worley also stood out, with tight coverage most of the day and a tough pass defensed down the field.