NAPA – Derek Carr never stood a chance. Eddie Vanderdoes quickly broke through the offensive front, charged into the backfield and reached the Raiders star quarterback before completing his drop. There's no hitting the signal caller in practice, but a simulated sack was enough.
Khalil Mack was pumped. He let out a roar, rushed toward Vanderdoes and rewarded the rookie with a head butt. Bruce Irvin came around and smacked in the back of Vanderdoes' helmet.
It was only a practice rep gone right, but it meant something in the moment. Mack and Irvin had 18 sacks between them in 2016, but the Raiders still finished dead last in sacks. They need some help, especially on the inside. Mario Edwards Jr.'s renewed health should help. So could a rookie looking to make an immediate impact.
The Raiders are getting their first extended look at the third-round pick who missed the offseason program due to conflicts with UCLA's academic calendar. So far, so good.
"He's been a student of the game," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "I think he understands how to get lined up. He understands the blocking schemes. He understands how to get on edges. Things that we drafted him for, we're very happy with what we have. He's jumped right in no problem."
A solid start to training camp has fans dreaming of a three-down tackle who can make an impact this regular season inside against the run and pass. Vanderdoes, however, isn't thinking that far ahead.
"We're completely in camp mode right now," Vanderdoes said. "It's crazy to even think we have a game coming up. That hasn't even hit me yet. I've got tunnel vision right now, worrying about the next meeting, the next practice, the next walk-through. That's my mindset right now."
Vanderdoes has a routine that helps him stay focused and do the little things right.
"After practice I'll go to the film, get a sheet of paper and write down things I need to work on," Vanderdoes said. "I'll read it right before practice and really try to focus on fixing issues from the previous day. The goal is to get a little better every day. I'm not looking to make enormous strides. That's not realistic. I just want to keep taking little steps."
Making small strides is key, especially going against an excellent interior offensive line. All-Pro left guard Kelechi Osemele is his regular sparring partner, which offers a serious challenge to a young player trying to identify what works and what's left to work on.
"When I go against someone like K.O., I need to be precise with him," Vanderdoes said. "I when I lose to someone like that, it's not cause for frustration. It's just a reason to go back to the drawing board and keep chipping away. I know I'm going to get better going against guys like that."
Making hay against excellent offensive lineman has provided optimism the Raiders interior defensive line will be more efficient in 2017. Denico Autry, a healthy Jihad Ward and Justin Ellis should factor into an interior line, but Edwards Jr. and Vanderdoes are dynamic playmakers in that position group.
The young rookie has impressed enough to run with the first unit. His teammates see potential, with power and speed while playing at 297 pounds.
"He's a hell of a player," Edwards Jr. said. "He's really strong, has good hands. He is going to make some noise this year."
The respect is mutual. Vanderdoes respects Edwards Jr.'s game, and looks forward to playing alongside him inside.
"For a guy his size, he moves like a cat," Vanderdoes said. "The way he uses his hands and flips his hands is so smooth. You don't see too many guys doing it as precise as he does. I think Mario is going to be a star."