Which Raiders Have Surprised Jon Gruden Most This Offseason?

ALAMEDA -- The Raiders are in the offseason program's home stretch. Their mandatory minicamp started Tuesday, beginning a three-day stretch that caps spring work.

While these sessions are conducted without pads, there's plenty coaches can glean from proceedings. Head coach Jon Gruden spread praise around in his post-practice press conference, and offered insight on players standing out and working through the spring.

Khalil Mack's absence from Tuesday's practice was the day's top story detailed here, in a previous post you should check out.

This one is devoted what was seen and heard from Tuesday's practice and press conferences. Here's what we learned:

-- Rookie edge rusher Arden Key flashed quickness and bend getting around the edge on several occasions, including one simulated sack working against first-round pick Kolton Miller.

Miller stifled Key a few times and generally performed well as the first-team left tackle while Donald Penn returns from foot surgery.

-- The first practice scuffle of this Gruden era broke out Tueaday between defensive lineman Fadol Brown and third-round offensive tackle Brandon Parker. Brown was the aggressor, and was thrown out of practice for fighting.

Gruden, to say the least, was not thrilled.

"I didn't like what happened today, particularly in the situation," Gruden said. "You hear all this situational football talk around the league. We're in the 2-minute drill to win the game, and we got a guy ejected for fighting. That's a 1-yard penalty and Eddy Pineiro ended their day with a game-ending field goal. I'd hate to fly back from London or wherever the hell we have to play, Miami or all these road trips we've got, losing a game like that. Sorry for getting unglued."

-- Gruden admitted being surprised by two players during this offseason program. Tight end Jared Cook was one.

"I didn't know he could move like that," Gruden said.

Cook's athleticism has allowed the veteran to play several different positions in the passing game, and given Gruden a roving chess piece he didn't know he had.

Safety Erik Harris was the other. The unheralded third-year pro, known primarily as a special teams player, has impressed on defense this spring. He took some first-team reps on Tuesday, and drew praise from the head coach.

"The guy that's really been stunning for us is Erik Harris," Gruden said. "I'm doing my research on this guy. Who is this cat? This guy has played really good football for us. I don't care what round they are coming from. This kid is really rising to the top right now."

The Harris praise came during a question about Obi Melifonwu, a second-year pro who has ramped up activity after Gruden mentioned he wasn't close to a contribution while rehabbing from hip surgery.

-- The kicking competition between Eddy Pineiro and Giorgio Tavecchio will carry through the summer. While Pineiro has taken every practice rep in sessions open to the press, Gruden said the kickers are trading off days, making it coincidental. The coaching staff loves Pinerio, so much so they nearly drafted the Florida product in the seventh round. He seems to have the inside track to the regular-season gig.

-- Safety Marcus Gilchrist missed practice with a calf strain. Gruden said holding him out was precautionary, and (while knocking on wood) said that major injuries had, to this point, avoided the Raiders this offseason. Gruden then praised Gilchrist as the best safety during the offseason program, and someone who can play multiple spots.

Breno Giacomini wasn't present for Tuesday's practice, and Gareon Conley missed most of the session, but Gruden wasn't worried about it.

-- The Raiders cut quarterback Christian Hackenberg less than a month after acquiring him in trade from the New York Jets. There weren't enough reps to go around, and the No. 4 guy didn't do much with them.

Gruden said the battle to back up Derek Carr is wide open at this stage. Connor Cook is "moving up…but there are some rough edges he can improve." Likes EJ Manuel's athleticism thus far (and the guy has a cannon arm). The competition will carry on, but Manuel has pole position to retain a job he earned last season.

-- Karl Joseph intercepted Connor Cook early in Tuesday's practice, continuing an interception trend that has carried through the offseason. Coaches record when a player is around the ball in practice, and Gruden said Joseph had an exceptionally high number. That's a good sign for someone looking to be a playmaker next season.

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