This Wednesday and Thursday, the Las Vegas Raiders will scrimmage against the Los Angeles Rams. The scrimmages will be followed with both teams’ second preseason game on Saturday. The Rams are coached by Jon Gruden’s former protege, Sean McVay. McVay was an offensive assistant on Gruden’s staff in Tampa Bay in 2008. Suffice to say, the two men know each other well.
Las Vegas looked impressive Saturday in their preseason opener vs. the Seattle Seahawks. Most starters were held out for precautionary measures. The joint practices will offer both head coaches an opportunity to see their top players against top opposition for the first time this year. Below are three keys to focus on.
Offensive Line vs. “The Terminator”
A revamped Raides offensive line will take on all-world DL Aaron Donald (7x Pro Bowler, 6x All-Pro and 3x Defensive Player of the Year). This offseason the Raiders accomplished three things along the offensive line by jettisoning Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown. They got significantly cheaper, found better scheme fits, and became more athletic with Andre James and first-round pick Alex Leatherwood.
In their preseason debut, both James and Leatherwood fared well. Leatherwood allowed a pressure and appeared to be a bit hesitant in his pass blocking. James was the aggressor of the two, and with the help of his linemates, pancaked a couple of Seahawks. New starters are going to need as many quality reps as possible. You cannot simulate a game type situation in practice, the only way is by live action.
Coach Gruden couldn’t have asked for a better scenario for his young hogs up front with a strong showing vs. Seattle and now a step up in talent Wednesday and Thursday. The Rams defense also features twitchy OLB, Leonard Floyd, who notched 10.5 sacks in 2020. He will be a nice challenge for LT Kolton Miller and the aforementioned RT Leatherwood.
Outside WRs vs. Ramsey and Williams
Even the most casual football fans know that Jalen Ramsey is one of the best cornerbacks in all of football. What many fans don’t know is that his running mate, Darious Williams, is one heck of a player himself. Williams enjoyed a career season in 2020, breaking out with 4 interceptions and 14 passes defensed. Playing opposite an All-Pro like Ramsey means you are going to see a lot of action.
TE Darren Waller has missed the majority of camp nursing an ankle injury. This has allowed the spotlight to shine on starting WRs Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. The two receivers are polar opposites. Ruggs is the Ferrari while Edwards is the Range Rover.
Ruggs and Edwards struggled to stay healthy while adjusting to life in the NFL their rookie seasons. This offseason Ruggs dedicated himself in the weight room and was able to pack on 12 pounds of muscle. Edwards has been feasting on DBs in practice, drawing comparisons to Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.
It would be wise to curb the enthusiasm just a tad. Respect is earned not given. By the conclusion of Thursday’s join practice session, we will gain some clarity whether or not such lofty praise was justified for Edwards this early on.
Edge Rushers vs. Rams Tackles
Offensive line coach Tom Cable aspires to have what the Rams have: two bookend tackles on the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth is still a top tier LT even at the age of 39. RT Rob Havenstein hasn’t been as consistent, but enjoyed a bounce back year in 2020. The two are physically near spitting images of each other. Whitworth is listed at 6-foot-7, 330 pounds and Havenstein checks in at 6-foot-8, 330 pounds. You’re going to need an Uber ride to get around those two.
On the Raider side of the football, you have fan favorite Maxx Crosby, aka “The Condor,” and his new sidekick Yannick Ngakoue. What they lack in girth and sheer size they make up for with an insatiable appetite for sacking quarterbacks. You can measure a football player’s 40 yard dash time, his vertical leap, and how fast he runs around a bunch of stationary cones, but you can’t measure his hustle.
Crosby saw his production dip in 2020 from his breakout rookie year in 2019. He recently opened up about his struggles with getting sober, substituting his alcohol consumption by gorging on food. This offseason Maxx locked in to get in the best shape of his life. His dedication has paid off in spades.
“He leads our team in effort. He does,” said Gruden. “You are talking about a guy that’s here in the offseason. I think he lived in the facility. My car is here, his car is here. I drive by the facility and his car is still here…”
“He’s incredible. He’s in incredible shape. He can go all day, and I tried to wear him out today with a fourth quarter pass rush in the last drill and he’s ready for the 15th round. He wants to keep fighting. I love him. I love the way he’s working, and guys look up to him.”
Since trading away All-Pro DE Khalil Mack in 2019, the Raiders have struggled to consistently get to the QB. The Raiders made pass-rusher extraordinaire Yannick Ngakoue their primary target in free agency. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley now has a pair of relentless pass rushers to collapse the pocket reminiscent of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram during his stint with the Chargers. If Maxx and Yannick can replicate their success, the Silver and Black stand to make some noise in 2021.
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