With only a few hours on the field for the first day of Raiders training camp, it is hard to name the winners and losers. However, as this is day one of the 2021 season, there are already some winners and losers as players look to make an impression early on for the coaching staff, which might ultimately be the difference of making the final 53-man roster and depth chart. Here are some that stood out.
Not going so well
Lets start this off by getting into some players who start camp at a disadvantage:
Isaiah Johnson is starting training camp on the PUP list, among others. But unlike the others (Divine Deablo, for example), Johnson isn’t a draft pick of the current defensive regime. So Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley and secondary coach Ron Milus don’t have any ties to Johnson. If he is unable to showcase what he has in camp, he could be an early cut candidate, especially since the defensive backs group is so deep and limited in spots.
The Raiders will likely carry four outside corners and two slot corners. Isaiah Johnson is considered an outside corner, so he is really competing for the final, of the four outside corner spots, as most would agree with Trayvon Mullen, Damon Arnette, and all-pro Casey Hayward having the top three spots locked in. Johnson is competing with six others for the final spot on the depth chart, (Keisean Nixon, Rasul Douglas, De’Vante Bausby, Shaun Crawford, Keisean Nixon, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson), unless the Raiders decide to carry seven corners, which is highly unlikely.
Jalen Richard has a ton going against him. First, the Raiders brought in versatile running back Kenyan Drake earlier this offseason to replace Richard on third downs. Drake is a good pass blocker, something Richard has always had going for him. Second, the NFL implemented strict Covid-19 protocols for unvaccinated players and personnel. And although we are speculating a little bit here, based on what Richard said on Twitter before making his account private, it doesn’t seem like he’s vaccinated.
The only benefit we have is we still get tested every day, but protect yourselves this season. Play ball and go home – sad but a must!– Richard via Twitter, July 22, 2021
Although getting the vaccine is every person’s personal choice, the NFL is making it tougher for unvaccinated players. More testing, stricter workout routines, and potentially forfeiting games, are just a few rule changes that the NFL has implemented for unvaccinated players. Jon Gruden also confirmed in Tuesday’s presser that every man on the staff and every man on the team, with the exception of 4-5 guys, are vaccinated. If Richard is one of those 4-5, he could be on the outs, especially if it came down to the Raiders potentially forfeiting a game.
Here are a few players that are at a big advantage:
When asked about the secondary, Gruden jumped up and had huge praises for Arnette.
“Well we drafted Arnette in the first round… He’s a big part of us moving forward. He had the virus. He had an injury to his thumb and he also had a concussion injury. So he was an incomplete performer for us last year. But he’s as good of a corner we have talent wise on this team. We think he, Travyon Mullen, Casey Hayward, and some of the other people that are in the mix now give us depth, competition, and some interesting matchups. So I’m fired up about the secondary.”– Jon Gruden, during his July 27th press conference
We are not 100% sure if Gus Bradley and Ron Milus feel the same way as Gruden, but there is a growing sentiment that Arnette could be the Raider’s best cornerback in 2021. According to some inside the building, “Arnette looks hungry.” And after a rookie season filled with injuries and only finishing seven games, this might be the time for Arnette to capitalize. Training camp will be big for Arnette as he looks to beat out Casey Hayward for the starting right corner spot.
It’s hard to be underrated when you were the 4th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, but somehow Clelin Ferrell ended up as just that – underrated. He was one of the league’s best-run defenders last year, and at times, he physically dominated the opposing offensive linemen. Some would also agree that Ferrell was the biggest reason the Raiders beat the Chiefs the first time the two teams met. Ferrell also came up big against the Jets, recording 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. And in Tuesday’s press conference, Jon Gruden called Clelin “unique”.
“Ferrell, he’s a good player. He’s unique. He’s unique because he can play right end. He can play left end. He’s a good run defender. I think his best pass rush might be inside. And I think you saw that last year when we let him do that last year vs. the Jets,” Jon Gruden said. “You should count on him being a part of this.”
However you slice it, Ferrell will likely continue starting, as Gus Bradley’s scheme requires shutting down the run before defending the pass. Ferrell can help with that.
Nick Morrow is that one player we aren’t too sure about. At the moment, Morrow sits third on the depth chart at linebacker behind Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkowski. Could Morrow repeat his stellar 2020, or was that great season that Morrow put together only because it was a contract year? Or did Morrow have a breakthrough on potentially becoming a star player? Jon Gruden seems to love Morrow.
“He might be one of my favorite players,” Gruden said. “If you watched him play college football, he was returning kick offs. He was playing all over the place. He comes to the Raiders, he makes it as a rookie. Finds a way to get on the field and now he’s got a chance to be a captain for us. He’s got a chance to be a difference maker for us in the middle of our defense.”
There are some clear winners and losers after day one of Raiders training camp, but one thing we do know, Gus Bradley and Jon Gruden are going all-in on getting this defense fixed, even if it’s at the expense of the offense.
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