NAPA, Calif. — During his first year as a Buffalo Bill, Daryle Lamonica had a house in Buffalo, with an exceedingly long driveway. A native of Clovis, Calif., Lamonica had never had to shovel snow.
So, when the first snow of the winter came, Lamonica walked out of his door to head to practice, and saw the entire driveway covered in the white stuff, and his car blocked in. He spent half an hour shoveling himself out, and was late.
When he finally arrived, the coaching staff asked why he was so late, and he sheepishly told them. In no uncertain terms, he was told he had to build shoveling time into his morning schedule. Four years later, he was back home in sunny California as an Oakland Raider. On Saturday, he was one of over 100 Raiders alumni to return to Napa for the fourth annual Raiders Alumni Weekend, as the Raiders embarked on their second full day of training camp.
“We just saw practice, and I saw a lot of positive things,” Lamonica said, before turning his attention to fellow Central Valley native Derek Carr. “Derek has a lot of talent. He’s got a lot of good talent around him, and if we throw the ball down the field and we score, I think we’ll do OK. I really do.”
Late owner Al Davis used to preach about the necessity of the vertical passing game. One reason: If you make a mistake deep, the other team has longer to go in order to score. He also preached ball security, so he wouldn’t be too thrilled with the fact that Marshawn Lynch fumbled for the second time in two days on Saturday.
“He asked me after every game, ‘What was the most important thing you had?’ No INTs and no fumbles,” Lamonica said. “The team with the best turnover ratio — fumbles, interceptions — won 93 percent of the time then, as it does today.”
Carr didn’t make many mistakes in that regard on Saturday, as the Raiders took a field trip from their normal Napa training grounds to Memorial Stadium, hosing upwards of 6,000 fans for a two-and-a-half-hour practice. Carr completed his first seven passes in 7-on-7, and eight of his first nine, with the only miss coming off a breakup by Antonio Hamilton.
During 11-on-11 work, Carr and E.J. Manuel both dropped back and fired seemingly off-line passes, but both were intentionally lofted halfway up the stands to some lucky fans. Carr was one of several players — including Bruce Irvin and Rodney Hudson — who hyped up the crowd before practice began.
“Derek Carr has the ability to always keep us in all the games,” Lamonica said. “Whatever it’s going to take, we have the talent on the field, and I think the coaching staff will prove themselves. [Head coach Jon] Gruden has proven himself in the past, and I think with the players that we have, at least what I saw today on the field, we’re going to be very competitive.”
Carr is just getting used to some of his new toys, including receiver Martavis Bryant, who had a superlative day on Saturday.
As Carr rolled to his right on a broken play during 7-on-7 work, he pointed down field. Bryant broke off his route and dashed to the right sideline, and as Carr released, Bryant dove parallel to the ground, extended his arms, hauled in the pass, and slid out of bounds.
It wasn’t Bryant’s last big play of the day, as he reeled in a touchdown in the far right corner of the end zone during 11-on-11 work. For a player who was staring at a suspension before camp opened, and was referred to as a “work in progress” by Gruden on Day 1, it was a coming out party.
“He’s been good,” said offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who was given his first coaching job by Gruden back with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and served as Raiders offensive coordinator back in 2014 under Dennis Allen and Tony Sparano. “This is what we expected when we traded for him. [He’s an] explosive player. He’s had a good first three days.”
In June, Bryant, 26, was reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to be in line for a suspension by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The 2014 fourth-round pick out of Clemson missed the entire 2016 season due to a violation of the policy, but totaled 126 catches for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Pittsburgh Steelers over three seasons.
The Raiders traded a third-round pick for Bryant in late April, and it looks like he could pay off as a big deep threat for Carr, and could slot in as the No. 3 target behind Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson, with Ryan Switzer in the slot.
“He’s obviously very talented and he’s in a competitive situation right now,” Gruden said on Day 1 of camp. “We’ve got a lot of good wideouts in the camp.”
Another wideout who’s showing out is Cooper. The 6-foot-1 receiver came into camp at 223 pounds — 13 pounds bigger than he’s played at in the past.
“He comes back bigger and faster every year. It’s like ‘Coop, hey man, chill out a little bit, don’t get too big,'” Carr said on Friday. “No, I don’t know what else to say about him, he’s awesome. He’s healthy, he looks great, he feels great. You see him catching balls and finishing all the way down to the goal line. He’s practicing on scoring long touchdowns.”
Just like Al would have wanted.
Olson said that the backup quarterback competition is an open one between Manuel and second-year Michigan State product Connor Cook.
“He’s got to be much more consistent,” Olson said of Cook. “We’ve seen some good things from him, but he’s got to do a much better job of taking care of the football, and add more consistent play.”
In injury news, left tackle Donald Penn (foot), defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (knee) and defensive tackle P.J. Hall (pectoral strain) were still sidelined while on the PUP list. Hall worked off to the side of the main action.
Notable by his absence was cornerback Gareon Conley. With Gruden unavailable to the media afterward, the Raiders did not give a reason for the no-show.
With Conley out, the top two cornerbacks Were Rashaan Melvin and Daryl Worley.
The Raiders added Oday Aboushi to the roster on Saturday, and he suited up for practice, wearing No. 60. Aboushi worked as the third-unit right guard.
The top line remained steady, with Breno Giacomini at right tackle, Gabe Jackson at right guard, Hudson at center, Kelechi Osemele at left guard and rookie Kolton Miller at right tackle.
“Kolton looks real good right now,” Osemele said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do. It’s our first time working together, so it’s knocking the rust off on double teams and stuff like that, making sure we’re going the right way, just the little things rookies go through.
“Physically, his development, his understanding of our play calling, the game, our scheme, he’s way ahead of where I would have been at this point in training camp my rookie year. He’s looking good.”
The second unit consisted of Ian Silberman at right tackle, Denver Kirkland at right guard, Jon Feliciano at center, Jordan Simmons at left guard and David Sharpe at left tackle.
Oakland will put on pads for the first time on Sunday in a 9:15 a.m. practice, which will give the lines and running backs a real chance to finally show what they can do in real football situations. Running back Doug Martin — who signed a one-year contract in March after playing six seasons with Tampa Bay — is particularly excited.
“This is probably the best line that I’ve ran behind,” Martin said. “The holes are there, they’re wide open, and I can’t wait to run behind these guys … It’s going to be real exciting. I can’t wait to get the pads on. It’s been a while. It’s been a long time. There’s going to be a lot of guys arguing with each other, may be a couple fights. Hopefully not, but it’s all in the fun of the game.”
Martin, who at 5-foot-9, 223 pounds, has one of the more colorful nicknames in the league — “Muscle Hamster” — could be making a move to be the No. 2 back behind Lynch, or at the very least, the No. 3. He’s had a solid camp thus far.
“Growing up I used to watch Marshawn,” Martin said. “I modeled my game after Marshawn. I don’t think he knows that, but I guess now he will.”
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