NAPA, Calif. — After the Oakland Raiders’ first practice of training camp — a practice that saw the offense turn the ball over five times — quarterback Derek Carr said his goal every day was to make defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s lunch taste “a little worse.”
The offense — still facing a defense without holdout Khalil Mack — didn’t turn the ball over once during 11-on-11 on Sunday. DeAndre Washington and Doug Martin each scored receiving touchdowns coming out of the backfield, and Carr threw one touchdown — to tight end Jared Cook — while Marshawn Lynch bullied his way into the end zone as the Raiders held their first fully-padded practice.
“After today’s practice, I’ll probably skip lunch,” Guenther said. “I could probably use skipping lunch.”
Not only is the defense missing Mack, but starting corner Gareon Conley remained out for the second day with a strained hip — suffered while going for a breakup on Day 1 — and Dexter McDonald came up lame after going for a leaping breakup on a completion from E.J. Manuel to Saeed Blacknall.
Last season, Oakland had the No. 26 defense in the NFL, but without Mack, it’s tough to see it getting much better, but there are reasons for optimism, including the additions of fifth-round pick Maurice Hurst (who has already impressed early in camp) and Arden Key.
“I can’t go through everything that they were taught last year, so I didn’t worry about it,” Guenther said. “Hey, erase everything you have from last year. We’re going to start this book new. It’s a new chapter, and we’re going to write every chapter as we go.”
While Guenther’s system and the raft of veterans the Raiders signed — like Derrick Johnson, corner Daryl Worley, defensive lineman Tank Carradine, defensive back Marcus Gilchrist and corner Rashaan Melvin — perhaps the biggest move came internally, with the move of Bruce Irvin from linebacker to the front line.
Guenther scouted Irvin when he was coming out of West Virginia, and wanted to draft him while with Cincinnati, but the Seattle Seahawks were able to grab him first.
“I just think his best gift is going forward,” Guenther said. “That’s what he should be doing each and every down, so instead of playing linebacker and dropping off in coverage, we’ve got to utilize his and everybody else’s talents the best we can, whether it’s 10 snaps a game or 50 snaps a game.”
Irvin is, in a nutshell, what Guenther wants for his defense: Less thinking, and more reaction. The thinking comes now.
“I always tell them, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you a game plan sheet every week, and I’m going to tell you why I’m calling these things. I want you to ask me what I’m looking for here.'” Guenther said.
“This defense is like night and day to me, from the past two years to this year,” Irvin said. “[Ken] Norton is my guy — I love Norton — but guys are flying around, guys doing less thinking. First day, we had five turnovers. All last year we had 14 combined.”
That ability to just go — forward, in Irvin’s case — fits the seven-year vet just fine, even though he did have a pick-six on that first day of camp.
“I’d rather have a sack than a pick six any time,” he said.
Irvin went head-to-head with rookie tackle Kolton Miller in one-on-one pass rush on Sunday, and got the better of him on the first rep, turning the former UCLA lineman around while himself turning the corner to get to the quarterback. Miller held his own on the second rep, but was clearly getting tested.
“He’s going to be good,” Irvin said. “He’s just young. He’s a big guy, very athletic. Takes coaching. What else can you ask for in a kid? He’s our first-round pick, so he’s coming in with a lot of expectations, but he’s doing a great job. We battle every day.”
With Donald Penn still working back from offseason lis franc surgery — he looked very quick during work off to the side, along with Eddie Vanderdoes and P.J. Hall — Miller looks like he’ll be able to give the Raiders a very capable second option. As a bonus, he’s doing well enough that Penn can take his time, while sharpening his skills against a veteran pass rusher.
“I tell him, ‘Look, we’re going to go at it every day, bro, because we’re in the NFC West. You’ve got to go against Vonn [Miller], you’ve got Bradley Chubb, those dudes in KC, so we’ve got to get him ready,” Irvin said. “We’re going to need him.”
Oakland may also need the services of defensive end Key, who has been a standout over the first three days of camp.
“He’s a talented rusher,” Guenther said. “That’s why we drafted him. He’s doing a good job of playing the runs how we want him to play the runs. We know he can rush. He’s special that way. Obviously, we came out here in pads today, and showed the same thing he did in shorts. It’s exciting to have him out there.”
The lengthy, athletic edge rusher — a third-round pick out of LSU — blew by third-round pick Brandon Parker in one-on-ones, and showed off a deadly swim move to beat veteran Ian Silberman.
“He’s a really natural rusher,” Irvin said. “He reminds me a lot of the old 99 that was here (Aldon Smith). If he keeps his head on straight, which he will, he’s going to be a hell of a player. Can’t wait to see what he’s going to do this year.”
Irvin keeps in touch with Mack every day, and while the latter is not yet in camp, Irvin had no doubt that once he gets to Napa — or Alameda, if the holdout lasts that long — he’ll be ready to jump in.
“He’s working,” Irvin said. “I talk to him every day, and he misses [camp], but you know how it is, man,” Irvin said. “He’s working his butt off, and when he’s here, he’ll be ready.”
As the Raiders try and pace Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch — the latter bulldozing XXXX on his way to a touchdown in 11-on-11 — they lost Jalen Richard to an injury during practice (a calf strain, per Michael Gehlken of the NFL Network), and didn’t have the services of Chris Warren, also injured. Former Nevada and Iowa running back James Butler appeared to sign with the Raiders during a meeting on Sunday, per a tweet from Iowa play-by-play man Gary Dolphin.
Offensive guard Kelechi Osemele has leaned up and looked positively mean during camp thus far, and had another good day on Sunday. He laid a block for a big Lynch run, and punished Mario Edwards, Jr., in one-on-one, as well as Ahtyba Rubin on a stunt.
Osemele also was able to draw Key offsides during 11-on-11 work.
In special teams work, Giorgio Tavecchio hit a pair of high-pressure field goals from 37 yards out, with teammates dancing and gyrating just yards away. He was tasked with winning a game against Kansas City with 18 seconds left on the clock. In back-to-back set-ups, Carr and Manuel fell down in the middle of the hashes to set up the field goals.
Nick Nelson, Ryan Switzer, Griff Whalen and Dwayne Harris returned punts.
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