NAPA — The Oakland Raiders finally got a bit of a look at injured defensive tackle P.J. Hall, who got into practice for the first time on Wednesday in a limited capacity.
“We want to ease him back into things,” head coach Jon Gruden said. “He did a lot of individual work. We’ll try to get him some one-on-one rushes tomorrow and ease him into the nine-on-seven. Remember, he didn’t get the four days of the rookie preparation. We’re happy to have him back, we think he’s an inside pass rusher, he’s hard to block, and hopefully we continue to see progress.”
While Hall is easing back into things, there’s nothing easy about Maurice Hurst and Arden Key, who have gotten a lot of run with the first-team defensive line.
During full pads work, center Rodney Hudson was able to evaluate Hurst, going up against him in the middle.
“He’s got a lot of ability,” Hudson said. “Smart rusher. He’s asking questions. We talk back and forth, o-line to d-line. He’s always attentive and asks questions like ‘why did you do this’ or ‘why did you do that’ and like I said, he’s got a lot of God-given ability. He’s quick. He uses his hands well to be so young.”
During one-on-one rush periods, Key continued to show why he’s going to play a major role in Guenther’s defense. With Khalil Mack still holding out, Key, who graded out as a first round pick but slipped to the Raiders in the third round, has shown off versatility, speed, athleticism and strength. He even turned the corner on athletic first-round tackle Kolton Miller, using a spin move to get around him and get to the quarterback stand-in.
For the latter third of practice, the Raiders took off their pads and ran 11-on-11 in jerseys and helmets. Full-team periods dinged Oakland on Monday, with tight end Derek Carrier taking a hit from linebacker Marquel Lee, and being too sore to practice on Wednesday. It was a learning experience for Lee, Gruden said.
“We had a live blitz pickup period today, 10 minutes of live blitz pickup,” Gruden said. “That’s what it’s all about. You can teach people who to block. You can have drills to teach them how to block. But in that period, you can find out how much they really want to block. That’s a winning edge in pass protection.”
While Gruden may play the part of luddite when it comes to new technology associated with the game, he employed helmet cameras on Wednesday. Throughout camp, Raiders players are wearing GPS chips in their pads to monitor their speed, their work load and their movements throughout practice.
“It’s the technology. I’m in the technology,” Gruden insisted. “We have Joe Harrington who came to us from the University of Tennessee. I think when Peyton Manning comes through here and talk to Peyton, he’ll tell you Harrington was a very important part of Volunteers and part of Peyton Manning. The use of the Joe Pole — the Joe Harrington Pole we call it — from linebacker cam, we have corner cam, we have strong safety cam, we have helmet cam on the quarterback. We’re able to see what the quarterback sees.
“We’re able to hear them in the huddle. We’re able to hear them at the line of scrimmage and really use it as a resource to teach Connor Cook, teach EJ Manuel, let Derek Carr see for himself how he sounded and what he saw. So there are some great, really cool things that Harrington has brought us in a very short period of time.”
With Gareon Conley still out due to a hip injury, there has been a story making the rounds — stemming from Rod Woodson’s comments last season — that the second-year cornerback suffers from Vitamin-D deficiency, given his repeated shin injuries.
“I don’t know if concerned is the word. I think disappointed is the right one,” Gruden said after Monday’s training camp practice of Conley’s injury history. “He comes out to start training camp and he’s in superb shape. He makes a play and suffers a setback. Hopefully he comes back sooner rather than later … Disappointed is the big word, I think. His heart is broken. He has put a lot into this, and he knows he has to stay healthy to get out there.”
On Wednesday, Gruden addressed the Vitamin-D rumors.
“I haven’t heard that. I have not heard that,” Gruden said. “Makes it hard to heal? We’ll try to get supplements for him.”
With Conley out, Daryl Worley and Rashaan Melvin continued to get first-team reps. Elsewhere in the secondary, Tevin Mitchell has also looked good at corner, showing that maybe this secondary has more depth than previously thought.
In special teams, punter Johnny Townsend regularly boomed 4.0-plus-second punts, including several nifty directional kicks that will play very big when the Raiders face the Kansas City Chiefs and Tyreek Hill, who returned five punts for 30 yards against Oakland last season, and averaged 8.6 yards per punt return last season with eight touchdowns.
“I think it’s a big factor,” Gruden said. “I mean, we’re not going to promise anything. But, we really don’t want to punt the ball down the middle of the field to that guy, or any guy, nor does anybody else in this league. You want to try to pin the guy between the numbers and the sideline, give your punt coverage team an idea of where the heck the ball is. And also, it’s a hidden area with Townsend, he’s a great holder. [Townsend] puts the ball down and handles it well, spins the laces and titles it properly. He’s a mature guy and we like what he’s done.”
Ryan Switzer and Dwayne Harris returned punts on Wednesday, with Switzer showing a nice bit of shake and quick change of direction.
Kicker Giorgio Tavecchio went 4-of-6 on field goal attempts, hitting a pair from 43 yards, then one from 45, missing a 45-yarder, hitting a 47-yarder, missing a 49-yarder wide left and finishing with a 51-yarder from the left hash that he banged between the uprights.
Conley (hip), Carrier (soreness), Fadal Brown (undisclosed), Chris Warren (undisclosed) and Martavis Bryant (illness) did not practice.