Raiders offseason program intensifies as OTA sessions begin

Raiders offseason program intensifies as OTA sessions begin

The Raiders offseason program is five weeks old. Players have lifted weights. They’ve improved cardiovascular shape. They’ve done drills in position groups and discussed schematics. They’ve added rookies to a group now 90 strong.

On Monday, they can finally put on helmets. They still can’t wear pads or have full contact, but the Raiders can play 11-on-11. Receivers will be covered. Quarterback Derek Carr will throw into traffic. Generally speaking, the competition cranks up a bit.

The NFL collective bargaining agreement has strict mandates regarding offseason activity, and a period formally called “Phase III” allows for more realistic on-field football work.

The Raiders will conduct 10 OTA sessions over the next three weeks. The media can watch three of them. Tuesday is the first, with another in each of the next two weeks. These sessions are technically voluntary, though the Raiders generally hover around perfect attendance. Head coach Jack Del Rio prefers his team be unified in the offseason. Players know it and show up.

There is a mandatory minicamp from June 13-15 which wraps the offseason program and starts a quiet period that extends until training camp begins in late July.

These OTAs offer an opportunity for new players to learn the system, for adjustments to be made and for chemistry to be built heading into a 2017 season where expectations are high.

McKenzie: Marshawn Lynch 'already entrenched' in Raiders locker room

McKenzie: Marshawn Lynch 'already entrenched' in Raiders locker room

Marshawn Lynch took some time to agree on contract terms with the Raiders. The Oakland native formally joined the Silver and Black a day before the NFL Draft, which served as a soft deadline for his commitment to unretire and join his hometown team.

The Raiders have been pleasantly surprised by Lynch since acquiring his rights from Seattle on April 26, starting with unbridled enthusiasm upon signing his new contract.

He reported to the Raiders offseason program in tremendous shape despite being out of football in 2016, and has been a full participant in workouts he was apathetic towards in Seattle. Lynch has also fit right in to the Raiders locker room culture since joining the club.

“He has been great,” Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said Thursday in an interview with 95.7-The Game. “He has been great in meetings. He has been great on the field. He’s going well in terms of his physical progress. He’s doing quite nicely and we think he’s going to be a great help on the field.

“Off the field, he has meshed very well with the team and is already entrenched as one of the guys. It’s going well with him.”

While it took some time to navigate a complex acquisition process, McKenzie said it went relatively smooth.

“Prior to getting him, I had no setbacks thinking he was not going to be able to get here,” McKenzie said. “My communication with Seattle and Marshawn’s people was great. Everyone indicated that he wanted to play. That’s all we needed to know. The fact he wanted to be a Raider was icing on the cake. We went through the process and got it done. He’s excited, and so are we.”

The Raiders now have a deep running back group. Lynch’s physical rushing style is the focal point of an attack that also features smaller, elusive rushers Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington. Those guys will run behind a productive offensive line considered among the NFL’s best.

McKenzie: Raiders defensive lineman Edwards Jr 'wants to be dominant'

McKenzie: Raiders defensive lineman Edwards Jr 'wants to be dominant'

Mario Edwards Jr. hasn’t played many football games lately. The Raiders defensive lineman missed 16 straight over two seasons, with a neck injury cutting 2015 short and a hip injury giving 2016 an extremely late start.

Edwards has been good when healthy, allowing the Raiders to dream big when pairing him with Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin along the defensive front. Player and team hope to see those three playing together in 2017, with Edwards providing interior push while Mark and Irvin rush off the edge.

Edwards is a versatile piece who would primarily play end in the base defense and move inside on passing downs, giving the Raiders an inside threat they lacked last season.

General manager Reggie McKenzie says the 2015 second-round pick is ready to make a major impact this season. He’s leaner than before, which should help him use freakish athleticism to make plays up front.

“He’s extremely motivated,” McKenzie said Thursday in an interview with 95.7-The Game. “He wants to show the league that he can be dominant, not just a solid football player. He wants to be dominant. He’s healthy, he’s strong and in a good mindset. He’s ready to roll, and we’re extremely anxious to see him get going this season.”

Edwards had 42 tackles, two sacks and three forced fumbles as a rookie, when he played several techniques from defensive tackle to stand-up edge rusher. He only managed two tackles in two games last year, when he clearly wasn’t himself following a long recovery from a hip injury.

Staying healthy will be key this offseason, so he can make an impact when games count.

“With a healthy Mario we’ll be a better defense, no question,” McKenzie said in March at the NFL owners meetings. “That’s not just in the pass rush. He’s a very good run player. He’s going to be a good player for us.”