NAPA – The Raiders were solid on special teams last season, with several core veterans anchoring that effort. Brynden Trawick, Darren Bates, Andre Holmes, Nate Allen and Taiwan Jones were chief among them.
That quintet has been disassembled. The first four left in unrestricted free agency, and Jones was cut just before training camp’s start. Trawick and Bates are in Tennessee. Holmes and Jones are in Buffalo. Allen’s in Miami.
Raiders special teams have gone through a youth movement, and a leadership shift towards remains veterans who understand the importance of the kicking game.
“I think you have to go to the other guys who have been here, like Jamize Olawale. There’s a really solid person. Keith McGill [II], another guy that’s a real solid person,” special teams coordinator Brad Seely said. “You have to look at our specialists, the kicker, the punter and the snapper. Those guys have been around a long time, so we ask those guys to be leaders. I think we’ll find out more. That, to me, is one of the things we’ll find out in these (preseason) games. Which guys will step up when there’s adversity, when something bad happens or when something good happens and how do they react to those things?”
Seely said that before news broke that his coverage teams sustained another blow. McGill suffered a foot injury in practice, according to a source. He’ll see a specialist, and could require surgery. That puts a greater onus on Olawale and young players like Cory James, Shalom Luani, Tyrell Adams and Marquel Lee. Johnny Holton will fill an important role as a gunner and use speed to be first on the scene covering kickoffs.
“Special teams is also about effort,” Holton said. “You have to be committed and determined to play well in the kicking game. It’s an area where I know I’ll be counted on. I’m ready for that.”
The Raiders have weapons on special teams, including All-Pro kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson. He’ll make a great impact on the battle for field position – he averages 30.4 yards per return – and is a scoring threat on every return. Patterson has five return touchdowns in his career.
He’s also an excellent gunner. He and Holton should be impactful on the outside. While Patterson is a veteran who understands the value of special teams, he isn’t much of a vocal leader.
“I think he’s a guy that, he leads by example because he’s a good worker,” Seely said. “He doesn’t have to be a rah-rah guy. He’ll speak up when there’s a time to speak up. I think we haven’t had any of those times yet. I’m excited about having him on our team because I just think he’s a pro.”
-- Cornerback Sean Smith worked with the second unit for the second straight practice. TJ Carrie took reps in his starting spot and made a few nice plays, including a diving deflection in the corner of the end zone. It’s uncertain how long Smith will work with the second string. He hasn’t looked comfortable or consistent working with either unit during the early days of camp. Both Smith and Carrie will be pushed by first-round pick Gareon Conley when he’s physically cleared to practice.
-- Receiver Amari Cooper stretched with the team, but didn’t participate in individual or team drills for the third time in four practices with an undisclosed injury. He has been wearing a compression sleeve on his left leg. K.J. Brent filled in for Cooper with the starting group, and was effective at times. He caught a beautiful deep ball from Derek Carr in heavy traffic as a highlight of the day.
Michael Crabtree took it easy during a practice not conducted in pads, and was largely held out of team drills.
-- Safety Obi Melifonwu, offensive tackle David Sharpe and defensive end Fadol Brown were out with injury. Gareon Conley, Jon Feliciano and Jihad Ward are still on the physically unable to perform list.
-- Quarterback Connor Cook had his best day of training camp on Saturday, with some precise throws to move the chains. He is still behind in the backup quarterback battle and hasn’t seen second-unit reps in training camp.
-- The defensive front seven was active for a third straight day, with simulated sacks from Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin and solid interior pressure from rookie Eddie Vanderdoes.