The Raiders entered their second week of OTA sessions on Tuesday, another three-practice series without pads designed to prepare players for training camp. Head coach Jack Del Rio dubbed this practice “sloppy” in execution, though there was plenty of intensity within one of a select few open to the press this offseason.
Here are 10 observations from Tuesday’s session:
1. Raiders second-round pick Jihad Ward is considered a developmental prospect with great upside down the road, but the defensive lineman has flashed with solid play in these OTA sessions. He has shown power and agility on the interior, including one play Tuesday where he earned a simulated sack in team drills.
“He’s a serious kid, so he really studies hard and works at his craft, takes great pride in it,” Del Rio said. “I see him flash a little more than I anticipated, in terms of having quickness and the ability to find the football. Some defensive linemen are stuck on blocks and they’re wrestling the block all the time. Guys will run right by them and they don’t have the awareness to see them. You can coach them through that, but really that’s been pretty natural.
“He’s pretty natural when it comes to wanting to find the ball carrier and wanting to find the quarterback. That’s been a pleasant surprise.”
2. Raiders players engaged in three scuffles during this OTA session, including one between Kelechi Osemele and Ward where punches were thrown. Del Rio doesn’t like practice fights, and reminded his players to avoid them after the incidents.
3. Keith McGill is making the transition from cornerback to safety this offseason. The position switch is familiar, considering McGill played safety for three seasons in college. He received first and second unit work on Tuesday with several injuries at safety, and has coaches believing the change will help his career and contributions to the team.
“We just really felt like it was going to be hard for him at corner,” Del Rio said last week. “We feel he has his best opportunity to contribute on special teams and as a safety. We like his length. We like a lot of things about him. It’s just a matter of how far we can bring him, in terms of developing him, but that’s largely up to him. We’re going to give him every opportunity, knowing he can do some things at corner but we feel like his long-term future would be best served with him at safety.”
4. Menelik Watson returned for his second week of OTAs, his first practice sessions since tearing an Achilles tendon last preseason. The 2013 second-round right tackle has played with the first team this offseason, a position he held before the injury.
Austin Howard, last year’s starter after Watson went down, remains limited recovering from a knee injury.
“In his case, he was a guy that was really having a great (2015 training) camp and it was kind of a freaky injury,” Del Rio said last week. “Great to get him back. I know he’s excited to be back.”
5. Defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. and Dan Williams were limited participants on Tuesday, leaving the practice field after stretching and individual drills. That was the same itinerary used last week.
Edwards Jr. said he has been fully cleared to play football after significant neck injury late last season, though he hasn’t practiced during team sessions open to the press.
Williams is dealing with an undisclosed injury.
6. Sean Smith and David Amerson seem set as starting outside cornerbacks, though there could be a competition at nickel back. Neiko Thorpe is out injured, but DJ Hayden and TJ Carrie saw time in the slot with the first unit. Hayden took significant snaps there, and played outside with the second team.
Hayden intercepted Matt McGloin in the end zone on Tuesday, a highlight for a former first-round pick fighting for a role in the Raiders secondary.
7. The Raiders remain thin at two levels of defense. They’re missing Malcolm Smith and Neiron Ball at linebacker, and Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph at safety. That’s three starters out of the mix right now, though there’s little long-term concern about these absences.
Linebacker Korey Toomer and safeties Nate Allen and Dewey McDonald saw more first-unit action with aforementioned players out.
Defensive tackle Denico Autry, Thorpe, tight end Clive Walford, running back Roy Helu Jr. and receiver Jaydon Mickens also missed Tuesday’s work.
8. Rookie third-round pick Shilique Calhoun was an attacking edge rusher at Michigan State, and that should be his primary function with the Raiders. He’ll be asked to cover some in the NFL as a rotational rush linebacker. He was used some as an interior coverage linebacker during Tuesday’s practice session, and looked comfortable doing it.
9. Derek Carr brought some levity to first-unit red zone work, when a quarterback sneak was called that allowed him to waltz into the end zone. Right now, that’s an unstoppable play because quarterbacks can’t get hit. Carr laughed as he strolled into the end zone, and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. objected to an indefensible play.
Carr also had a solid practice, showing great zip and accuracy on his passes.
10. The Raiders seem set at the top for receiver spots, but should have an open competition for the No. 5 spot on the roster.
Undrafted receiver Johnny Holton made a pair of nice touchdown catches near day’s end, including one where he snagged the ball over cornerback Dexter McDonald. Max McCaffrey also caught a fade pass from Connor Cook for a nice touchdown. Del Rio also singled out Joe Hansley for catching ability.