NAPA –- The Raiders opened training camp surprisingly healthy, even at a spot where they were beset by injury. Safeties Reggie Nelson and Karl Joseph missed the offseason program, but were full participants for Friday’s opening session.
That’s a positive for this defense, especially a first-round draft pick in Joseph who needs as many reps as possible. Joseph has been fully cleared for activity, and looked fast and agile in his first full practice back after rehabilitating from ACL surgery in October 2015.
“He doesn’t show any signs of that,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “I feel good about the rehab that he’s gone through and the work he’s put in. We’ll monitor all the guys that are returning from injury for reps and things, just to make sure we’re smart with them. He’s ready to roll.”
Joseph was surprisingly in sync on Thursday, prepped primarily by pre-training camp workouts designated for rookies, quarterbacks and previously injured veterans.
“The four days of pre-camp were really big for him to build confidence in the system, to build confidence in his ability to move and do the things he wants to do. The conditioning will continue to come. We’ll work at it. It’s huge to have our group together and working. The more days and the more reps we can take together, working together, the better. We’ll try and close that gap a little bit because we did miss some time this season.”
Helu exits: The Raiders essentially parted ways with running back Roy Helu, moving from PUP to season-ending injured reserve on Friday. They signed defensive tackle Derrick Lott in a corresponding move.
It’s virtually certain that Helu will reach an injury settlement with the team and be released. Helu elected to have surgery on both hips this offseason, and wasn’t available for the offseason program or the start of training camp.
“We hoped to get a little more last year out of him,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He elected to have some things done (surgically) this year in the offseason, and at this point we’re going to move forward with the team.”
Autry on PUP: Defensive lineman Denico Autry was the only Raiders regular to miss the start of training camp. He has recently worn a brace on his right hand, wrist and forearm area. He counts against the 90-man roster, and will be activated once he’s healthy enough to play.
Catch of the day: This one came from a defensive player, when undrafted rookie edge rusher James Cowser – Khalil Mack has nicknamed him “Sunshine” – intercepted backup quarterback Matt McGloin and rain away for what would likely have been a pick six.
Early hierarchy at right tackle: The position battle to play right tackle is the best in camp, and Menelik Watson received most first-team reps in this training camp’s opening practice. Austin Howard largely worked with the second team on this day. Both players will be given a chance to win the job and work with what could be a strong offensive line.
Other notes from Raiders practice
-- Linebacker Ben Heeney will receive play calls from the sideline, fellow interior linebacker Malcolm Smith told 95.7 FM. That’s a strong indicator the Raiders plan for him to start with Smith on the inside.
-- DJ Hayden was the primary slot cornerback on Friday, as he was during the offseason program. He will battle TJ Carrie and Neiko Thorpe for the right to play that important role. Hayden had an interception in a one-on-one battle with Michael Crabtree.
-- The Raiders had an issue with fumbled snaps and, after the second one from the second team, that unit had to do up-downs as punishment.
-- Rookie offensive lineman Vadal Alexander was activated off the non-football injury list after passing a physical and practiced on Friday. He was inactive during pre-camp practices meant for rookies, quarterbacks and previously injured veterans.
Alumni, military attend practice: The annual Raiders alumni weekend kicked off on Friday, when an impressive list of Raiders players returned for a weekend at the Napa Valley Marriott that includes a large gala. Among the attendees were Fred Biletnikoff, Raymond Chester, Jeff Hostetler, Jay Schroeder and Cliff Branch.
A contingent of military personnel was also on hand for the opening session.
Daily transactions: Raiders placed RB Roy Helu on injured reserve, activated OL Vadal Alexander off non-football injury list, put DL Denico Autry on PUP and signed DT Derrick Lott
Returned to practice: N/A
Did not practice: No one on the active roster
Physically unable to perform list: DL Denico Autry, DL Greg Townsend Jr.
Next practice: The Raiders will practice on Saturday morning, the first such session in front of fans. As a reminder, practices are not open to the public. They are available to season-ticket holders and special groups by invite only.