NAPA –- The Raiders spent significant portions of practice working on special teams. That goes above and beyond return and coverage drills.
The work on punt blocking with a body back there –- you’ve got to feel for human target, reserve punter Steven Clark -– facing an oncoming rush.
He’s forming coverage teams with players heavily involved on offense and defense. Special teams coordinator Brad Seely like the energy of his units, and believes they’ll be improved in 2015.
“These guys have been great,” Seely said after Wednesday’s practice. “They’re a hard-working group. I don’t think I’ve been with anybody that worked any harder. Sometimes we have to play and work smarter, but these guys have been fantastic with their effort level out here.”
The effort level is high, leaving tough decisions to be made. Seely has to select return men from a stable of options including TJ Carrie, Trent Richardson, Taiwan Jones and newcomer Devon Wylie.
The frontrunner to return punts and kicks may be specialist Trindon Holliday, whom Seely briefly worked with in Santa Clara.
Holliday muffed a returnable kickoff, then followed up with a 22-yard punt return. Holliday has the skills, but ball security will factor into his job status.
“He’s still the same player I thought he was when we played against him and I had him at the 49ers,” Seely said. “He has incredible talent. He’s always got to work on ball security; that’s always been a situation where he has to improve on, and he knows that and he’s working on that. You saw that exhibited in the game. He muffed the first kickoff, which obviously he didn’t want to do, he wanted to bring that ball out, and then he had the nice return which his talent leads to.”
Defensive backs stand tall: The Raiders' secondary controlled 11-on-11 sessions during Thursday’s practice. DJ Hayden was particularly impactful. So was TJ Carrie, who continues to play tight in coverage with strong ball skills. Dexter McDonald is seeing more second-team reps than ever before, and looks to be a physical corner the Raiders’ coaching staff prefers.
Injury update: Cornerback Keith McGill and receiver Josh Durham missed their first practice of training camp on Wednesday. It’s uncertain why, as head coach Jack Del Rio did not speak with the press after practice.
Linebacker Ben Heeney also left practice early and did not return. His status is uncertain.
Undrafted linebacker Josh Shirley returned, but other injured Raiders remain on the shelf. Fullback Jamize Olawale, linebacker Josh Shirley and running back Roy Helu worked on the side with trainers. Holmes and tight end Clive Walford weren’t seen on Thursday.
Other notes from Sunday’s practice:
-- Quarterback Christian Ponder has played better since a solid showing in the team’s preseason opener. He continues to run the second team over Matt McGloin.
-- Trent Richardson had solid showing on Wednesday, when he often ran with the first unit. The Raiders seem to be pulling back on Latavius Murray to keep him healthy and fresh.
--Jon Feliciano worked at right guard for a second day, and Khalif Barnes played left guard as the Raiders continue to get swing players experience at several spots. Also, Tony Bergstrom seems to have an early edge on the backup center spot.
-- The Raiders conducted two-on-two pass rushing drills, an entertaining period that the offensive line claimed in a battle of first units.
-- Mychal Rivera continues to make plays in the absence of Clive Walford, who has missed three practices since playing in Friday’s exhibition opener.
Daily transactions: None
Returned to practice: LB Josh Shirley
Did not practice: LB Sio Moore, RB Roy Helu Jr., FB Jamize Olawale, WR Andre Holmes, TE Clive Walford, CB Keith McGill, WR Kris Durham
Next practice: The Raiders in shorts and shells on Thursday morning in their last practice at the Napa Valley Marriott open to the press. The Raiders formally break camp after a walk-thru on Sunday. The rest of the preseason, and the regular season for that matter, at their Alameda practice facility.