NAPA, Calif. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Oakland Raiders training camp:
The Raiders took a businesslike approach on Day 1 as there wasn’t the manufactured enthusiasm you normally see this time of year. The focus was on learning and getting better, because they’ve got a short amount of time to meld a number of new players into a cohesive unit. Then again, the weather could’ve been a factor as well. With the temperature flirting with triple digits, it was hot enough to sap the energy of onlookers in shorts and T-shirts, so one could only imagine the impact the heat had on players in shoulder pads and helmets.
“That’s what training camp is all about,” coach Dennis Allen said of the heat. “If you want to be a mentally tough team and you want to be able to win in the fourth quarter, you have to go through experiences like this where you have to push yourself through the heat, don’t give into it and you’re able to still go out and execute your job at a high level. One hundred degree heat is no comparison to what it will be like the pressure of opening day. Our guys handled it pretty well.”
Much of the focus was on the passing game. As typically is the case early in camp, the defense had the upper hand. But that figures to balance out over time -- and particularly when the threat of the run game is present. The Raiders will lean heavily on their ground game, which should make play-action passes particularly effective.
It was interesting to see running back Maurice Jones-Drew among those fielding punts. The return job remains open, and Jones-Drew excelled in that area while at UCLA. “He’s a guy that when he came into the league, he’s done that some and he’s done it at a high level,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that I wanna take a look at down there. I think we wanna go into this training camp with an open mind and really open up to all possibilities of guys.”
Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden split reps at running back with the first-team offense. Although competing for the starting job, don’t expect to see a lot of them in the preseason. First off, each has a recent history of injuries, and the Raiders want to make sure they’re as close to 100 percent as possible entering the regular season. Secondly, the staff wants to get a look at youngsters Latavius Murray, a 2013 sixth-round pick who missed all of last season with a foot injury, and Kory Sheets, a star CFL performer who rushed for 2,875 yards and 23 touchdowns over the past two seasons with Saskatchewan.
The offensive line remained unchanged from offseason workouts, but the unit is not set in stone. For now, from left to right, there’s tackle Donald Penn, guard Khalif Barnes, center Stefen Wisniewski, guard Austin Howard and tackle Menelik Watson. But the staff is high on rookie guard Gabe Jackson. Ideally he would start at left guard, which would then allow the versatile Barnes to serve as a utility player.
Allen says he’s in no rush to choose a starter between linebackers Miles Burris and Sio Moore. He says he wants to let them compete until, hopefully, one creates separation from the other. Burris worked with the first unit on Day 1; Moore worked with the second unit.
Second-year cornerback DJ Hayden is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. He watched part of practice form a stationary bike, then after practice walked with a noticeable limp, though with no protective boot. Whether that will signal an early return (i.e., a couple of weeks) remains to be seen.