LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION FOR THE RAIDERS
NAPA — In terms of action, we’ll get our first peek at the new-look Raiders Friday during their first training camp practice on the grounds of Redwood Middle School behind the Napa Valley Marriott.
Rookies and selected veterans report Tuesday, with the full squad arriving Thursday. Coach Jon Gruden will talk that day, having already dealt with the presence of NFL Films, which helps produce the HBO series.
Camera crews are on site in Napa and have been to the East Bay home of quarterback Derek Carr.
“They came and just wanted to see us playing with the kids, talk about how everyone is doing, ask how coach Gruden and I get along,” Carr said in an interview Friday. “You know, the basic stuff.”
Gruden, reached by phone last week in New York City on a promotional visit benefiting youth sports, sounded excited to get things rolling until the subject of “Hard Knocks” came up.
“I didn’t volunteer for this, and neither did (G.M.) Mike Mayock,” Gruden said. “We’re going to do the best we can and be professional, but this isn’t our idea . . . it’s been placed on our plate by the NFL and so be it.”
Camera and production crews for “Hard Knocks” don’t receive an open invitation to film and record at their whim. The Raiders are expected to be more stingy than most teams when it comes to eavesdropping on position meetings and the reactions of players who have been released. Gruden will be wired for sound, but not all the time.
Gruden hopes to use the show to promote football on the grassroots level.
“I think we’re going to be a little bit different than some of the other teams that have been on Hard Knocks,” Gruden said. “My No. 1 goal of this whole process is to get kids excited about the upcoming season and for some of them to go out and give it a try.”
Exactly how the presence of “Hard Knocks” affects the Raiders will play itself out over 19 practices between July 27 and Aug. 19.
Here are five things to watch as the 2019 Raiders begin to take shape:
1. Injuries — It’s the obvious but most crucial aspect of any training camp. Crisp execution and team spirit lag far behind getting the best players through the process ready for the regular season opener Sept. 9 against the Denver Broncos.
First and foremost, that means Carr, given the mass panic that would ensue in Raider Nation should Mike Glennon or Nathan Peterman wind up starting in Week 1 due to injury.
It goes far beyond the quarterback. There are new faces in every position group. Keeping them on the field to assimilate with new systems of football rather than working with the athletic training staff on the side would go a long way toward forging an identity sooner rather than later.
2. The Kolton Miller-Trent Brown tandem — There were more than a few raised eyebrows when the Raiders not only made Trent Brown the highest paid NFL lineman, but were moving him from left tackle to right tackle. Sort of like when they drafted Kolton Miller in the first round last year and made him the starter at left tackle.
The Raiders are of the mind that in the modern NFL, the idea of the left side being more valuable than the right is obsolete.
An outside perception exists that Carr’s two most important pass blockers may not be capable of keeping him upright. Miller struggled mightily as a rookie on a bum knee but is bigger, stronger and presumably healthy. Brown played on the right side for the 49ers before playing on the left side and winning a Super Bowl in New England. He must prove he’s not a creation of Patriots line coach Dante Scarnecchia who is doomed to recede under Tom Cable.
Training camp will give a first look at how it’s going.
3. The Antonio Brown experience — The trade acquisition of Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers instantly gave the Raiders their best wide receiver since the glory days of Tim Brown and the first five games with Randy Moss. Moss, of course, got hurt at that point in 2005, was never the same that season and lost interest under Art Shell in 2006.
Brown is flashy and flamboyant, and brings his own personal support team tending to all his needs. He is also, based on offseason visual evidence from OTAs and minicamps, one of the best practice players the Raiders have had since they moved back to Oakland in 1995.
Brown should set an incredible pace in Napa. It’s up to everyone else to keep up, and Gruden loves the idea of his most explosive player setting a daily example for the rest of the team.
“He’s a crazy man and I can’t wait to lace it up and watch him go,” Gruden said.