At some point, Antonio Brown will jump in to the Raiders’ passing game with both feet. Until that day arrives, Derek Carr looks as if he can get along just fine without him.
That’s the way it appeared Saturday, anyway, as the Raiders held the seventh of 16 practices during the Napa phase of training camp.
Carr was sharp, particularly in the red zone, during a non-padded session, spreading the ball around to a host of receivers. There was a jump-and-catch end zone fade to Tyrell Williams, a thread-the-needle bullet inside the 5 to former UC Davis star Keelan Doss and a perfectly thrown floater to Marcel Ateman for another score.
Visual evidence suggests the Raiders receivers have been upgraded dramatically as a unit even without Brown, who was nowhere to be seen for the second consecutive day. Williams (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) has been wide-open and sure-handed, and his size means Carr can take a chance now and then and have a good chance of a positive result.
The touchdown throw to Williams on Saturday makes it more likely Carr will try the same play when the regular season begins.
“This is the time to find out and he’s consistently done that,” Carr said. “I think everyone that’s been at practice is seeing Tyrell not just as a number two receiver. He can easily take the featured role and be a 100-catch, 1,000-yard guy. And the fact that we got him is a blessing man.”
Besides Williams, other receivers have demonstrated the ability to consistently get open. Dropped passes – a big Raiders problem even when Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper were producing – have been few and far between.
J.J. Nelson, a free agent from the Arizona Cardinals, has impressed Carr with his speed.
“I’ll never forget the first go (route) I threw him,” Carr said. “I thought I overthrew him, and I left it short about three yards ... everyone says he is fast but every day that’s a legit 4.2.”
Hunter Renfrow, a fifth-round draft pick out of Clemson, has shown a knack for getting open in the slot. Veteran Ryan Grant, signed from the Indianapolis Colts, had a good day Saturday.
At one point, Grant caught a short pass and put a fake on rookie Isaiah Johnson that nearly broke his ankles. Grant got an “attaboy” and a pat on the back from coach Jon Gruden on the play.
There’s also Doss, the undrafted rookie who has shown the ability to make the tough catch and occasionally muff an easy one. That’s what happened Saturday. After making a difficult catch in traffic, he dropped a routine out route along the sideline.
“Just a routine catch. Stuff like that happens, you’ve got to let it go and get on to the next play,” Doss said. “Same with the first one, nice catch and everything, but got to move on to the next play.”
More notes and observations from the seventh practice of training camp:
▪ The Raiders took off the pads but practiced with a brisk tempo in shorts and shells, working on quickness, timing and execution rather than banging bodies.
▪ What would Al Davis have thought? He probably would have had a few choice words for the security detail as a drone flew overhead for much of practice.
The drone, with a camera, was part of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” coverage.
▪ It was A.J. Cole’s turn to punt, and he again showed he’s got the strongest leg in his competition with incumbent Johnny Townsend. Most of his punts had hang times of more than 4.5 seconds unofficially, with at least two breaking five seconds. If form holds, Townsend will get his turn again Sunday.
▪ One of the more under-the-radar signings in the off-season was Josh Mauro, who played in 59 games with 30 starts in five seasons (four with Arizona and last season with the New York Giants). Mauro has been running with the first team at left defensive end, and his likely role will be setting an edge against the run.
It’s a role the former Stanford player takes seriously. Mauro in fact traces the Raiders’ infamous total of 13 sacks directly to run defense.
“If you’re trailing in games, you’re not going to get a chance to rush the passer,” Mauro said. “They were 29th against the run last year. No one talks about that. Everyone’s talking about 13 sacks. If you don’t stop the run, you don’t get to rush the passer.”
Mauro is right about stopping the run, but wrong about where the Raiders ranked in run defense.
They were 30th.
▪ Mack Brown, who played in nine games for the Washington Redskins under Gruden’s brother Jay last season, was signed to the roster. Brown had 82 yards in eight carries in nine games last season. Brown practiced Saturday, wearing No. 34. To make room, guard Lukayus McNeil was released.
▪ With running back Jalen Richard suited up but held out of team sessions, DeAndre Washington got extensive work Saturday and was a standout both running and receiving.
During a one-on-one drill, Washington put a fake on Brandon Marshall during a pass route that had the veteran linebacker going the wrong way, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd of season ticket holders and invited guests.
▪ Long-snapper Brian DePaola received permission from special teams coach Rich Bisaccia to bring his cell phone for team meetings, and for good reason.
DePaola’s wife is expecting the couple’s first child any day. The ground rules – text with any updates, but call if it’s “go” time.
▪ Tight end Darren Waller, one of the standouts of training camp, was not at practice.
▪ Among the guests at practice was California Gov. Gavin Newsom.