ALAMEDA, Calif. — On the first day that Raiders wide receivers could be covered, Derek Carr peered downfield and saw that Tyrell Williams wasn’t. He stepped into the pocket during a 7-on-7 period and hurled a 55-yard pass to Williams in stride.
And a little proof that a missing dynamic to the offense may be found.
Perhaps no position on the Raiders’ roster is more improved on paper than wide receiver. For the parchment to translate, Carr and recent additions like Williams look to develop their on-field chemistry. Tuesday’s start of organized team activities marked an important benchmark in their effort.
As outlined in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, OTAs are the first time players are permitted to wear helmets during the offseason workout program, and it’s the first time that offensive and defensive players can directly oppose each other in drills.
On the long score, Williams had multiple steps on the nearest safety.
“It’s nice to hit that on the first day, especially to catch one and get in the end zone,” Williams said. “It’s exciting. Hopefully, we’ve got a lot more coming with that.”
There are a lot of new faces for Carr.
Amari Cooper is gone. Jordy Nelson is gone. Jared Cook is gone. Seth Roberts, Martavis Bryant, Brandon LaFell and Lee Smith are all gone. With the exception of LaFell, those players were on this same field last May. And although Smith was more of a blocker, all seven contribute to the same staggering turnover.
Carr completed 274 passes for 3,227 yards and 19 touchdowns to his wide receivers and tight ends in 2018. Only 35 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns were to wide receivers and tight ends still on the roster today.
Tight ends Darren Waller and Derek Carrier and wide receivers Marcell Ateman, Dwayne Harris and Keon Hatcher are the lone returners.
“It’s crazy what 12 months does, right?” Carr said Tuesday. “A whole new group. A new challenge of getting on the same page and things like that. But one thing I’ve seen with this new group is they work crazy hard. A lot of people say they do, but these guys, they’re texting me, saying, ‘Hey, I’m in town. Let’s go.’ I’ll get off my couch. I’ll bring my kids, and we’ll go throw.
“It’s nice to see how hard they want to work and how great they want to be. … I’ll hit them up and say, ‘I’m going to be in town. Do you want to throw this day, this day,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there,’ and they’re literally taking flights the next day. It means something to them.”
Antonio Brown was the Raiders’ blockbuster addition.
He has shown initiative to work out and mingle with Carr away from Raiders headquarters, helping not only to build their chemistry but establish a tone for committing to the jelling process. Brown was absent Tuesday for unspecified reasons, something coach Jon Gruden cautioned not to “read much into.”
Brown and Williams officially arrived March 13.
In the several weeks that followed, the Raiders added Ryan Grant and J.J. Nelson as free agents, traded up to draft former Clemson slot receiver Hunter Renfrow in the fifth round, and invested substantial guaranteed money to sign undrafted rookie free agent Keelan Doss.
Of them all, the 6-foot-4-inch Williams offers the most ability to stretch the field vertically.
Carr has lacked a proper deep threat. Johnny Holton was his speediest wide receiver in 2017, but he had the ball skills of a cornerback. To that end, the Raiders tried in vain to convert him into a cornerback on their practice squad last year before parting ways. Bryant was hoped to solve the riddle in 2019, but his limited grasp of the playbook served to his detriment.
Williams could be the Raiders’ answer. He flashed that Tuesday.
“A lot of football today is run-pass options where you stretch the (defense) laterally,” Gruden said. “You’re running bubble screens and fly sweeps, but you’ve also got to stretch them vertically. If you can stretch them vertically and horizontally, you become a much more difficult offense to defend. That’s a goal we’ve had here as we put together our team.”