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4 observations from Raiders’ 1st week of OTAs

The Raiders opened phase three of their offseason program Monday, consisting of up to 10 organized team activity practices that include noncontact, nonpadded work between the offense and defense.

Here are four observations from the first look at the 2024 Raiders:

Fast-paced, lively

Coach Antonio Pierce and his staff have injected life into the Raiders’ offseason program.

Everything seems faster-paced, more energetic and more enjoyable than in the past. There’s even a master of ceremonies who announces the final 30 seconds of each practice period, then identifies the next period. When the horn blows to end a period, players sprint to the next one.

There is a ton of chatter among players and the staff, and Pierce isn’t afraid to show his emotion by emphatically pointing out positive reps. It has rubbed off on the players, who don’t hesitate to celebrate a big play or touchdown.

No one is going through the motions.

Pierce also added a real-time teaching mechanism that turns periodic breaks into mini-classroom sessions. Multiple big screens are lined up on one sideline, enabling players to gather to watch replay footage of practice during hydration breaks.

It’s an efficient twist to deal with a genuine timing issue. By league rule, teams have only a limited amount of time to keep players in the building during OTAs. Knocking out review sessions on the field, in the moment, during breaks cuts down the post-practice film session.

Offensive line depth

Outside of the second-round pick the Raiders invested in Oregon guard Jackson Powers-Johnson, the Raiders didn’t make any splash moves on the offensive line this offseason. But the additions of veteran linemen Andrus Peat and Cody Whitehair could be shrewd, low-key moves. Each lengthens the depth of this group beyond where it’s been in recent years.

Nothing is etched in stone, but the starting group looks to be Kolton Miller (left tackle), Powers-Johnson (left guard), Andre James (center), Dylan Parham (right guard) and Thayer Munford at right tackle. It’s as athletic a starting five as the Raiders have had in some time, and potentially one of the best.

Whitehair, a former Pro Bowler, can play both guard positions and center. Peat is slotted to be the backup left tackle, but he’s been a Pro Bowl left guard during his career. Jordan Meredith can play virtually every position on the line, and Parham and Powers-Johnson can also play center.

That versatility will allow the Raiders to mix and match depending on the health of their line from week to week.

Laube has something

It’s not often that a sixth-round draft pick is a near-lock to make the roster, and certainly, Dylan Laube, the Raiders’ first-year running back from New Hampshire, has a long way to go to earn his spot. But Laube has such an all-purpose nature to his game that it is difficult to imagine him not being among the 53 players the Raiders take into the regular season.

From taking handoffs out of the backfield or on fly sweeps to being used as a receiver out of the backfield or lined up wide or in the slot, Laube has done a little bit of everything during workouts.

He knows what to do when the ball is in his hands, too, flashing smooth gear shifts as he flies through different levels of the defense.

Laube looked comfortable in kickoff return drills, showing composure and hand skills by catching balls out of the air or off the ground. The Raiders have challenged their kickoff return candidates by spraying the ball at them at various angles through the air or on multiple bounces off the ground. Laube looked at ease while gathering every ball that came his way.

Under the NFL’s new kickoff rules, ball security will play a big role in who is tasked with return responsibilities. Laube’s effectiveness in that area, coupled with the obvious athletic ability with the ball in his hands, could earn him an immediate special teams role.

Solid safety room

Between the draft and free agency, the Raiders have put together a promising young safety room.

Veterans Marcus Epps and Tre’von Moehrig are the starters, and Isaiah Pola-Mao returns as a chess piece who can line up virtually everywhere on the field. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is fond of the three-safety look, and the Epps-Moehrig-Pola-Mao trio is as solid as it gets.

Behind them, a couple of youngsters are making a push.

Christopher Smith, drafted in the fifth round in 2023, essentially took a redshirt season as a rookie, but did take 191 special teams snaps. The trust coaches showed in him bodes well for more snaps on defense.

The Raiders are intrigued by rookie safety Trey Taylor, a seventh-round pick from Air Force who is already flashing an innate feel for the game. The depth chart could dictate a redshirt rookie season, but Taylor’s want-to factor and playmaking ability could earn him an immediate special teams role.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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