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4 observations from Raiders’ 2nd week of OTAs

Updated June 1, 2024 - 4:52 pm

The Raiders have concluded their second week of organized team activities. Their practice Wednesday was open to the media, providing a glimpse of where the team stands.

Here are four observations from the second week of OTAs:

Cap relief is coming

As much as the focus was on the players on the field last week, it was difficult not to think about who might be joining them soon.

Call it the Jimmy Garoppolo effect.

In March, the Raiders cut ties with the veteran quarterback after just one season in Las Vegas. By designating the move a post-June 1 transaction, the Raiders had to wait more than two months for the financial benefits to kick in.

That day has arrived, and on Monday the Raiders’ practical salary cap space will grow to $34 million, thanks to the $24 million windfall provided by Garoppolo officially falling off the books.

It’s worth noting that salary cap space does not always indicate a team’s actual operating budget. Even though the Raiders have ample space, it doesn’t mean general manager Tom Telesco has $34 million in cash to spend suddenly.

But it gives the Raiders flexibility to add players through free agency to help supplement certain positions. Or, approach current players whose deals are set to expire at the end of the season about extending their deals.

Cornerback is a position to keep an eye on. The Raiders are still deciding who will join Jack Jones and Nate Hobbs in the starting lineup, with second-year prospect Jakorian Bennett, veteran Brandon Facyson and perhaps rookies Decamerion Richardson or M.J. Devonshire in the running.

All four have rotated in and out of the lineup during OTAs, and it is conceivable the Raiders are satisfied that the group will provide the necessary answers for a third starter and rotational roles. If not, the Raiders are well-positioned from a salary cap standpoint to get help.

Plans for Bowers

It has not taken first-round draft pick Brock Bowers long to flash the versatility and athletic ability that made him the most dynamic tight end in college football over the past three seasons.

It’s been a “Where’s Waldo?” situation trying to locate the former Georgia star when the Raiders’ offense lines up. He’s been used out wide, in the slot, with the offensive line at the line of scrimmage, at H-back and even in the backfield.

In terms of usage, he’s been targeted as a downfield receiver up the seam, on screens, on crossing patterns and across the middle. He’s also been used as a runner on fly sweeps.

Along with fellow tight end Michael Mayer, who possesses similar versatility, Bowers gives the Raiders a multilayered weapon. Expect both to be prominently featured in the offensive attack.

“A lot of tight end rooms, you might not be spending time on certain routes in the passing game because you might not have guys with the skill set to go execute certain routes in our route tree,” Raiders tight end coach Luke Steckel said. “But he’s certainly a guy, and he’s definitely not the only one in our room, that you can line up in the slot, you can line him up out wide and you can use him in a variety ways.

“And that’s something we work through as a coaching staff: Where can we put our players in the best position to succeed?”

Defense ahead of offense

The Raiders worked on third-down offense and defense during Wednesday’s practice. To say the defense got the best of the offense is an understatement.

Is that a surprise? A cause for worry about the offense? A sign of just how dominant this Raiders’ defense can be?

No. No. Absolutely.

At this point, the Raiders’ defense should be a few steps ahead of the offense. The group returns 10 starters from a top-10 NFL defense in 2023, added dominant defensive tackle Christian Wilkins in free agency and is now in its third year under coordinator Patrick Graham.

The level of continuity and talent is unlike any Raiders defense in years, and between the established playmakers on the field and the understanding of Graham’s system, it’s a group that plays fast, with confidence and plenty of swagger.

That was evident by the relentless pass rush generated up front by Maxx Crosby, Wilkins, Malcolm Koonce and Tyree Wilson; the cohesiveness of linebackers Robert Spillane, Divine Deablo, Luke Masterson and others; and the sticky coverage provided by the secondary.

And they aren’t afraid to think big.

“My goal this year is to be the No. 1 defense,” Jones said. “And make the playoffs.”

Managing injuries, usage

Offensive tackle Kolton Miller and wide receiver Davante Adams have not taken part in the on-field portion of the two OTA practices opened to the media thus far. And rookie guard Jackson Powers-Johnson was seen only briefly in the first open OTA workout.

In all, 12 players were not on the field Wednesday: Adams; fellow wide receivers Michael Gallup, Jalen Guyton, Tulu Griffin and Jeff Foreman; offensive linemen Powers-Johnson and Miller; defensive tackles Nesta Jade Silvera, Matthew Butler and Marquan McCall; linebacker Darien Butler; and cornerback Cornell Armstrong.

Teams are not obligated to discuss injuries this time of year, so it is unclear who among that group is being held out for injury issues. By rule, OTAs are voluntary, so technically no one is in violation by skipping a session.

Miller missed time at the end of last season with a shoulder injury, so it is possible he is still rehabbing from that injury.

Adams, heading into his 11th season, has been in the building throughout the offseason. Given his age and experience, it makes sense that the Raiders are managing his usage and on-field activity.

Raiders coach Antonio Pierce, a former player, understands the rigors of professional football and the importance of making sure players are in optimal condition to start the season.

“He’s really conscious of the physical condition of the players and making sure we get all of our right guys to the gate,” Raiders assistant head coach Marvin Lewis said this week. “And I think that’s really important as a head coach in the NFL.

“There’s a degree of schematics, a degree of toughness, conditioning and all those things we’re trying to get to. But the key element is when September — whatever date that is — rolls around, we’ve got all the right guys out there, suited up as many of them as we can, and I think that’s really important. I think he has a great sense of that.”

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

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