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4 observations from Raiders’ offseason program

The Raiders wrapped up their offseason program Thursday by canceling the last practice of their mandatory three-day minicamp.

Up next is training camp in Costa Mesa, California, in late July.

Here are some observations from their organized team activity practices and minicamp:

Quarterbacks struggle

There is no sugarcoating the performance of quarterbacks Aidan O’Connell and Gardner Minshew. They were bad.

Yes, an argument can be made that their struggles were the inevitable result of an offense learning a new system under coordinator Luke Getsy. It’s impossible to know how much of the struggles were on the quarterbacks’ shoulders, or a byproduct of the lack of command everyone on the field played with as they tried to master a new attack.

Also, the on-field absence of left tackle Kolton Miller and star wide receiver Davante Adams throughout most of OTAs certainly played a role.

But it’s a bit disconcerting that O’Connell and Minshew did not show much progress over the past four weeks.

Both struggled with accuracy and getting the ball out with rhythm and precision. Neither nudged ahead of the other in the competition for the starting job.

On a positive note, Raiders coach Antonio Pierce confirmed that the club installed the entirety of the new playbook. Given the time constraints of OTAs, that is a noble feat.

But it speaks to the nature of the undertaking. There was little time to fine-tune or master anything. That played a role in the raggedy performance of the offense.

Come training camp, the Raiders will begin the process of mastering segments of the playbook they believe this group is proficient at. The quarterback play should reflect that.

Or at least that is the Raiders’ hope.

Defense looks electric

The early part of the season is shaping up as a time for the offense to find its rhythm. That means the club might have to win games without great offensive production.

If any team is well-positioned to carry out that assignment, it’s the Raiders.

The defense didn’t just look good during OTAs and minicamp, it was downright dominant. There are impact players at every level, reflecting the cohesiveness of a group that returns nine starters from last year, with total command of coordinator Patrick Graham’s defensive scheme.

In contrast to an offense learning a new scheme, the Raiders are in their third year under Graham. The connectivity of the group was obvious throughout OTAs.

Graham is the mastermind of it all, but he’d be the first to tell you it starts with the players.

On the defensive line, he’s got stars in Maxx Crosby and Christian Wilkins, a breakout candidate in Malcolm Koonce and a lottery ticket in Tyree Wilson.

Behind them are dynamic cornerbacks Nate Hobbs and Jack Jones, young standouts in linebacker Divine Deablo and safety Tre’von Moehrig and leaders in safety Marcus Epps and linebacker Robert Spillane.

The Raiders need to identify a starting cornerback opposite Jones, but between Jakorian Bennett and Brandon Facyson, they have in-house candidates to fill the position.

This group has a chance to be special.

Influence of Pierce

Raiders owner Mark Davis leaned into his instincts in October when he elevated Antonio Pierce from linebackers coach to interim head coach after moving on from Josh McDaniels. In Pierce, Davis saw a leader of men and someone capable of restoring a Raiders culture that had waned under McDaniels.

Score one for instincts.

Pierce was immediately embraced by the locker room, alumni, and fan base. Not just in words, but in action.

The Raiders played better, more-disciplined football under Pierce over the last nine games of the season, the fan base came alive, and by the end of the year, key alumni were celebrating wins in the locker room alongside the current Raiders.

There has been no looking back since Davis removed the interim tag and made Pierce the full-time coach. In his first offseason in charge, Pierce has shown wisdom and maturity by assembling a staff filled with sage veterans and teachers, dipping into a younger demographic to add technology and energy, and holding onto key assistants from last year’s staff.

From his players to his coaches, he encourages everyone to be themselves rather than demand conformity. But it doesn’t come at the expense of accountability. Players often talk about honoring that freedom by not taking advantage of it. There is a time to have fun and a time to work, and they appear to be heeding that line.

It remains to be seen how much of this equates to on-field success. But for now, it’s obvious Pierce has the ear, mind and heart of this group.

Tucker poised for breakout

Tre Tucker didn’t make a big deal out of it, but no matter how explosive the wide receiver looked during his rookie season, he knew he had a whole other gear to get to.

As Tucker pointed out at the time, leg issues prevented him from tapping into it. That meant his first NFL season maxed out in third gear rather than fourth.

Entering his second season, it’s obvious he has access to his top-end speed again.

He isn’t just fast, he’s explosive. Even during individual periods when each receiver ran a 10-yard route before breaking right or left, Tucker covered that distance far faster than everyone else.

His route running looks crisper and more decisive than last year, and he looks much more comfortable with his responsibilities.

Within the Raiders’ building, there is a belief that Tucker can be an X-factor for the offense this year.

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

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