Updated August 18, 2020 - 8:56 pm
Whenever they finally go on, it’s always about the pads. How players will perform in them. Who will thrive and who will melt under pressure.
Or, in the case of the Raiders, under insufferable heat.
The sample size for Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards is smaller than those blades of grass they run routes across daily. Not much evidence to speak of just yet. But the rookie wide receivers viewed so significant to the Raiders’ present and future don’t appear all that fazed by the next step in their NFL development.
“These guys love football, so in pads, not in pads, they look the same,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “Usually when we put pads on, there is a big discrepancy, a big difference in some of these young guys to where you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s not going to make the team or play long.’ And sometimes, they end up not playing long. But with these guys, they’re football players.
“Very excited about them, but we can be excited and have the hype and all that, but it doesn’t matter, man. We have to put the work in every day and do it on the football field on game day.”
Two more options
Carr is correct about the hype train, especially about a first-round draft pick in Ruggs. He’s the Hogwarts Express of training camp.
Have you heard Ruggs is fast? Like, has there been a day in the last month where you haven’t heard he’s fast?
Have you heard Edwards has the potential to be a three-level NFL receiver?
That’s the thing about public commotion toward a specific narrative. Ruggs and Edwards could both offer productive first-year seasons and still fall short of water-cooler expectations.
Carr rightly views things differently. What the young receivers represent to him are more options by which to improve an offense that has averaged fewer than 20 points for three straight seasons. Two more names to add alongside those of Josh Jacobs and Darren Waller and Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow.
That’s all Ruggs and Edwards are for the moment. More hope than proof.
It might not even translate to eye-popping numbers. Which might not be such a bad thing.
Sports books have assigned Ruggs over-under totals of 725.5 yards (Westgate) and 5.0 touchdowns (Caesars). In the case of the third-round pick Edwards, there are no posted local props for what he might contribute.
What if Ruggs goes under his totals, but Edwards has an above-average year when compared to other NFL rookies? Two solid seasons could mean as much, or more, as a great one when trying to finish drives more often.
“We’re excited, but I’m going to downplay that one a little bit,” Carr said. “No predictions. No nothing. We’ll just let their play do the talking. I think there is a long way to go for them. They have some details they need to iron out. But great communication leads to great execution. So hopefully we can continue to get on the same page and more good things will happen.”
Skilled poker faces
It was a year ago Tuesday when Raiders general manager Mike Mayock gathered reporters at training camp in Napa, California, to alert wide receiver Antonio Brown of an ultimatum: Be all in or all out.
Brown ended up being out to lunch.
Also in camp then — in a far more understated manner —was Renfrow. The rookie out of Clemson had no issues with his feet or helmet, but he did account for 49 receptions for 605 yards and four touchdowns. He knows well what Ruggs and Edwards are experiencing.
“It has been so impressive just to watch them play,” Renfrow said. “Last year, I was messing up a route or just a concept every other play. You barely have any of that with them. Just the intelligence that they’re bringing.
“Whether it was a freshman coming into college (at Clemson) or these two rookies coming into the NFL, they’re two of the best I’ve ever seen. You have so much going on in your head — just making sure you line up the right way and how you want to attack. They’re finding ways to remember what to do and then finding better ways to do it.”
The pads have been on for a few days now. The sample size is paper thin.
But if such moments are too big for Ruggs and Edwards, they sure have mastered skilled poker faces.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.