The best part about the Raiders’ camp isn’t the seemingly improved defense. Nor the health of Jimmy Garoppolo or the emergence of Aidan O’Connell.
The best part about training camp: It’s almost over. Soon we’ll see what this team, 2-0 in the preseason, is actually about.
The Raiders break camp Thursday and conclude the preseason Saturday at the Dallas Cowboys. Rosters must be trimmed by Tuesday from 90 to 53. The regular season begins Sept. 10 when the Raiders play at the Denver Broncos.
Only then will we know whether they’ve actually improved — or if their ballhawking secondary is but another mirage in the Mojave Desert.
“You’re trying to think of what’s best for the team now. You’re also trying to think about what’s best for the team as we go forward,” Raiders coach Josh McDaniels said Wednesday atop a two-hour practice in the sweltering summer heat.
‘When it counts’
Therein lies the essence of training camp: to solidify a foundation for the next four months. That the Raiders have certainly done by practicing with physicality and pace. Their defensive line is deeper, their secondary more spirited, their offense more efficient in their second season under McDaniels.
They’ve maintained relative health and with it the continuity they’ve developed since his tenure began
Or so it would seem at this point in the preseason.
The thing about training camps is that optimism is supposed to be aplenty, in part because opponents don’t actually exist. The positives in practices are relative to the talent on the team, which is only relevant in comparison to that of the other 31 teams.
Even the joint practices — the Raiders practiced with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams before preseason games they would go on to dominate — mirror sparring sessions more than title fights, leaving little to take away without knowing the surefire purpose of each play.
That we don’t know, so we’re left to assume — or wait until the regular season starts.
“That’s what we’ve been building toward, that’s what we’re working toward,” fullback Jakob Johnson said. “And, personally, I’m a big believer in routine, so I’m just ready to get my in-season routine started. And, yeah, playing against some teams in a different color when it counts.”
Prove it in September
Yes, Garoppolo looks good, and yes, O’Connell is a promising prospect. So, too, is rookie cornerback Jakorian Bennett, starting opposite veteran Marcus Peters in a replenished secondary that includes slot standout Nate Hobbs.
Maxx Crosby anchors the defensive front. The offensive line returns intact. Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and Jakobi Meyers lead one of the NFL’s deeper pass catching corps.
Of the players, McDaniels said: “At the end of the day, whatever we end up doing ultimately will be what they want the standard to be. … so, it’s their standard when they get to the field, and they know that, and we’re responsible to put them in great positions and help them win.”
In training camp and beyond.