ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders began their three-day rookie minicamp at their compound on Friday with the helmets and shorts practice open to the media. Here are 10 observations from the sidelines:
1. Linebacker Khalil Mack, the No. 5 overall pick of last week’s NFL draft, is huge … and fast. And serious about playing football from a number of positions. True, there’s no real wiggle room for negotiating contracts with the NFL’s slotting system, but the fact that he signed his contract the day before his first practice speaks volumes about his maturity. “I’m focused on football and being the best player I can be,” he said. “That process is done, and I’m ready to go play football.
2. Quarterback Derek Carr, the Raiders’ second-round draft pick, throws a ball not quite as pretty as, say, Matt Leinart, or as violent as Tyler Wilson, but he was accurate -- throwing in a helmet and shorts and without a true pass rush. Carr also showed some quicks in turning the corner on a couple of bootlegs (paging Terrelle Pryor?). The only negative? Carr, who spent the past two years in the shotgun, fumbled his first snap of the day, under center. “Any time a play doesn’t work,” he said, “I’m not happy.”
3. Left guard Gabe Jackson is a beast, in the most complementary way possible. Again, no pads were used, and thus there was no hitting, but the 6-foot-3, 336-pounder’s mere presence demonstrated why he’s been referred to as a road grader. Yes, it’s just one practice in May, but the prediction here is he will compete to start at left guard.
4. Defensive end Shelby Harris, who did not play organized football last year and was, instead, waiting on tables in a high-end Italian restaurant after being kicked off the team at Illinois State, had much rust and had to take a rest mid-practice. Having been drafted 14 spots ahead of fellow DE and SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam, on-field comparisons are inevitable.
5. Safety Jonathan Dowling, referred to as the potential steal of the draft by longtime NFL executive Gil Brandt after the Raiders grabbed him in the seventh round, with the pick acquired in the Pryor trade, struck a resemblance to Merton Hanks thanks not only to playing in the secondary but with a long neck. There was no funky chicken dance, though, after Dowling dropped a sure interception.
6. Receiver Noel Grigsby is small. Much smaller than anticipated. Though, that might not be a bad thing. Could the undrafted rookie from nearby San Jose State be the slot receiver the Raiders are looking for so badly? Grigsby seemed to make an instant connection with Carr, who joked about the development given Fresno State’s rivalry with the Spartans. “It’s hard throwing to Grigsby,” Carr laughed. “I’m going to have to learn how.”
7. Mack wants to wear the “shredder-style” facemask he rocked in college, the same that defensive end Justin Tuck has worn. “There was a reason I wore it in college, to keep hands out of your face and keep you from getting neck injuries from getting pulled around,” Mack said.
8. Tight end Brian Leonhardt, who spent all of last season on the Raiders’ practice squad, looked like a veteran among the rookies and first-year players. He was Carr and tryout QB Joe Southwick’s most dependable target all day long. Might he push Nick Kasa for the third tight end spot come training camp?
9. Coach Dennis Allen had some “swag” about him. No, not in a cocky way, but in a much-needed way. Allen cannot bear any resemblance to a lame duck in what many see as a must-win season for him to reach Year 4. He even sent a letter this week to season-ticket holders. “I think we’ve changed our team and I’m excited about it,” Allen said.
10. Raiders owner Mark Davis took it all in, from stretch through the final horn. He was a solitary figure on one side of the field, beneath his white cap while tossing around a football. This is what Year 1 of the Raiders’ Reconstruction looks like.