The Oakland Raiders open training camp on July 27 at Napa, California. Here’s a closer look at a few storylines:
What does Derek Carr need to do to have a future with Jon Gruden?
Um, win. And win some more. Carr, who has struggled since breaking his right ankle in the penultimate game of his MVP-like 2016 season, showed improvement late last year in his first season in Gruden’s offense. And while this will only be the second time in Carr’s six-year career that he will play in the same system in consecutive seasons, he has a revamped offensive line and new weapons at receiver in Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams, excuses will be hard to come by. So if the Raiders end up with another top-five pick, that will likely mean Carr, whose guaranteed money is all paid out, will have had a bad season. And with two first-round draft picks next spring, Gruden can start fresh in Las Vegas in 2020.
What keeps Antonio Brown happy and productive?
Success and targets. Targets and success. Both personally and team-wise. Raiders coaches and players have marveled at Brown’s work ethic and leadership since he arrived but what happens if Carr, who was sacked 51 times last season, cannot deliver the ball to Brown, who has averaged 11.2 targets per game since 2013, and the Raiders get off to, say, a 1-6 start with their brutal schedule and so many new parts? Stay tuned.
How awkward will the (most likely) final year in Oakland be for fan and players alike?
The Raiders’ long, awkward goodbye to the East Bay -- the team won the right to move to Las Vegas in March of 2017 and, barring stadium construction delays, plans on moving to Southern Nevada after training camp next year -- has been just that, long and awkward. Another down season -- the Raiders have gone from 12 wins in 2016 to six in 2017 to four last year -- would teeter between anger and indifference for a faithful fan base. Longer-tenured players such as Carr would feel the angst strongest, or did you miss his victory-lap farewell to the Coliseum on Christmas Eve, after what was then thought to be the Raiders’ final game in Oakland?
Which of the Raiders’ three first-round picks makes the biggest early impact?
Let’s go with a surprise here, as in the heat-seeking missile that is safety Johnathan Abram, taken 27th overall out of Mississippi State and feted with Oakland’s vaunted No. 24, worn by the likes of Raiders defensive back standouts like Charles Woodson and Willie Brown (yeah, and Marshawn Lynch). Abram finished the offseason program running with the first-team defense, alongside Karl Joseph, and insists there is no real difference between free and strong safety. We shall see. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell, taken No. 4 overall, might also start and his “mean-meter” will be gauged while running back Josh Jacobs, the No. 24 pick, could make veteran Doug Martin expendable with a strong camp.
How big of a distraction with the ‘Hard Knocks’ cameras be for the Raiders?
None? With so many storylines surrounding the Raiders -- last season in Oakland before the move to Las Vegas, AB as the new mayor of Silver and Blackdom, Carr’s make-or-break season, the mere presence of Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito, a new G.M. in Mike Mayock -- it will be business as usual for Gruden. Yeah, Gruden professes to despise the very notion of the show, but his Q Score is such that he can absorb the spotlight … and use it to his advantage. Or, as owner Mark Davis, another opponent of the show, spun it, “Everybody wants to be a Raider. Now they’ll find out what it takes to become one.”