The Oakland Raiders open training camp July 27 at the Napa Valley Marriott in Napa, California. Here's a closer look at the Raiders' camp:
Top storyline: Jon Gruden's return. Because after sitting in ESPN's Monday Night Football booth the past nine seasons, the spotlight will be on Gruden the most. Critics say the game has passed him by; supporters claim Oakland's head coach is uniquely prepared for a return to the NFL given his access to every team in the league the past decade through being on TV and his accompanying relentless film study. "We have a lot to prove yet," Gruden said during minicamp. In a micro view, Gruden's return to Oakland also teems with thoughts of unfinished business after the late Al Davis traded him to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002. Gruden beat Davis' Raiders in the Super Bowl a year later.
QB depth chart: There are 125 million reasons this is Derek Carr's team, and Carr's mere existence is one of the reasons Gruden wanted to return to coaching. Carr was one of Gruden's favorite pupils on his QB Camp show in 2014, but now they both get the full treatment. Many wondered how the deeply religious Carr would take to Gruden's oft-salty language. "If they sit down in a room with us, hear us talk and hear us get after it, they would see that we're very eerily similar," Carr said during organized team activities. "Obviously, just because they haven't heard me say the F-word before, they just assume that I can't handle hearing it. It's just one of those things that we had a laugh at it ... it was funny. He's gotten after me, he's pushing me." Connor Cook will be given every opportunity to unseat EJ Manuel for the backup gig.
Bubble watch: Seth Roberts' role as the Raiders' No. 3 receiver seemed solid after he signed a three-year, $12 million extension last training camp. But an uneven season, regression in production (he had only one touchdown after having five in each of his first two seasons) and the additions of Jordy Nelson, Martavis Bryant, Griff Whalen, Dwayne Harris, Ryan Switzer, Marcell Ateman and Saeed Blacknall this spring, along with retaining Amari Cooper, Johnny Holton, Isaac Whitney and Keon Hatcher, should have Roberts on alert. Even if Bryant is slapped with a suspension by the NFL, as feared by Oakland.
This rookie could start: True, Maurice Hurst was seen as a top-three overall talent by Pro Football Focus, so saying he could start is not exactly a huge leap. But Hurst does have a heart issue that sent him home from the combine and scared off enough teams that he fell to the Raiders in the fifth round, No. 140 overall. With last season's starter at left defensive tackle, Eddie Vanderdoes, recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the season finale, Hurst ran with the first-team defense in the 4-3 base during the offseason program. He impressed with his pass-rushing ability, albeit in shorts. "Definitely got a steal with him," All-Pro left guard Kelechi Osemele said. "He's looking real good. He's going to be good. If he just keeps going, the sky is the limit for that guy."
Return of the (Khalil) Mack? Gruden, hired in January by Mark Davis, has yet to meet the face of his defense ... face to face, as Mack has stayed away from the organization while awaiting a contract extension expected to surpass $100 million in value. "One of the main reasons I came here," Gruden said, "was to coach that man." The 2016 NFL defensive player of the year and 2015 first-team All-Pro at both defensive end and outside linebacker has 40.5 career sacks, and his 185.5 QB pressures since coming into the league in 2014 is bettered by no one. Sure, "see ball, get ball" might seem easy enough, but there is an entire new defensive scheme in play under coordinator Paul Guenther, to say nothing of Gruden's culture change. Said Guenther of Mack: "He's going to have a lot of catching-up to do."
Giorgio Tavecchio, meet Eddy Pineiro: It might not be the sexiest battle, but the incumbent placekicker vs. the undrafted rookie promises to be the most intriguing camp competition, especially with the Raiders using a fifth-round draft pick on Pineiro's holder at Florida in punter Johnny Townsend. The left-footed Tavecchio was a feel-good story early last season, booting four field goals, including two from 52 yards out, in a season-opening win at Tennessee. But Tavecchio also had a stretch where he missed 5 of 11 field goal attempts late in the season. The right-footed Pineiro, meanwhile, converted 29 of his final 30 field goals in college, including an NCAA-best 94.4 percent (17 of 18) last season. He also made an 81-yard field goal on the practice field. "Tavecchio, he's not going to relinquish that job," said Gruden, who added that the Raiders thought so highly of Pineiro they contemplated using a seventh-round pick on him. "But it's going to be competitive. We're going to try to stage some competitive drills."