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November 26, 2020

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‘What a great day’: Raiders begin padded practices today in Henderson

Jon Gruden gets just the gift he wants for his 57th birthday

Las Vegas Raiders Training Camp 8/13

AP

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) trains during an NFL football training camp practice Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher, Pool)

Las Vegas Raiders Practice 8/14

Raiders defensive tackle Maliek Collins (97) stretches during NFL football training camp practice on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, at Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center, in Henderson. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal, pool) @benjaminhphoto Launch slideshow »

The Raiders’ tight ends unsurprisingly beat the offensive linemen off the field during a break after an hour of practice Sunday morning at the Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center. That meant they got first access to the “ice box,” a cooling trailer on the East side of the team’s outdoor practice fields in Henderson that stays at 17 degrees.

Like everything else at NFL training camps this season, social distancing protocols must be adhered to at all times so only a few players are allowed in the cube at once. Tight ends Darren Waller and Foster Moreau spent a couple minutes inside and exited to some teasing and grumbles from their big-guy teammates.

Friendly banter has been constant at training camp for Las Vegas.

“The biggest thing is how close this team has gotten in a short amount of time,” linebacker Cory Littleton said after practice. “Us not being able to be together during offseason time kind of hinders any team from being close, but I don’t feel that here.”

The good-natured atmosphere could face a new challenge this morning. It’s the first day padded practices are allowed across the NFL, promising at the least to make what’s been a sweltering training camp temperature-wise for the Raiders even hotter.

Waller was dripping in sweat in the 95 degrees heat at 8:30 a.m. Sunday when he entered the ice box, and he’ll be adding at least five pounds of equipment going forward.

“You can practice as much as you want without pads, you can simulate it as best as you can, situations and going full speed covering and all that,” safety Jeff Heath said, “but it’s a completely different dynamic when the pads are on.”

It’s also completely different this year because of the way the coronavirus has shifted the NFL’s long-standing process for getting ready for the season. The Raiders were supposed to be getting ready for their second preseason game right now.

Instead, there won’t be any games out of precaution. Teams aren’t even allowed to scrimmage against each other, an option the Raiders have utilized in the past, under the new safety protocols.

With all that in mind, today is the day the Raiders have been waiting for since training camp opened in late July. In Gruden’s first media availability of the summer, he pointed out that he had already circled today’s date.

“We can’t put a pad on until August 17,” he said. “It’s funny, that’s my birthday, so what a great day that will be.”

Gruden will celebrate his 57th year just the way he would prefer — with a long day of work. Although some debate remains whether the Raiders were among the most affected by the coronavirus changes, there’s no argument they — along with presumably every other team — have a long way to go to get ready for the kickoff of the regular season in less than a month.

Las Vegas could be breaking in as many as eight new starters on Sept. 6 in Carolina, and all but one or two of them are on defense.

“The offseason being what it has been, it’s a little intimidating because everything is still a learning process,” Littleton said. “But inside this building, I feel like the coaches have done a tremendous job making sure we’ve been able to go through it multiple times where we’re able to get comfortable with the schedule they’ve laid out for us.”

Communication needs to be a focus among the defense once the pads get on, according to Littleton. It will largely come down to fellow free-agent linebacker signing Nick Kwiatkoski and himself to direct the defense.

It’s gone smoothly in shorts and helmets, but the intensity is different when everyone is suited up and going full speed. There’s typically some nervousness going into the first day of pads, but given this year’s delay, it’s more anticipation than anything else among the Raiders.

“Playing with pads is a part of the game and it’s something we haven’t been able to do, especially with this type of offseason, which also goes into my transition here,” he said. “Learning a new defense isn’t always easy; it’s especially harder when you can’t get to practice it all the time. So being here right now this is exactly what we need.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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