Michael Clemens/Las Vegas Raiders
Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020 | 9 a.m.
Henry Ruggs III outruns; Bryan Edwards outmuscles; Nelson Agholor outmaneuvers.
And that only covers the trio of newcomers to the Las Vegas Raiders’ wide-receiver group. They’ve also got 11 returners in training camp who had at least 10 targets last season — including running backs and tight ends — each with their own unique strengths and identities within coach Jon Gruden’s complex offensive system.
Yes, the Raiders added firepower in the skill positions during the offseason, but simultaneously and just as importantly, they diversified their weaponry.
“I think that’s what Coach Gruden wanted,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “He just wanted a whole bunch of different, versatile guys that he can call this (play) or he can call that.”
Determining the most impressive connection out of the first couple days of padded practice might come down to personal preference. Carr has fired precise strikes to slot receiver Hunter Renfrow on intermediate routes, found tight end Darren Waller despite tight windows in traffic and uncorked deep balls right in stride to Zay Jones.
And then another group will check in, and the process will repeat with each receiver trying to make a catch to outdo the preceding one.
“It’s been one of the more fun camps for me,” Renfrow said. “You don’t go out there and look at the clock wondering when practice is going to be over. You’re competing every day. You’re competing up to the last minute.”
There’s a lot on the line for the wide receivers specifically considering there are currently 10 in camp, but the Raiders are highly unlikely to keep more than six on the 53-man roster heading into the regular season. That can often create tension among a position group, but the Raiders’ receivers appear to be getting along.
It’s a relief compared to last year, when the atmosphere wasn’t as pleasant. The Antonio Brown saga was playing out and taking precedence over a number of new faces also trying to acclimate.
Tyrell Williams was among those acquisitions looking to settle in and said this year’s camp has been much more comfortable.
“It just feels a lot more loose,” he said. “I felt like last year, the room that we had we just couldn’t be ourselves, couldn’t really enjoy, couldn’t really settle in. But now I feel like guys are really good friends, like being around each other and like to see each other be successful.”
Williams is a presumed starter alongside Ruggs and Renfrow and somewhat surprisingly the oldest wide receiver on the roster at 28 years old.
He came into the NFL in 2015, the same year as Agholor, making them the de facto grizzled veterans with five years of professional experience apiece.
“Being older is kind of cool because I’m actually really young,” the 27-year-old Agholor said. “I can still relate a lot, but I’ve played a lot of football so I bring a lot of experience. If a guy goes through a certain situation, I can relate.”
Agholor might be the surest route-runner on the team, though Renfrow is also in the conversation. Heck, Renfrow believes he should be in consideration for all the superlatives.
Carr was talking about Ruggs’ and Jones’ speed during a news conference on Tuesday when Renfrow indirectly pressured his quarterback into including his name among the group.
“Those really, really fast guys, as Hunter walks by, you can literally let the ball out there and know they’ll get it and make you right,” Carr said. “I think in the NFL a lot of guys are fast, a lot of those guys can run, but where they make their difference is when that ball is in the air they can separate even more.”
Speed has been an emphasis throughout practice, with Carr challenging the new receivers to line up correctly and therefore help with allowing the ample verbiage of Gruden’s offense to become second nature. Renfrow remembers being overwhelmed by the task ahead of him during last year’s training camp after he was drafted out of Clemson.
He said the rookies, Ruggs and Edwards, have handled the transition more smoothly than he did.
“Last year I was messing up a route or a concept every other play,” Renfrow said. “You barely have any of that with them. Just the intelligence that they’re bringing has been very impressive.”
Carr praised Ruggs and Edwards for bringing dimensions the Raiders’ offense lacked in previous seasons. In Ruggs, Las Vegas has one of the fastest players in the NFL — he ran a draft combine-best 4.27-second 40-yard dash in February. In Edwards, it has 6-foot-3, 212-pound goliath with soft hands and a hard-hitting reputation.
Having so many options available to him in the passing game has made Carr reflect on a conversation he shared with Gruden when he took the helm in 2018. This type of multifaceted offense was Gruden’s “vision” from the time he arrived, according to Carr.
“We talked about, ‘Hey, it’s going to take some time but we are going to get to a place where we can do whatever we want on offense,’” Carr said.