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November 26, 2020

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Big questions as Raiders rookies report for training camp

Raiders NFL Draft First Round Pick, Henry Ruggs III

AP

Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (11) salutes the fans against LSU during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. LSU won 46-41. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

NFL training camps open this week, with Raiders rookies set to report to the team’s new Henderson practice facility today.

Aside from universal COVID-19 concerns, some of the biggest storylines for Las Vegas will revolve around the team’s first-year players, a group which is headlined by two first-round picks and three third-rounders.

Some key questions for the rookie class:

Can the corners play?

It’s very tempting to focus on the flashy offensive players Las Vegas added in the draft, but the team’s two rookie cornerbacks will probably have a bigger impact on the team’s success in 2020. So, the big question is, can they play?

First-round pick Damon Arnette may not possess the kind of skill set to “wow” observers on the practice field, as his coverage style is built around physicality and other assorted tips and tricks that work better on game day. But training camp should give an idea of whether Arnette can at least run with pro receivers and change direction like a first-rounder (the main criticism levied at him leading up to the draft).

The opposite could be true of fourth-round selection Amik Robertson, who is undersized but blessed with the type of athleticism and quickness that should pop in camp.

If we get to the middle of August and the veterans are raving about Arnette and Robertson, that’s probably the best news the Raiders could get in regards to their rookie class.

What’s up with Ruggs’ leg?

One of the most bizarre stories of the offseason came when prized rookie receiver Henry Ruggs suffered a leg injury in an accident while helping a friend move. The No. 12 overall pick relies on speed to make an impact, so any combination of the words “leg” and “accident” are going to send a scare through the organization.

Ruggs reportedly recovered quickly enough to take part in player-led workouts over the last few weeks, so that should alleviate some concerns. He can put all those questions to rest for good, though, by getting out on the practice field and tearing up training camp at full speed.

Where does Bowden line up?

The Raiders used a Day 2 pick on Lynn Bowden because of the versatility he provides on offense. Now it’s time to start putting his varied skill set to use in practical terms. So, is Bowden a slot receiver, a running back, or something in between?

He spent time at every skill position at Kentucky (including quarterback) and produced big plays from everywhere on the field. At the combine he worked out with the receivers, but measured in more like a running back (5-foot-10, 205 pounds).

Mike Mayock said after the draft that the team plans to move Bowden to the backfield and train him as an RB, but it’s clear he won’t play the position in a conventional manner. So this training camp will be the first real opportunity for Jon Gruden and the coaching staff to figure out how to utilize Bowden’s open-field ability.

Can White make an impression?

Local football fans will be paying close attention to linebacker/safety Javin White, a former UNLV star who is trying to make the team as an undrafted free agent.

White’s best attribute in college was his ability not just to cover receivers down the field, but to make plays on the ball and create turnovers. How much of that will translate to the pro level? Training camp should give an indication of whether White can trail receivers down the seam and get his hands on the ball like he did at UNLV.

Who spent their time wisely?

NFL newcomers are stepping into uncharted territory, as COVID-19 canceled rookie minicamps in the spring and kept players from accessing their team facilities over the summer. First-year players have been left to their own devices for months; now it’s time to find out which rookies used that time wisely.

The Raiders have a ton of available playing time for young players who seize it. Ruggs, Bowden and third-round pick Bryan Edwards will all get a chance to break into the receiver rotation. Arnette and Robertson could win starting jobs. Fourth-round guard John Simpson is auditioning for a major role on the offensive line. Throughout the course of camp, it should become apparent which players studied the playbook and are capable of being in the right place at the right time.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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