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Oakland Raiders: 3 key battles for joint practices

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

During the last week, it was announced that the Oakland Raiders will host the Los Angeles Rams for joint practices. In advance of the first pre-season game on August 10th, the two teams will go head to head on the practice field in two sessions. For football-starved fans, it will be the first opportunity to see some real football competition. The barren football months of May and June will be behind us, and the new season will be within reach.

Joint practices always bring that extra little bit of spice to proceedings. As the summer heat intensifies, so does the atmosphere on the field. All it can take is one poor tackle, one bad word, and all hell can break loose. Neither teams are strangers to a practice field skirmish. During joint practices with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014, Raiders players and fans came to blows after a particularly aggressive tackle. The Cowboys were involved again in 2015. This time it was the Rams involved, with a melee breaking out on the second day of practice.

After the 2015 incident, coaches spoke out about joint practice skirmishes in an attempt to curb the incidents of fighting. However, it made little impact as the “Battle for Los Angeles” turned literal during a 2017 joint practice between the Rams and Los Angeles Chargers.

The atmosphere will be intensified this year by the presence of the Hard Knocks cameras. They will be filming every second of practice for the Raiders’ participation in the annual show.

So, aside from practice field fights, what should we be watching out for when the Rams visit the Raiders in Napa, California?

Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner taking on his old team

When Lamarcus Joyner signed the franchise tag with the Rams, back in March 2018, it was expected that would turn into a contract extension. As 2018 progressed, however, that situation appeared less and less likely. The Rams signed free agent safety, Eric Weddle, this off-season, signaling the end of Joyner’s time in Los Angeles.

Joyner had spent his entire NFL career with the Rams. He was their second-round draft pick in 2014 after the Rams traded up with the Buffalo Bills to secure him with the 41st pick. After helping guide the Rams to the Super Bowl last year, he was allowed to leave and test free agency. On March 14th, he signed a $42 million deal to become a Raider until 2023. He is expected to become a key part of a secondary that got torched in 2018.

During his time with the Rams, Joyner proved to be a valuable piece of the secondary. He has contributed 4 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss during his five seasons. Having played a number of different positions in the secondary, he brings invaluable versatility to a roster.

The Rams obviously felt that his performances didn’t warrant the money he was demanding. Now, Joyner gets an early opportunity to prove them wrong.

Tough test for the Raiders new offensive line

Giving Derek Carr better protection will be the key to any chance of success for the Raiders in 2019. The offensive line allowed a mammoth 51 sacks in 2018, giving Carr zero time to make plays. To rectify the situation, the Raiders made several changes in the off-season.

These changes included bringing in former New England Patriot, and Super Bowl winner, Trent Brown during free agency. Brown will net a massive $66 million from the contract, and the Raiders will want to see immediate results. Despite playing left tackle for the Patriots, Brown will line up at right tackle. Kolton Miller will line up once again at left tackle, and the Raiders will want to see a huge jump in performance from year one.

The interior of the offensive line returns Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson. However, last season’s right guard, Kelechi Osemele, was allowed to walk and a camp battle will decide who replaces him. The front runner looks set to be Richie Incognito, and it will be interesting to see his temperament on the field during these joint practices. The interior is going to be crucial to success in the ground game, which could be the difference maker for 2019.

For two days in August, this new line will face a tough test against the Rams. Can they keep Aaron Donald in check during scrimmages? Donald contributed a massive 20.5 sacks last season for a Rams defense that excelled in getting after the quarterback. The team totaled 41 sacks, but more impressively, had 94 quarterback hits. The battle between the two units will be interesting, and a key one to watch.

Did the Raiders get better on defense from the draft?

The Raiders lost Khalil Mack in 2018 and spent all year trying to reproduce his pass rush production. They failed. There was no pass rush all year, and the secondary suffered as a result. The main goal for this off-season was to get better on defense and particularly in pressuring the opposing quarterback.

With three first-round draft picks, the Raiders had ample opportunity to address this need. They did so with their fourth overall pick, Clelin Ferrell. There were some question marks over taking Ferrell so highly. However, when you’re trying to get better on defense, what better way is there than taking a key part of the best defensive line in college football history? The Raiders also added Jonathan Abram to make the secondary better. Contributory pieces were added in Maxx Crosby and defensive line project, Quinton Bell.

The joint practices with the Rams will give Raiders fans a first look at these players in live action. It will be interesting to see how Ferrell looks against an offensive line that did a decent job of protecting Jared Goff in 2018. For these rookie Raiders, it will also allow them to learn from some of the best in the business. Watching Donald going to work up close and personal can only be a learning experience for a young player.

Every team’s goal at the start of the year is to make it to the Super Bowl. Hopefully, the Raiders will start their year by competing hard on the practice field against last years Super Bowl runner up.

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